When my sister Cait and I thought about what we wanted to get Mom for Christmas, we decided to make her a calendar with pictures of our family on it. I asked Cait to email me some pictures of the family, and this is one of the pictures that I received attached to an email a few hours later:
No, this isn’t something you’d see on the cover of National Geographic, but I like this picture. Those two beautiful girls are my sisters, Marissa on the left and Anna on the right. On the left side of the image you can see Cait’s thumb. You can see it because she’s holding the photograph in her hand while she takes a picture of it. In a few moments, she’ll send that image to me via email, an image that is, we could say, a picture of a picture.
Yes, I like this picture. I like it because it reminds me of my sisters, and when I think of my sisters, I think about the fun times we’ve had. And as my thoughts go to my sisters, they tend to think of the rest of my family. My other sister, my brother, and my parents. When I see this picture, I also think about the situation in which this particular image was sent to me, which was for a Christmas gift to my mother (by the way, when I made one copy of the calendar, I thought it would be fun for everyone in the family to have a copy, so I made several more calendars).
But I also like this picture for another reason. I like it for the ideas that it conveys and the questions that it asks: if you look closely, you can see a partial outline of Cait reflecting in the background as she takes a picture of the photograph she is holding–this image is not just a picture of a picture, but it is also a picture of a picture of a picture. When I look at this picture, I do not see my real sisters, but images of two of them, and a shadow of the third. But these images and shadows are still evidence that they exist. And they also help to remind me of what my sisters look like and are, even when I’m not in their immediate presence. If we wanted to, we could say that the images are symbolic of the real thing.
Now we can’t really see Cait in the photograph. I mean, we can see an obvious thumb and a vague outline of something in the background, but we cannot see Cait’s face. So the question is, how do I know it is Cait? The answer is I trust her. She told me that she took the picture of the photograph, and I believe her. To some degree, knowledge comes by trusting.
Now could someone else have taken the picture of the photograph with Cait’s phone and sent it to me? Or as a more extreme case, could someone have broken into Cait’s house, stolen the photograph, scanned it into a computer, photo shopped in an outline of a person in the background and a thumb on the left side, then hack into Cait’s email account and attach the picture to an email? I think the answers to this question are both yes and no, depending on the perspective.
Were the answer to the questions in the above paragraph yes, then I may have gotten the a similar result, an image with my sisters in it that I would then use to make a calendar for my family. But even if the answer were yes, Cait still told me that she took the picture of the photograph, and I trust that my sister has told me the truth. This trust outweighs possible doubts; my belief in the truthfulness of Cait’s words is stronger than other “counterarguments” that my mind, if I let it, could and would come up with.
For more on a related subject, see this post.