catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 7 :: 2007.04.06 — 2007.04.20


A word is worth a thousand pictures

As Ivan Turgenev once stated, "A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound." Or as the ole idiom goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Meaning is rarely skin deep. Many of us tend to favor books as they allow us to steer the imaginative end of our reading means. However, reading a book on the carnage of Nazism and WWII is quite different from a viewing of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Regardless of our personal affinity, our various social zeitgeists are often captured most vividly in images. Conversely, a word can be worth thousands of pictures. An image of Civil Rights celluloid by Gordon Parks or Ernest Withers is laden with scores of stories and the images speak volumes. Many of them could be summed up as images of hope or otherwise. The images beg for inquisition, for understanding, and for remembrance so as not to repeat our doom. This is when movies can often take such themes as hope and employ thousands of pictures to articulate reflection. This is what constitutes a movie, literally thousands of images moving at 24 frames per second that convey the illusion of reality in hopes of telling a story that conveys some element or theme of association—stories that unfold the human struggle into a confectionary piece of attractive illusion for friendly consumption. Here, the idea that an object can symbolize, for good or evil, a significant aura of meaning provides a rich look at so many of our everyday lives.

I’m what could be referred to as an objective journalist as I journal about the times and terms of my life with objects. You see it occasionally as you watch folks walk along the shore line to find that perfect sand dollar or seashell. You see it when families gather arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder at the graduation ceremony as snap after snap of photo is caught on negative and displayed in a frame on the living room wall. We find an object that symbolically represents the moment beyond what our words could and we ascribe meaning to that object. Perhaps what was once before merely a rustic pebble under foot is now an item of great motivation and remembrance. The object instantaneously reminds us of the time and place at hand. As you walk around my home, good things abound and of this affluence, movies are a central object.

Underneath the surface, my wonder is why we try so hard to remember these moments. Again it’s not the image we necessarily want to capture as much as the moments and people that are framed within the image. We want to freeze the essence of the moment in time. We want to capture what is seemingly impossible to articulate. Within this there seems to be a social imperative to remember. We see this as we’re on vacation at the local museums as countless sculptures and portraits are erected to draw upon our need to remember individuals and times. Driving through Valley Forge National Park or to lower Manhattan to see Ground Zero, we are beckoned to remember. Perhaps we just want to remind ourselves that we are but one bit, literally, in history. Or perhaps much of what we want to know about who we are is inextricably linked to who we were. G.K. Chesterton noted it this way: “The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living.”

I’ve often heard the sentiments of those who believe you can tell a lot about people by the contents of their purses, the way they treat their mothers, etc. Whether we’re trying to spice up the ambiance of our shag carpet college loft or the nuclear family home, we inevitably engage in an effort to convey something about ourselves and what we value, often times in spite of ourselves—meaning we can’t help but show a bit of who we are in what we do, even if mundane. For the college student, the curbside sofa with the hibachi grill next to the movie poster of Pulp Fiction might say, “I value freebies and complex simplicity.” For the suburban homemaker, a collection of Ansel Adams prints beside the new leather tight-back sleeper sofa with flowery skirting might suggest, “I value aesthetic taste and fondue parties.” Regardless of aesthetic creed or circumstance the images that besiege our home from portraits of family and friends to movie posters to our favorite painting collections offer some indication of who we are and what we value in life.

So, if you walked through my home and office, what could you extract about me as a person? You’ll most undoubtedly find an inordinate amount of movies, not just along the bookshelf for late night shindigs but strung throughout my home and office in still images, posters. Movies have a certain tangible quality in that they’re physical objects on discs or tapes and yet they’re intangible in that they are manifestations of emotional sentiment and resonation with which we find escape or voice to our personal worldviews.

Recently I was struck by a colleague's The Goonies poster that was tacked alongside other more classical films. I was immediately catapulted back to my pubescent days of chores and curfew. The Goonies was for me many an afternoon of escapist joy and countless hours of opportunity to develop quotable material for casual peer conversation in gym class. Still now, the scuttlebutt banter at the water coolers of life’s little breathers hinges on favorite quotes from movies and television shows. I was just a young lad of nine when this classic little cult gem roared through my mobile home neighborhood. At first glance, this was merely a movie poster. Yet this was also a nostalgic piece of my adolescent development. When I was a young boy, my parents both worked and I became subject to the cathode ray babysitter. My mentors were the late night movies and mid-afternoon re-runs of everything from Bonanza to Press Your Luck. The essence here is that these objects, these little cases lying around the living room and strung across the floorboard of our back seats, scratched and layered with fingerprints, are not simply overpriced technological items but capsules that often contain reminders of great transition, escape, and development.

Certainly movies are just one commodity on the objective market. If I smell Sunflower perfume I’m instantly back in high school and strung out on relational what-ifs. When I see Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, I can’t help but think of post-football Thanksgiving and leftovers, cuddled up with warm socks on next to the newly erected tree. Each of us has his or her item of fancy. The Kitchen-Aide mixer represents celebration of friends and family as we whip up our favorite recipes. The family hallmarks littered throughout the home convey that our eighty-hour work weeks pale in comparison to what lies beneath: family. The music churning in the mp3 player represents both leisure and emotional voice, a platform from which we can resonate with human struggle. It’s the stories behind the stories that are vivid and enriching. My fancy is movies, any and everything about them. Certainly they represent a story in and of themselves but more than that they represent the stories that are bound to my identity and development. Movies were for me the language that I spoke with my father and close friends. They were the moments that bound my experiences and helped me garner sense in life. 

In my kitchen is a framed poster of Rebel Without a Cause. In my bedroom is a framed poster of The Last Emperor. In my living room are hundreds of movies. In my office are approximately fifty-five movie posters, some sepia toned 11×14 prints alongside 27×40 framed posters and 11×17 vintage reprints of classic films. I have everything from Angels with Dirty Faces to The Breakfast Club. For me, more than the actual movie itself, these objects represent the joy of the movie experience, the time or place in which I was rooted when I consumed them, and a general platform for conversation. Whether aesthetic (Rebel going with our 50s retro kitchen) or personal (Emperor being referenced at my wedding), movies, both the objects and moreso the stories laden within keep me afloat and reflective. What it creates as students, families, and colleagues enter my home and office is a unique conversational platform. The heads swivel around and conversations being about who we were and where we were at the time of our consumption of this or that movie. Some are drawn to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, others Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and others The Big Lebowski or Scarface. Whatever the association might be the stories bound to these images represent as much about the people who gaze upon them as the pictures convey themselves.

When we consider the television shows and movies that grace our tubes and screens we are inevitably brought to the forefront of social dialogue. Whether political or sexual and everything in between people are drawn to the themes of humanity’s struggle. In contrast to the ole saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, I suggest that words like hope and redemption—words that are so often rich with meaning—can be compounded into thousands of pictures. Whatever your item of fancy may be or the stories that comprise the cross section of your own objects, they all abound with the notion that we are to remember. We are to remember others, ourselves, our human struggle, and our celebrations of the journey.

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