Whether we’re looking through our own eyes or at a photographic representation, we’re dealing with images all day, every day.

On a beautiful day this week, I found an interesting juxtaposition of images on the Diag. Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” blasted into the open windows of classrooms in Angel Hall as the intro to a student’s loudspeaker announcement: “That one goes out to all you voter virgins.” To the direct left of the voter registration/DJ table was one of Ann Arbor’s infamous sin-haters, a suited gentleman wearing a maize-and-blue-striped tie, carrying a sign that read “Jesus Hates Sin.”

There were a lot of ideas and ideologies floating around in the form of actual speech and dialogue, as well as T-shirts and signs. The students registering voters responded with their own image, a sign that read: “God Hearts Voters.” By just relaxing in the Diag on a beautiful fall day, one could literally witness a political dialogue without any (professional) politicians around.

I was lucky enough to catch this moment in person, but of course, just shy of 40,000 students missed it. It’s more than possible, however, that a photograph of this scene in the Diag could circulate among our in-boxes within a few hours.

What would that photograph convey? It might highlight new meanings and perspectives to something I watched through my own personal framework. To those who didn’t attend, their entire perspective of what went on would be based on another person’s lens.

As Susan Sontag wrote in “Melancholy Objects,” “In America, the photographer is not simply the person who records the past, but the one who invents it.” There is something of a second reality that is created with a photograph.

Among the dozens of emails I receive a day related to the upcoming presidential election, I recently found a real gem. Photographs of an “Alaska Women Reject Palin” rally in Anchorage displayed creative homemade signs and a sizable crowd in a state that boasts a population approximately equal to that of Memphis.

Elections this year and in the past decade have relied much more heavily on imagery — conventions are televised and speeches can be watched online. E-mail and YouTube have brought national politics to a new level and a lot of political dialogue takes place through these means. For the one protest you may experience firsthand, there are dozens more that you will only experience through images and photographs. A photograph, it can be argued, is a limited view of a whole network. Were there anti-Obama demonstrators in Anchorage that day? What was the feeling in the air?

French philosopher Roland Barthes believed that photography could act as a “shelter from reality.” By living in Ann Arbor I have a holistic idea of the various ideas and thoughts of residents here. But I have very little concept of what goes on 4,000 miles away in Alaska other than this one “Women Reject Palin” protest. It’s clear that as governor, Sarah Palin was not rejected by a majority of Alaskan residents. Photography can, as Sontag believes, invent a story. But even though I was not present in Anchorage, and know little about it, I’m still able to infuse the images with a greater understanding of social interactions by looking at various perspectives.

The reality invented through imagery is not an individual task. Photos do unfold an existence beyond what we see on a day-to-day basis because we are looking through someone else’s viewfinder. I saw what happened on the Diag firsthand on Tuesday but what did I miss that the group sitting next to me saw? At the same time, what am I missing outside the frames of pictures from the anti-Palin protest? There is no camera frame or vision that will fully represent physical reality, but we have the ability to compound images and perspectives to form a greater understanding of what the world looks and feels like.

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