A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. On Photographs, Talking Contexts and Visual Silences


  • Mattias Frihammar




Visual silence, Photographs, Archive, Gunnar Lundh, Funeral, Media event


This paper’s point of departure is that historic silences are socially constructed and culturally productive, and that photographs in archives participate in the creation of historical silences despite, or maybe thanks to, their convincing depicting qualities. In this essay, photographs from three occasions have been studied in detail in order to elucidate different kinds of visual silences. The occasions are i) a funeral where it is the photographer’s own mother that is being buried, ii) a funeral where the coffin is covered in a draping with a swastika, and iii) a royal funeral. Adopting a self-reflexive outlook, the purpose of this essay is to suggest a few possible ways of addressing silences that can occur when the presumptions of a beholder meet the image content of a photograph from the past. The three examples show that the concept of visual silence can be applied in different ways. In the first example, the technical and artistic shortcomings are interpreted as silencing components, which can convey information. In the second example, the (to a contemporary beholder) provocative silence around the historically charged symbol of a swastika becomes an analytical resource in its own right. The last example illustrates how a lot of information can compose such a dominant narrative, that it silences other stories.


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How to Cite

Frihammar, M. (2020) “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. On Photographs, Talking Contexts and Visual Silences”, Culture Unbound, 12(1), pp. 217–232. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.2020v12a11.



Archive and Methods