Point of view

A photo sent by a friend, with a note referring to “the man in the uniform behind the left shoulder” of Barack Obama:

There are two men in uniform right behind Obama; how are we to interpret “left shoulder” here? From Obama’s point of view (in which case the man in question is to the right of Obama in the photo)? Or from our point of view, looking at the photo?

The potential ambiguity can be avoided by saying “to the right/left of Obama in the photo”, but (as it turns out) my friend has a principled usage here.

My friend writes:

as a rule if the photo is “anchored” by a recognizable personality, I refer to others in relationship to that personality’s viewpoint; if, however, there’s no famous person to focus on, I refer to location from the audience’s point of view.

In the photo above, there’s certainly a recognizable personality, Obama, so the man in question is the one to the right of Obama in the photo.

My friend reports that many do not agree with this principled understanding, but suspects that there are others who do.

7 Responses to “Point of view”

  1. Randy Alexander Says:

    “Of Barack Obama” is not included in the quotation you gave from your friend, but if we’re talking about Barack Obama’s left shoulder, then I don’t see any ambiguity here.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      My friend used a circumlocution to refer to Obama.
      Otherwise, you seem not to have the ‘stage-left’ reading for “Barack Obama’s left shoulder”, and no doubt there are others like you. But there are others who do (and I am one of them).

      • Randy Alexander Says:

        For me, “the man to the left of Obama” could be on the other side of “the man to Obama’s left”. Would you say Obama has two left shoulders, depending on one’s perspective.

    • mikepope Says:

      General editing wisdom is that if _anyone_ can be confused by a construction, it should be recast. The trick as an editor (well, one of them) is to be able to see ambiguity that might exist for some readers, even if it doesn’t exist for you.

  2. Gary Says:

    Theatre people run into this conundrum every day—hence the concepts of stage-left and stage-right, which mean the opposite of left and right respectively.
    And yet, I find it hard to talk about Obama’s stage-left even though this is obviously a carefully staged performance.

  3. Bob Richmond Says:

    I’m so confused by right-left in photos that I never use the words in captioning. I’d say “the man back of Obama wearing glasses” or “the man back of Obama wearing numerous medals” if I were describing that picture.

  4. It all depends on how you look at it | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […]  from my 5/2/15 posting “Point of view”, […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: