The following came from Stephen Johnson's latest newsletter: http://www.sjphoto.com/newsletterframset-10-09.html
"Photography as Communication
I recently had a very moving experience based on a photograph from more than 20 years ago. I went back to my home town of Merced to lecture at the new University of California there. A few old friends got in touch when they heard I was coming to town. One was a friend from political campaigns in the late 60's and 1970. Candice was now teaching part time at Merced College and wondered whether I could come by her Creative Writing class as they were using my book on the Central Valley, The Great Central Valley: California's Heartland, writing stories from the photographs.
Of course I agreed to come by, and was almost moved to tears by the experience. Candice had chosen a photograph from my brother's back yard from 1982 and it was absolutely fascinating to hear some of the memories triggered and the places thinking about this image took the students.It reminded me that we know so little of what effect we might have when we create an expression. Whether a photograph, words, a piece of music or a sculpture, by our act of giving physical manifestation to our vision we create a potential chain of reaction that can go on almost endlessly. I was very humbled by some of the effects, and thrilled to see something I made, and so long ago, have such an effect on people now. I suppose it was even more so as the class was filled with a classic cross-section of valley immigrant young people, few of them from there, all with aspirations, all very deeply human memories and likely their own creative impulses.
There were stories of visits to grandparents farms, yearning for a rural life, made up narratives of the likely circumstance of the people whose laundry was hanging in the "Yard, Le Grand" photograph, longing for their own versions of a simpler home life left behind somewhere. Many seemed touched by the experience of the letting the photograph take them to another place. I was very pleased with their words.
I often go off about how photography has a unique and precious place in our human understanding of the world around us and its ability to even feed our own memories and supplant them. This particular experience just cemented those notions even deeper in my mind.
Of course how we use the photographs, the context in which they are seen, the association between images, these all effect our understanding. In a book, we often make page spreads with a photograph filling both the left and right pages, thereby associating photographs as we design them into these side by side relationships. Such placement needs to make sense to the viewer in some way.
The fruitstand above, seen alongside the pesticide can dump at a small crop dusting airfield creates an editorial relationship. Mostly, such associations weaken the power of the individual images and the broader meaning the viewer can bring to the experience These did not appear side by side in the Central Valley book.
I've always preferred to make such spreads be about design and spatial relationships rather them implied meaning. There are all sorts of ways of making the relationships work though, I've tried to avoid the editorial, and stay on the visual."