Photographs cannot be interpreted without the memories or reality associated with them. In the movie Memento, Leonard is unable to piece together the meaning of the photographs he has taken without reading the written inscription on each. Leonard lives in an altered state of reality as a result. He only gets a vague glimpse into the meaning of the photo. He only knows what his handwriting tells him to be true.
We can use the fourth communication model to look at this phenomenon. The ritual communication model is made up of symbolic behavior. It dictates that symbols mean more than they explicitly show.
Symbols often carry little information, but hold much meaning. We get much of the meaning that we derive from symbols by means of the culture we live in. Different cultures place different meaning upon various symbols.
By analyzing a photograph as a symbol, we must concede that it holds more meaning than is shown in the picture. Conversely, if we look at a photo that has no relevance to us, we take no meaning from it unless we have a story or description to go with it.
If we look at Leonard’s case using this model, we must conclude that he cannot possibly realize the true meaning of the photos he carries, or even come to the same conclusion each time he sees them. Since he cannot form new memories, he must rely on old ones to survive, which can be treacherous.
The movie poses a great paradox: if you cannot remember, how do you remember? Leonard believes that his photos help him remember truth, but possibly they help him remember an alternate reality. It is in this that photos require memories to be interpreted accurately.