Friday, August 16, 2013

Symbol or Metaphor?

   I spend a lot of time on this blog discussing the metaphorical connotations within the photograph.  It is a very crucial element in my particular approach to contemplative photography.  But how does a metaphor differ from a symbol?  They are related on one level but subtly different on another.

The Narrow Path
   A metaphor is relational.  You are using one thing to illustrate another.  Something that is contained within the photograph seems to suggest and expand upon another idea or concept.  The metaphor gives you a new and more complex understanding of the idea. Think of a metaphor as a door that opens into a new room of reflection.  You don't reach that level of understanding until you open the door and pass through.

     A symbol is a stand is equal to another idea or abstract concept and can be substituted for it.  This is most obvious in the symbolic use of color which can be intensely personal and also cultural.  In the West, black is a symbol of death but in the East they use white to symbolize death.  In Scotland's outer Hebrides, the white horse is a symbol of the goddess Epona who comes to lead a soul to Tir na Nog...the land of eternal youth. Many artists develop intricate and personal symbol systems that can only be recognized by observers of their work if they understand the "code".

   I think the two concepts - metaphor and symbolism - have powerful roles to play in contemplative photography just as they do in literature.  One thing I do know, some people seem more willing and able to see the world in these ways while others do not.  One is not right and the other wrong.  But I also know that once you begin to see the world as a grand stage for metaphor and symbolism it is very hard not to see them everywhere!  If nothing else, they are great writing prompts for your journaling.

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