Recycling, Repurposing and Re-framing

All media, newspapers, magazines, etc. could once have been described as “social media” in the sense that they were intended for consumption by a non-restricted audience with, in many cases, increased consumption equalling increased profits. Whilst such forms of media continue to exist and perform their function, the extent to which they do so has diminished greatly. Today, “social media” refers to computer-mediated technologies which facilitate the creating and sharing of information and ideas. This is differentiated from more traditional forms of media in that it is media-sharing with a social element – the people sharing the media are generally its authors and feel that they belong to one of various forms of networks or “communities”.

Barthes referred to the contexts in which images can be consumed as “channels of transmission” in a tripartite system where the authors of images he describes as the “source of emission” and viewers become the “point of reception” (Barthes, 1977, p. 15).

Barrett suggests that the “external context” is “the situation in which a photograph is presented or found”, this includes books, galleries, museums, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and classrooms (Barrett, 2005, pp. 106 – 111). Clearly for Barrett’s external context “situation” to exist in which images can be consumed, both Barthes “channel of transmission” and “point of reception” need to be present (it is given, therefore, that a “source of emission” has authored the image).

Barrett goes on to identify two other contexts: the internal, and the original contexts.

The “internal context” is appreciated by paying attention to the subject of photograph, the medium and form of the image, and the relationship between the three. The “original context” cannot be determined by an examination of the photograph itself as it is dependent upon a knowledge of art and the art world (ibid.).

Meaning is context base, as Price and Wells inform us “One determinant of the way in which we understand photographs, then, is the context within which we view them, and key institutions shape the nature of photography by the way they provide context” (Price and Wells, 2015, p. 61).

Media organisations exist to generate revenue (even not-for-profit organisations) and the sale of images or advertising space play a significant part in establishing that income. Organisations provide a specific context, a platform through which users can engage with the organisation and, in the case of social media, other users. Ultimately though, how the context is used, or able to be used, by users is determined by the culture of the organisation providing the context. For example, whilst there is a clear need for Facebook to safeguard against the dissemination of inappropriate images of minors, most people are familiar with the officious way in which Facebook quickly removes post-operative mastectomy images or images of breastfeeding mothers.

What, then, of the relationship between individuals and contexts?

Contemporary social media owes much of its popularity to its interactive nature where the community members are authors and contributors as much as they viewers and consumers. Images contributed to social media help individuals to define their online identity, where they “shape” the way in which others see them, where they portray themselves as they wish to be perceived, their “ideal”.

“A rapidly expanding system of networks, collectively known as the Internet, links millions of people in new spaces that are changing the way we think, the nature of our sexuality, the form of our communities, or very identities” (Truckle, 1995 p. 9).

In this virtual world of social media, image content is more important than any aesthetic quality, where images are distributed as a symbol of pseudo-status relating to the preferred ideal identity, where they act as a time-stamp confirming the author’s conspicuous-consumption as they “check in” to various social events, make us aware of those in their social circle (and those not), and share with us meals they are preparing to eat. These are the “casual” photographs referred to by Manovich (2016).

Additionally, social media provides individuals with a sense of being connected and belonging that is absent with other forms of media whilst organisations are able to take advantage of the larger audience which, in advertising terms, is accessible at a much-reduced cost.

Social media is a dialogic form of transmission, meaning that there are many sources of information and many users, or to put this in terms Barthes would recognise, there are both many sources of emission and many points of reception. This is opposed traditional forms of media which are monologic where the sources of emission are typically a very small number of powerful organisations delivering information to a wide audience.

Whilst social media offers an immediacy of dissemination, together with affording contributors a sense of belonging and an opportunity and means of assembling an online identity, there are negative aspects to this media form.

Images are, for example, subject to misappropriation, plagiarism and manipulation. Threats to which images placed into online galleries are equally prone if adequate safeguards are not put into place.

Additionally, citizen journalism is a double-edged sword, capable of both informing an audience but also provide an uninformed, unbalanced and biased view of events.

So, what of more traditional media forms?

Newspapers continue to play an important part in keeping us informed of world events because, quite simply, press photographers and journalists have a “journalistic privilege” which affords them access to contacts, news and locations which are beyond the reach of those outside the profession.

Magazines allow viewers to look at images in a way which is very much context based given that “feature” images in magazines work in one of two ways: either being supported by, or supporting text in an article.

Photobooks enable an audience to view, generally theme-based, images in a linear way. Unaccompanied by text, the clue being in the name, images are curated in order to provide their own narrative which takes the “reader” on a journey.

Advertisements on billboards provide a means for organisations to achieve purpose-specific mass-exposure and constitute part of the “out of home” marketing mix. This form of advertising makes use of “downtime” when consumers are engaged in other activities, for example, driving or waiting at train stations and consequently makes use of vivid colours, logos, simple copy and symbols in order to engage the audience and quickly, and effectively, implant the message in the viewer’s mind. The symbiotic relationship between newspapers and magazines who sell advertising space to advertisers, provides the same works on similar principles.

