Sustenance aside, we consume to manifest belief and foster personal bias. We consume much like a camera produces a photograph, for every input there is an output. While the camera might be understood in these terms, light as the input and the photograph as output (the camera being a finite machine), it does not account for variables of perception, in how we assign meaning to the output and the infiniteness of perception. Perception grows from finite means, which grows understanding into practice. The photograph therefore is a function of perception, which is to say, it is a fulfillment of the partiality to which we already prescribe.

If we were to consider the visual of a hamburger as defining, and not that the burger in its entirety as a tactile and olfactory thing too, we would be foolish. The completeness of a hamburger is in not only seeing, but smelling, tasting, and even knowing a hamburger. And how we know a hamburger is not unlike how we know a photograph. While to know a hamburger likely sounds either useless or too academic, a hamburger is iconic, or at least American-iconic. It is representative of American identity and a consumer society that is (rightfully or wrongfully) understood as a place where one can fulfill their dreams. Where one can grow a single restaurant into a franchise of restaurants. We know a hamburger by these terms just as much as we do by sight, smell and taste. Conjure an image of a hamburger and you are likely to consider McDonald’s or some other fast-food chain. Like the completeness of a hamburger is relational to fast-food restaurants and other faculties that are not intrinsic to the hamburger but help to define it, the full meaning of a photograph lies outside the frame.

For those who understand photography as a language and therefore not capable of being an icon and a language simultaneously—for language is not usually considered a sign system—I would argue that photography is a branch of cognitive linguistics in that as a particular language it situates itself to a particular environment. The language of photography is the product of how photography is consumed.

How else does a picture of a woman’s posterior alongside one of a sliced ham otherwise even begin to make sense? It does not unless we otherwise know a woman’s posterior and know ham, as pedantic as it might be, how we know a hamburger and how we know a photograph. If one finds it to be sexual in nature or to foster fetish, that is only the remark of a conditioned understanding of sexuality, food, and consumption and how the three relate through social context. To add, it is likely that the more precise the perception the more non-transferable the meaning becomes. But that is not to blame the photograph. The photograph has done its part and not responsible for truthfulness. It is not unlike pareidolia, the phenomena by which we perceive a pattern not there—an apparition of the Virgin Mary for instance or the singularity of a church dinner with its desperate yet cohesive shared dishes and the hope of a shared meal—which is to say that we want to consume so much more than what is presented.

Literally, the woman’s posterior belongs to some sitter for the photograph. Metaphorically however, it is a posterior detached from that person but known in how you have previously known the posterior of a woman. It is the ham you have tasted before. And now that you know that, one wonders what more there is to digest. Thus I can know one thing in viewing, and that is that I exist and what I consume is confirmation of what I already believe to be known. Consider for instance, if you did in fact know the sitter posing her posterior for the photograph. Or consider your own portrait seen by someone who does not know you. Or if ham was completely foreign to you, something you had never seen, smelled, or tasted. Consider how drastically different each projected meaning would be—how the photograph of each would read. There is no economy in this precept of appetite. In each instance one would take what is needed from within the frame. Everything there is within the photograph is consumed, comes together as confirmation of precepts as to how a photograph should harmoniously function.

Everything at a church dinner is consumed as one meal and understood as just that, even if the dishes that make the whole of the dinner would not otherwise be considered complementary to one another, a juxtaposition within a frame. It is cohesive enough to be considered something else altogether. Something even otherworldly, hopeful and sacred. We seek out something mystical then within the mundane, a plate of food is a hopeful measure. One that grows the church, converts non-believers to believers, bespeaking parishioner’s faith like a photograph manifest light into meaning. These constructs are not intrinsically that of the photograph of course. The photograph is still the output of the camera, light captured on a sensitive plane. But that is not to say that the photograph is objective either.

Although, for satisfying appetite it must be at least temporarily so. The photograph has to have some truth at least for now, even it is later to be revealed as an inaccurate truth, in order that we can engage in even the most base level of civility, that is to speak to one another by way of a language. By return to the familiar. It is the photograph that depicts what we already want its subject to be. Even the most modest subject loaded with its own meaning, whether stripped or not by the projection of the communal us—like the hopefulness of the religious awaiting a savior, like returning home—creates new meaning. That new meaning like a new frontier, is revealed through everything the photograph is not, as revelation still. New domains. Without the photograph, the meaning would never present itself to us the viewer, like land left unseen.

And yet still our appetite is not sated as we seek to inhabit other planets even, new frontiers justified as needed, as self-sustaining, and the right thing to do. Perhaps even morally sound. Expansion is an ideal in this regard. Right now are ongoing efforts to take a rocket to Mars occupied not just by scientists but rather, regular (albeit wealthy) folk among us. Have we not seen already the most profound and the most mundane—or at least a photograph of it—every visual this world has to offer, quite literally? We seek out unknown landscapes beyond familiar landscapes even though it is the familiar we want to see. We consume not only to satisfy, but to vindicate the truths we accept and extend our notion of believability, to know ourselves better.