The essential viewer. That’s you. You are the audience, no matter anything else. You are the decider.
We bring our own context to the images we see. Where we are born, when we were born, what we have experienced. What do we WANT to see, and most importantly, what do we need to see. Every image is a Rorschach test that can reveal much about us. The photographer plays a role of course, employing technique, selecting the ingredients of the frame, trying to provide something specific to the viewer. That’s the idea anyway. The reality is that once the image is out there the viewer takes over and whatever the photographer had intended falls by the wayside. Author and filmmaker Errol Morris touches on this subject at length in his book Believing Is Seeing Morris is pointing out, through a sometimes mind numbing examination of photographs, that there is an objective reality, but that perhaps we aren’t going to find that objective reality in photographs.
And so there is this:
The flag is a symbol that we see everywhere, all the time, and is certain to evoke a response from the viewer. Soldiers, or images of soldiers, are used as well to illicit a feeling from the viewer. From you. What you see here depends on so much. And all of it comes from you. Do you see a display of rock solid American patriotism? If so does that cause you to feel pride or dread? Is there anything in this image that is authentic? Are those battle hardened veterans rendering the appropriate courtesy to The National Colors and a group of young tough Marines? Or is something else going on? What do we need to see? And does it even matter?
Of course it matters. You get to decide what you are seeing. You get to look, and look again if need be and try to figure out what is going on. That is your role as the viewer. That is your obligation. Someone is always using images to convey a message. But in the end it is you, the engaged informed viewer, that gets to determine what the message is.