Almost irrespective of context, images can readily be assigned to new purposes, in other words, they are open to be being used in a context different to that originally intended. Sontag (1977, p.174) refers to “new meanings” which can be attached to images either purposefully or incidentally as a result of this “recycling”.

Price and Wells indicate that in such cases of “repurposing”, the original intent for the image can be forgotten “with the passage of time the original motive for the making of a photograph may disappear, leaving it accessible to being ‘re-framed’ within new contexts” (Price and Wells, 2015, p. 70).

It is widely cited that there is no such thing as bad publicity. That may or may not be the case. Whilst Protein World received some negative press for their “Beach Body Ready” ready advert, they no doubt also saw enormous benefit from the pursuant media coverage surrounding the advertisement’s negative connotations. For me, the real winner is the spoof SimplyBe campaign whose adverts cleverly rode on the back of, and benefitted from, the momentum of the “Beach Body Ready” campaign. Here advertisers saw an opportunity to make use of copy, a colour scheme and a subject which were already established in the mind of the audience. Additionally, they built on the consternation of public opinion, portraying themselves as the “good cop” to Protein World’s “bad cop”.

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Beach Body Ready” (Protein World, 2015)

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Spoof Protest Advert (SimplyBe, 2015)

In terms of my commercial photographic practice, images are supplied to clients for use on business websites, in menus or for display in dining areas and these currently constitute the “point of reception” for my practice. Work is underway to develop other platforms for the consumption of my work including publication in books and magazines where my images will support text-based recipes.

The “channel of transmission” for this area of my practice will be a website in conjunction with appropriate forms of advertising literature (flyers, leaflets, and business cards).

In relation to my project, it is my intention to establish a dedicated online gallery. This mode of dissemination makes the project available to the widest possible audience, and range of audiences, whilst incurring least costs and is, therefore, the optimum context notwithstanding image safeguarding issues.

Looking beyond the project deadline, I intend to continue to work on the project, increasing the range of contexts through which audiences can view my work: the feasibility of an exhibition and a photobook are two options currently being explored.

Newspapers and magazines, especially local press in the early stages, will be appropriate contexts, or “channels of transmission” through which to make audiences aware of my project and any exhibitions, online or otherwise.

 

References

Barrett, T. (2005) Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images. New York: McGraw-Hill pp. 106 – 111

Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1977) Rhetoric of the Image in Image Music Text. London: Fontana

Price, D. and Wells, L. (2015) ‘Thinking about Photography’, in WELLS (ed.) Photography – A Critical Introduction. Oxon: Routledge

Manovich, L. (2016). Subjects and Styles in Instagram Photography. Manovich.net [Online]. http://manovich.net/content/04-projects/090-subjects-and-styles-in-instagram-photography-part-1/lm_instagram_article_part_1_final.pdf (Accessed: 28 February 2017)

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Truckle, Sherry. (1995) Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks

On Reflection: Week 5, Module Two

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – C. Northcote Parkinson

Bit fraught this week (to say the least) … …

Being half a week behind schedule took some recovery and I’m still seeing, and feeling, the effects now.

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong (eventually)” – Murphy’s Law

Sod’s law states that when (note when, not if) something does go wrong, it is always with the worst possible outcome – and that sums up my week!

… …

The “male gaze” – previously, this is something I have been unaware of, perhaps naively. Interesting theory, and enlightening.

Now I am aware of the “male gaze” and having searched the term “advertisements gaze” I was surprised to see just how many advertisements are sexualised and chauvinistic. This can, of course, be balanced by the “female gaze” theory. (This is huge area to explore). Nevertheless, eye-opening to see how ideologies can be manipulated.

… …

What “spare” time I have had this week, quite a lot of it has been spent contemplating what it is that makes an image appealing, using the work of Vermeer as a reference.

devlin

Holy Trinity” … …

It’s all right, Father, I’m just telling him about the Holy Trinity. You know it? Footwork, timing, and hitting!” – Liam Devlin, The Eagle Has Landed

(Touch of intertextuality there … keep it fresh in the mind, Philip, keep it fresh in the mind).

OK, so not that Holy Trinity.

It’s obviously a very complex issue which brings forth some highly subjective answers.

But what I have determined is that there are some common traits shared by, at least some, great images. These are:

A sense of familiarity

A sense of timelessness

A sense of ambiguity.

I won’t expand on these here, it’s not really the forum for one reason. Another reason is that I plan to write a small article based upon my research in this specific area.

