Worth a thousand words: photography, the art form taken for granted


Photo courtesy of Nicole Surcel

During Surcel’s sophomore year photography field trip, she snapped stunning photos across Chicago.

Nicole Surcel, co-opinions editor

We’ve all heard the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The statement is almost instantly recognizable as a phrase we’ve heard a million times before. If some of us haven’t heard of it before, though, I’m sure a friend or a neighbor could pinpoint its meaning.

Come to think of it, I’ve seen and heard this expression pretty much everywhere: in cheesy Instagram captions, cliché song lyrics, occasional commercial breaks on the TV or radio and even on a poster hanging in my doctor’s office, right next to those incredibly detailed diagrams of the human body. I could continue on with a list of places or instances you might’ve heard the phrase but my point simply is this: the phrase is quite well-known. And I couldn’t have said it better myself.

When I first started exploring my love for photography in my freshman year, I came to appreciate the beauty behind the process. Yes, some aspects of it were a pain — mainly the strenuous process of handling film — but the products make it all worthwhile.

Even as a kid, I dreamt of becoming a photographer, fascinated by the photos and antique cameras my mother and grandmother stored away for years. I simply was curious, and like many children, I hoped to put my curiosity to use through a hobby or two. As time passed and the number of years I spent on Earth grew, this pastime evolved into a great passion of mine — one I will carry for the rest of my life.

Sadly, though, not many people can attest to feeling the same way.

In today’s society, the power of a picture is limitless but underappreciated. We recognize that we hear this common phrase throughout our lives yet many of us take the meaning that goes behind a photo for granted. It’s the emotions, the message and the ideas that can be expressed by something as simple as a still-life shot or a portrait of an unfamiliar face that makes the art of photography so essential.

As humans, we naturally crave for things to have a deeper level of meaning beyond what their physical appearance may suggest. Just like any other form of artistic expression, a photograph does just that and more; it can physically depict something that may seem so distant from the people we are today while also reflecting an idea very close to home. That is why, after all, we keep hold of photo albums — they connect our past lives to ones we currently are living in, something that not many things can do.

But when we are faced with acknowledging the artistry of an image, we are quick to neglect how essential photography has become in our daily tasks and activities.

Take for instance that selfie you took with a friend this past weekend.

Or the landscape shot of a scenic forest preserve you took while on a hike this past summer.

Or the one before that where you toured Europe with relatives and documented the wonderful food, traditions and lifestyles of strangers.

All made possible by the press of a button or the tap of a screen, the things we hold onto from our past are embedded within photographs themselves. We never truly realize the degree to which we depend on things as simple as photos. But, I find that in imparting this perspective, we can all learn to be more appreciative of the simple things in life.