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Phil Douglis | profile | all galleries >> Gallery Twenty Eight: Using symbols and metaphors to express meaning tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Gallery Twenty Eight: Using symbols and metaphors to express meaning

In expressive photography, we rely on visual symbols to represent abstract ideas. A symbol stands for something with a larger meaning. We may also call them metaphors. Some of the most famous photographs endure because of their symbolism. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” is an instantly recognized symbol of the great depression of the 1930s and the migrant experience. ( ) Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the American flag being raised during the battle of Iwo Jima is the definitive symbol of World War II. ( ) Symbolic photographs can trigger multiple meanings, depending upon who may be looking at it, because symbols can often mean different things to different people. For example, people who might have little interest or knowledge of the Great Depression or World War II might see entirely different meanings in those two images. This is not a weakness of expressive photography. It is a strength. Images that offer multiple meanings will often challenge the imagination of viewers in unexpected and provocative ways. Any image that encourages thought, moves the emotions, or stimulates the imagination can be a valuable experience. It all depends on how the photographer has used symbolization and how the viewer understands those symbols.

Symbolism plays a critical role in all three of the key principles of expressive photography. Abstractions, which I display in Gallery One, are almost always rich in symbolic and metaphorical meaning. Incongruities, which I present in Gallery Two, often involve symbols in contrast or juxtaposition. Human Values, which are demonstrated in Gallery Three, are at the very core of expressive photography, and rely heavily on symbolization as well.

In this gallery, we will look at how expressive images make use of symbols and metaphors to express meaning. I’ve selected most of these images from my archive of digital travel articles posted at:

This gallery is presented in "blog" style. A large thumbnail is displayed for each image, along with a detailed caption explaining how I intended to express my ideas. If you click on the large thumbnail, you can see it in its full size, as well as leave comments and read the comments of others. I hope you will be able to participate in the dialogue. I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and questions, and will be delighted to respond.