Sophistication” is a buzzword at the moment. Think it will be for the foreseeable. It’s so easy to assume we know the true, dictionary definition of words. Not wishing to fall into a trap of my own making (seem to do that often enough anyway), I thought I would check the definition of its root, sophisticated, and fix it in my mind:

sophisticated

Something to reflect upon as I look, over the forthcoming week, to the development of my project and the next round of assignments which are gathering like a black cloud on the horizon.

The Gendered “Gaze”

“Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men …”

Genderization in the media

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Carl Jr Advertising Campaign, 2005

The “male gaze”, a term first referred to by Laura Mulvey, is the way in which women and the world are depicted from a masculine point of view, by the visual arts, as objects for male pleasure.

Feminist film critic Mulvey introduced the term in her 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. In her essay, Mulvey posits that gender power asymmetry is a controlling force in cinema and constructed for the pleasure of the male viewer, which, in turn, has its basis in patriarchal ideologies and discourses.

Consisting of three component perspectives, the person behind the camera, the characters within the text, and the spectator, the “male gaze” occurs when the audience is placed into the perspective of a heterosexual male by the camera. Females are typically (or stereo-typically) displayed on two different levels: as an object of erotic desire for the characters in the text, and as an object of desire for the “spectator”.

The male is portrayed as a dominant power, whilst the female is shown as being passive and subordinate.

 

Mulvey, Linda. (1975). ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. Luxonline.org.uk [Online]. Available at: http://www.luxonline.org.uk/articles/visual_pleasure_and_narrative_cinema(printversion).html (Accessed: 26 February 2017)

 

 

Voyeurism … or not?

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Morris, 2017. Bacchus

The “gaze” is a tool of exploration, a means by which we can analyse the relationship between the image maker or viewer, and the subject.

Any commercial work that I undertake has to fulfil different criteria to that of my project work.

In terms of my project, my intention is to produce images with an aesthetic appeal in their own right. My commercial work is based on an intention to inform and promote.

To observe the visual characteristics of my subjects I have to be detached, and view from a distance. This is the “spectator’s gaze” and involves exclusively the sense of sight. To fully understand the physical characteristics of the subject itself, I have to “become one with it”. This leads to an almost direct address or “extra-diegetic” point-of-view and involves the senses of taste, smell, touch and sound.

Both kinds of knowledge are required to accurately portray the true “character” of the subject.

However, whichever hat I happen to be wearing, for images to be successful, I have to be an observer – this is a constant.

What changes, though, is the viewpoint and the distance from which I observe.

Angier (2007, p. 61) points to distance being a basic condition of a voyeuristic relationship between the “seer” and the “seen”. Pertinently he points out that whilst the popular conception is that there has to be a sexual element in order for voyeurism to be established, this is not actually the case. Moreover, what is needed in addition to the basic condition of distance, is an element of desire for the subject on the part of the viewer, that is to say, the “seen” must be wanted by the “seer” in one form or another.

Angier suggests that, in addition to the viewer “wanting” the subject, there must also be elements of both “unavailablity” of the subject and ultimate “non-desire” on the part of the viewer.

However, are the two latter “pre-requisites” really pre-requisites after all? Is it not the case that we have all viewed something in a voyeuristic manner when the subject has been available, and we have ultimately wanted it?

So then, is my “gaze” voyeuristic? Quite possibly.

With its root in the French verb voir – to see, are we not all voyeurs anyway? Especially given that Angier suggests that a sexual element does not need to present?

If the latter points hold true, is my “gaze” now voyeuristic? I think almost definitely.

Angier, Roswell. (2007) Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Guide to Portrait Photography. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA

Being Informed by … Bill Gekas

The work of Australian photographer Bill Gekas is very inspirational and shows an exceptional degree of craftsmanship.

These images work on so many levels, the more I study them, the more I find of interest.

Gekas’ skill in realistically employing artificial lighting to create the impression of beautifully soft natural light is outstanding.

So much breadth and depth … …

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All images copyright Bill Gekas

Recreating the “Old Masters”

Self-taught Australian photographer Bill Gekas finds inspiration in paintings by the “old masters”.

In 2010, Gekas started a project recreating the paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Velasquez and Christus.

Interviewed for the Epoch Times in 2015, Gekas stated that lighting, colour, tonal relationships, composition, and emotive expressions of the subject all make a contribution, helping to produce photographs which look like paintings.

A trait that Gekas shares with artists working in paint media, including the old masters which influence his work, is the way in which he prepares his images. Photography has an immediacy, but Gekas creates the impression of a limited colour palette by cultivating his images: compositions are drafted in notebooks, outfits, backgrounds and props are carefully selected and, most importantly, lighting is planned. Wall (in Horne, 2012) stated that all photographers are either farmers or hunters. Quite clearly Gekas is a “farmer”, tending to his images and developing them over a period of time.

Most indoor work is usually lit with a 28” soft box as a key light.”

Interestingly, artificial lighting is used to illuminate the scenes he creates and Gekas provides an impressive list of equipment including: speedlights, Einstein studio strobes, light modifiers, reflectors, and RF triggers.

This is one aspect, perhaps, in which Gekas departs from the methods of the old masters who would have used natural light and, if using optics to produce their images, strong daylight.

In painting, the painter can create the emotive expression required in the final works from their own imagination. Whereas in photography it must be captured, and this is the challenging aspect.” Gekas is, therefore, quite clearly able to relate to a concept put forward by Snyder and Allen: “Most people, if asked, would no doubt say that, whereas the painter can paint whatever he wants, the photographer must depict “what is there.”” (Snyder and Allen, 1975, p. 148).

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Bill Gekas, date unknown. Potatoes

Potatoes” is an exquisite example of Gekas’ work which, on the surface, shows a Spartan kitchen scene in which a young girl is distracted from her task of peeling potatoes by something quite obviously more interesting outside the window.

Clearly it is Gekas’ intention to recreate a kitchen scene by Vermeer, who specialised in painting internal domestic scenes, and this has unquestionably been achieved. “Potatoes” was quite possibly based on Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” – for me there is too much of a “nagging sense of familiarity” in Gekas’ image for this not to be the case.

The attention to detail: the kitchen “set”, props, costume and lighting – all harmonise to create an enchanting synergy. The overall effect invites a second look, at least, in an attempt to answer the question “is this a painting, or a photograph?

Culturally, Gekas is making a statement regarding the level of quality in the workmanship of the old masters, and the longevity of visual appeal that this quality brings to their paintings. But, in addition to this, Gekas is suggesting that there is still an appeal for something familiar to be shown in a new way.

How does Gekas’ work relate to my photographic practice?

Firstly, the work of the old masters is obviously a source of inspiration shared by Gekas and myself.

Whilst Gekas and myself both share a mimetic desire to produce images with drama, atmosphere – in fact all the qualities seen in the old masters, we differ in terms of what we wish to achieve with the end product.

Gekas sets out, quite clearly, to recreate the paintings of the old masters. It is my intention, through continuing research, to use the techniques employed by the old masters in producing their paintings, to produce images which not only have a painterly aesthetic but which also provide a commentary on our relationship with food: how we produce it and consume it.

For me, moving forward, there is a great deal to learn from Gekas’ work, not least of which is his superb skill in realistically employing artificial lighting to create the impression of beautifully soft natural light.

The old masters produced paintings which have a timeless appeal. There is always something “new” to see in an old master. I think that this is something that we both appreciate.

 

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/1393925-bill-gekas-photo-portraits-inspired-by-old-masters-paintings/

 

References

Horne, R. (2012) “Holly Andres, “Farmer” of Photographs” in The Wall Street Journal (3 January 2012) [Online]. Available at: http://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2012/02/03/holly-andres-farmer-of-photographs/ [Accessed 9 February 2017]

Snyder, J. and Allen, N. (1975) ‘Photography, Vision and Representation’, Critical Inquiry, vol 2, No. 1 (Autumn, 1975), pp. 143-169 [Online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342806 (Accessed 03 February 2017)

 

On Reflection: Week 4, Module Two

I just sit at my typewriter and curse a bit” – P. G. Wodehouse

… …

A one-to-one tutorial proved very insightful this week, providing me with a much clearer vision of how to move my project forward. Feedback was highly informative and will be invaluable as research continues.

It was very interesting to explore the different meanings that can be attached to an image by an audience. Frith’s “layered” method of analysis, looking at surface, intended and cultural meanings of advertisements, resonated with me considerably – I really connected with this. This is one theory that I can see myself putting into practice as I develop my images on a regular basis.

Francis Hodgson suggests that we frequently refer to images as being “of something” but rarely consider that images are also “about something”. Barthes semiotic analysis, in the Rhetoric of the Image, informs us that there is in adverts both the “signifier” and the “signified”.

For me, for these two concepts, posited by two theorists at different times and for different reasons, to link together so well is intriguing – essentially two theorists reaching the same conclusion and expressing it in unique terminology. I found the “convergent evolution” striking. (Wonder if Hodgson ever read Barthes?) The interchangeability helped cement these concepts in my mind.

In fact, the deeper into semiotics and the encoding and decoding of images I delve, the more interesting I find the subjects. From a photographic point of view, these are areas that I could see myself exploring at some point. But that point certainly isn’t right here, right now. Today, and for the foreseeable, my focus needs to be my project, certainly if I am to do justice to both the project and any (very) tentatively formed ideas I have to investigate semiotics and related areas. Hmmmm … lots to think about!

Visual anthropology entered the conversation this week. I can see potential for lots of projects in this area (wonder what an electroencephalograph would look like right, so many ideas being fired off). But, isn’t all photography a form of visual anthropology in one way or another?

A fair amount of time this week has been spent researching the work of autodidact Bill Gekas. It’s fair to say I’m enchanted by his work which, both interestingly and relevantly, is inspired by the work of the “old masters”.

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Bill Gekas, date unknown. Potatoes

I’m very pleased with one particular image taken this week, “Bloodshot”. This image was made especially for an activity in which a “new” image – meaning one that had not been previously viewed by any fellow students – was posted to a forum devoid of any accompanying explanatory text or caption. The viewer was to make their own meaning. This photograph was actually a lot of fun to make. I like the composition, I think that turned out well and is visually appealing, and I like the overall ambiguity of the image – the image is clearly “of” something, but what is it “about”? (Hodgson again!)

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Morris, 2017. Bloodshot

 

Decoding Advertisements

Advertising only “makes sense” when it resonates with certain deeply held belief systems’ (Frith, 1997: vii).

So writes Katherine Frith in “Undressing the Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising”. She goes on to suggest that in order to “deconstruct” adverts, we must take them “apart layer by layer”.

First, the surface meaning: this is the overall, initial impression obtained upon viewing an advertisement. Breaking the advertisement down into a list of its component parts shows the meaning of an advert at surface level.

Secondly, the intended meaning is the sales message that advertisers wish to promote – this is the “preferred” meaning, the way in which advertisers “expect” viewers to interpret an advert.

Finally, the cultural meaning. The interpretation of this meaning is dependent upon the cultural knowledge and social background of the viewer, the shared “belief systems” to which Frith refers.

Barthes and Heath (1977) inform us of a signifier, something which is identifiable in an advert and which conveys a denotational message, and the signified or the connotational (implied) meanings, ideas or ideologies which the advert attempts to communicate to the viewer.

Interviewed in 2012, Francis Hodgson discusses not only the way in which we analyse images, but also the quality of the way in which we do so (Quality Matters, 2013). Hodgson suggests that we frequently perceive and discuss images as being “of something” without attempting to consider that images are also “about something”, an idea which links strongly with Barthes concept of the signifier and the signified.

Viewing adverts is not a passive process. However, models exist which suggest that this is the case.

The “Effects” or “hypodermic needle” theory suggests that the viewers of adverts passively view images and unquestioningly accept the message.

Conversely, “The Uses and Gratification” theory suggests that the audience takes an active role in consuming adverts, messages are questioned and put to use for the gratification of the viewer.

Both the Effects and the Uses and Gratification models have flaws and limitations. For example, the Effects model posits that children who view violent behaviour on screen will re-enact that violence in real life, the reality is that many people watch specific types of behaviour without going on to reproduce that behaviour themselves. The Uses and Gratification theory controversially suggests that some violent behaviour can be beneficial rather than harmful.

Reception Theory” was developed by Stuart Hall in response to these flaws.

This theory suggests that authors, say for example advertisers, will design an advert to carry a specific message – this is encoding. Decoding occurs when the audience views an advert.

Adverts can, according to Hall, be decoded in one of three ways which will be explored through the following analysis of images.

The first advertisement, The Famous Grouse “Perfectly Balanced” advert of 2016, provides an example of a dominant reading.

Reception theory informs us that authors identify a target audience and subsequently design, or “encode” ideologies into an advert in such a way as to convey a specific message. This message is “decoded” when the audience view the advert. Dominant readings arise when the message is encoded and then decoded in the same way.

The advertisement features a grouse, balancing on the peak of a rocky outcrop, the rock itself is truncated in order to create an impression of great height.

Whilst there is no reference to the product being advertised, Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky, anywhere at all in the image, the intended audience will instantly recognise the preferred message which, according to the distiller, is the bringing together of the “finest grains, pure Scottish water and carefully seasoned sherry and bourbon casks to create our uniquely rich, rounded and sweet whisky.”

dominant-meaning

Perfectly Balanced” – The Famous Grouse (2016)

Oppositional readings occur when images are viewed by an audience separate to, and outside of, the target audience. The non-target audience forms a view which is based upon their personal experiences or opinions, and which causes them to reject the preferred reading.

Vegans and vegetarians may take an oppositional view of the McDonald’s “Big Mac” advertisement because, in their view, it is unethical to kill animals and eat animal products. This is obviously in opposition to the advert itself which promotes the Big Mac specifically, and McDonald’s products in general, as being delicious and nutritious.

oppositional

Big Mac Meal” McDonald’s

Finally, the beach body ready advertisement is an example of a negotiated reading.

According to audience theory, “negotiated readings” are the result of an audience both accepting and rejecting elements of an advertisement simultaneously.

The dominant message is acknowledged, but it is not accepted willingly. Instead, the preferred reading is modified according to the audiences own experiences and interests.

Fundamentally, the advert is promoting a series of weight loss supplements. However, the advert received widespread criticism when the “viewing audience” perceived it as promoting lean body types and therefore discriminating against other body types.

Consequently, we can see that the audience will accept the promotion of the weight loss supplements, but objects to the use of exclusively slender models in that promotion.

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Beach Body Ready” Protein World (2015)

Adverts, therefore, are “polysemic” in nature – they are open to different interpretations which are dependent upon the audience’s identity, cultural knowledge and opinions.

But what of the “deeply held belief systems” to which Frith refers?

Goodwin and Whannel suggest that messages are “socially produced in particular circumstances and made culturally available as shared explanations of how the world works. In other words, they are ‘ideologies’, explanatory systems of belief” (Goodwin and Whannel, 2005, p. 60).

Their definition of “shared explanations” is interesting because it relates to semiotic concept of symbolism.

Pierce introduced the philosophical system of semiotics in his book “Logic as Semiotic: The Theory of Signs” (1910), a discourse on the theory of language and reasoning. This system has since been utilised widely in attempts to establish the nature of photography and photographs.

Barthes, in his attempts to qualify how photography “exists”, has referred to the terminology introduced by Pierce’s system of semiotics, such terminology as: icon – the resemblance that a photograph has to its subject, and index – trace evidence of the existence of a subject once photographed.

In semiotic terms, symbols are agreed, standardised points of reference which can be used as a basis upon which to form discussions that are inclusive (e.g. a car is a car because that is what we are taught, and it is universally agreed and accepted that a “car” will have a chassis, four wheels, an engine, etc.).

If the symbolic meaning of a photograph is the “studium” referred to by Barthes, the polysemic “punctum” is the initial (conscious) pricking impression that is purely personal and dependent on the individual.

Ideologies are, then, the explanatory systems of belief suggested by Goodwin and Whannel and messages are the mode by which such ideologies are communicated. Consequently, it follows that symbolism is the agreed shorthand used in those messages.

It would appear then, in relation to decoding advertisements, that we have established the link between the “deeply held belief systems” referred to by Frith and semiotic symbolism.

How then, does theory relate to practice?

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Morris, 2017. Tomato Soup

Analysed according to Frith’s meanings, the image “Tomato Soup” has the following characteristics.

Firstly, in terms of the surface meaning, the image shows tomatoes, onion, garlic and carrots, a number of pencils stand ready for use in a pot – which we can see is a tin which once held tomato soup, and there is a recipe with the title “Tomato Soup”.

The intended meaning of the image is clearly to portray tomato soup and its ingredients, at least in terms of this particular recipe.

Finally, the cultural meaning of the image. Whilst the image is clearly about tomato soup, the question is introduced as to what tomato soup the image is trying to portray. The fresh ingredients and the recipe suggest that the benefits of fresh, home-made tomato soup are being depicted. The tin which clearly held a well-established brand of tomato soup has been relegated to the position of pen pot – is this image promoting healthy, economical and delicious benefits of home-cooking? Or is the tin – now empty of soup and with its new contents of pencils – lurking in the background for an ulterior reason?

From Hodgson’s perspective, “Tomato Soup” is, again, clearly an image of the ingredients needed to make. But the same ambiguity applies with regard to what the image is about – is it home-cooked soup, or mass-produced soup in a tin?

Taking Barthes and Heath’s semiotic approach, the signifier is not quite so easily determined. In the case of “Tomato Soup”, is it the range of fresh ingredients and the recipe, or is it the tomato soup can in the background? The signified is, therefore, very much dependent upon what the viewer interprets the signifier to be.

On a final note, for me, as a photographer, the value of audience theory is in knowing the way in which different meanings can be attached to images, in understanding the polysemic nature of photographic images – the way that each viewer can have a unique interpretation of an image as a result of their own experiences and values.

Viewers find interest in images which are multi-layered and which contain some ambiguity in terms of the message that is being conveyed – they like having something to find, something to search for. Knowledge and understanding of the meaning attached to images and semiotic analysis allows me to produce images which appeal to an audience on a deeper level because of their multi-layered, slightly ambiguous and subjective nature.

Furthermore, this information allows me to make informed decisions about the images I make. Ultimately, as a photographer, I have two goals. The first is for the images I make to be viewed by an audience, and the second is for the images to evoke a reaction within that viewing audience. At the very least, audience theory allows me to correctly identify my target audience.

 

References

Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1977) Rhetoric of the Image in Image Music Text. London: Fontana

Francis Hodgson: Quality Matters (2013) YouTube Video, added by Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography [Online]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc accessed 19 February 2017

Frith, Katherine Toland. (1997) Undressing the Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising. New York: Peter Lang

Goodwin, A. and Whannel, G. (2005) Understanding Television. London: Routledge

Hall, Stuart. (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in association with The Open University

On Reflection: Week 3, Module Two

A better week this week (or, as I write this, last week) – a bit less frenetic.

Looking back to the September last year and before … …

I started off not being particularly skilled at critical evaluation, basing my like or dislike of an image on something much more “intuitive” – going with a “gut-feeling”.

Now though, I think it fair to say, my critical evaluation is becoming more fluid, that is to say I’m becoming more fluent, it isn’t as laboured – I don’t have to think so hard about what I’m thinking.

The theory is starting to come together in an appreciable way – all the different strands are starting to weave together and create something of meaning.

Point in case, my analysis of Barthes statement: “In the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation” was described by a fellow student as being “really put across clearly and concisely” and having “helped to decipher” a quote that had caused my colleague some struggle.

This is really positive feedback. And it is also very insightful … …

Why?

Because it informs me not only of how well I am understanding and assimilating theories being introduced as part of the MA, it also informs me of how well (or not) I may be articulating my ideas relating to those theories.

That’s not to say I didn’t struggle in evaluating Barthes statement myself, I’m just better equipped, and more practiced, in doing so. I’m actually really pleased that my efforts resulted in something that elicited a feeling and a response, and was of benefit.

Consequently, I am feeling a lot more positive regarding the course – as though the “mists are clearing”.

I’m finding a deeper meaning to the “deeper meaning”.

Things that, at first, when being completed were a chore (to say the least) are now starting to show a higher value.

Initially, nothing worked for me. No system of summarising key points seemed effective – everything was more miss than hit. The last week has seen a breakthrough. With the implementation of mind maps, note taking has improved significantly – it’s a system which lends itself very readily to summarising the theory related to photography and critical thinking, helping to assimilate the sometimes-abstruse information much more easily. I really should have started using iMindMap for this before now (why didn’t I think of this earlier?)

I also feel that I am gaining a wider and deeper awareness and understanding of contexts and audiences, and perceptions.

Exploring such concepts as “authenticity”, “representation”, semiotics and most recently the integrity of “constructed” images has done much to make me question my views on how images are consumed. And not only “how” they are viewed, but also “what” determines how they are viewed, and “why”.

The understanding that informed photographic practitioners have of how their images may be viewed by the audience, and the role that context plays in this, is fundamentally important. Knowing the audience, can mean the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph. But not just knowing the audience, truly knowing the audience – getting under the audience’s skin – and understanding the audience!

A topic which piqued my interest this week, are we makers or takers? Photographers follow a tendency to have a genre in which they specialise. But having a specialism doesn’t preclude them from taking photographs which fall into other genres – it isn’t “mutually exclusive”. Consequently, I think that we are, at different times both hunters and farmers of images? Being one doesn’t preclude the other.

An interesting week with regard to the project. ideas are still being developed. Work has continued resourcing materials and props and there have been some developments in this area. As an aside, there is an opportunity for an interesting mini-project in the forthcoming week, this requires some materials which had to be purchased and arrived today – it was quite exciting to open the package and explore the items as it’s unfamiliar territory for me. Something to look forward to: a very loose “brief” with plenty of scope for personal interpretation, in fact more of a set of guidelines rather than criteria to be fulfilled – just grab the camera and “go with the flow”.

Back to discussing the main project … …

I’m increasingly aware of the need for differentiation – generating output which is unique. Incorporating techniques of the old masters into images which have a social relevance is one way to achieve this – or at least goes part of the way. But, going beyond this, what is there? Part of my research this week has looked at post-processing and the techniques that can “add value” to images, in terms of helping produce a characteristic style. It’s been quite successful, informative and interesting. This is an area I wish to explore more.

I am seeing opportunities to explore in “mundane”, everyday things. Seeing the way that light from a lamp played on the surface of a table gave me an idea for something to try out, something to experiment with in a few photographs. It was the colour of the light – amazing – that caught my eye. I think I can recreate it and, if I can, it should make for a highly appealing image.

Visual strategies. What are they – in real terms? That’s something which, as it’s pertinent to the forthcoming assignment, I shall be contemplating over the next week.

An issue which does require some attention – my mind is like a “butterfly”, settling momentarily on an idea to sample its sweet nectar before flying off in a seemingly random manner to explore for the next. Perhaps that’s a good way to be “creative” – or to effectively “create” ideas – but, to me at least, it isn’t a very efficient or productive use of time. There’s obviously a balance to be struck … … something I need to work on.

False Indexes

Postmodern photographic work in particular exploits and challenges both the objective and the subjective, the technological and the creative” (Hutcheon, 2003, p. 117).

In relation to my photographic practice, the objective is what is presented to the camera, or what the camera sees. The subjective is what I want the audience who will view my photographs to see – it’s the message contained within.

As a photographer, I rely upon the objectivity of my camera to reproduce accurately an image of the scene I have created. It is the ability of photography to be able to capture a true, iconic likeness of a constructed subject that is the “peculiar” nature of photography and which, arguably sets it apart from other forms of visual art.

My photographic work falls into two areas: commercial work and project work.

My commercial work is more objective, less subjective, and a more faithful representation of the subject aimed at portraying how a recipe should look when prepared, or persuading customers to make purchases in cafeterias or restaurants. Clients expect that this type of work will have documentary value.

In terms of my project, work consists of constructed images, incrementally developed over time, which have an aesthetic appeal but also carry a message. Using Wall’s terminology, these are “farmed” images (Wall as cited in Horne, 2012).

So, how do the “technological” and the “creative” relate to each other?

Familiarity with my camera is important in my work. Practicing with my camera enables a degree of proficiency which, in real terms, means I don’t have to think about using the camera which, in turn, allows my work to flow intuitively. This provides a balance between the “technological” and the “creative” because there are, as Hutcheon suggests, fundamental links between the technological and the objective, and the creative and the subjective.

It was asked whether photography could be art or not. The camera is a machine, and the machine has no spirit, so photography makes machine-made paintings’ (Sugimoto as cited in Cue, 2016).

This quote, for me at least, seems to deny photography of a fundamental quality – it’s ability to be indexical whilst also having aesthetic appeal. It also appears to deny any credit to the photographer who provides the “spirit” to which Sugimoto refers.

This seems in contrast with his description of having witnessed a sunset:

In late spring 1982, I watched from a cliff in Newfoundland as a beautiful sunset coincided with a full moon rise in the eastern sky. Standing up there in the crisp air, I felt like a figure in a Caspar David Friedrich painting; for the first time in years I was overcome by an out-of-body experience. I was far above from the earth’s surface gazing at the moon adrift over the sea, while another me ― a tiny speck ― remained spellbound on the ground.”

new-foundland

Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1982. North Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland

The three photographs which follow are representative examples of photographers who have successfully married the technological with the creative: blending the “mechanical”, objective aspect provided by the photographic equipment with the subjectivity of the photographer’s vision.

American photographer David Hilliard constructs images, typically a triptych, using photographs of the same scene taken from different angle in order to add a dimension of time and span the gap between fact and fiction. It is the added dimension of time, something which is normally excluded from photographs, that I find particularly interesting.

my_fathers_shirt

David Hilliard, 1994. My Father’s Shirt

Christina de Middel’s project “Afronauts” used fictional photographs to narrate the story of the 1964 Zambian Space Programme.

This is what hatred did

Christina de Middel, 2012. Afronauts

Carl Warner’s “foodscapes” see him produce fantastical images constructed entirely of food.

candy-cottage-20x16

Carl Warner, Date unknown. Candy Cottage

We have looked at the relationship between the technological and the creative. Is this affected by the context in which images are viewed?

Shore suggests that “the context in which a photograph is seen effects the meaning a viewer draws from it” (Shore, 1998, p. 26). Barker goes on to say: “All meanings depend on other meanings” (Barker, 2008, p. 482).

The viewing context informs how the image is made. There is an “assumed textual and visual lexicon” which is cumulative over time: the images we see, the things we hear, all the things we experience shape the way in which we perceive images.

Photographers make decisions about the images they take: how to frame the subject, what to include in the frame and what to exclude, what depth of field to use, etc. In the same way, viewer’s make decisions about how to interpret an image. There is a link between the “subjective” creative view of the photographer and the implicit content of an image. The more implicit an image’s content, the more open to interpretation by the viewer an image is. Critical thinking and visual literacy also play a part in the interpretation of images, in effect allowing image makers and viewers to communicate in a shared language. As mentioned in previous discussions, the language needed to evaluate photographs need not be unique to photography, barring technical aspects, the language used to describe and interrogate other forms of visual communication is quite adequate.

This is important, and relevant, to me because it determines how I make my images – the images have to meet audience expectations. In my case, as discussed earlier, the audiences for my commercial work and my project work will be different and will have different requirements. Consequently, I have to balance being overly explicit and providing the viewer with too much information to the point that the image loses its point of interest, and assuming the viewer has a much greater visual literacy than is actually the case, leaving the hidden meaning beyond reach and the image consequently too open to interpretation.

It is worthy, perhaps, to mention that the way images are viewed is partly dependent on who is looking at the images. Photographers, I think, can fall into different categories: the technical and the artistic.

The technically biased, although appreciating the visual value of an image, may predominantly notice the technical qualities of an image first. On the other hand, the artistic might predominantly look first to the aesthetic qualities of an image, and any message that the image is trying to convey.

 

Barker, C. (2008) Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice London: Sage Publications Limited

Cué, E. (2016) “Interview with Hiroshi Sugimoto” in The Huffington Post (1 June 2016) [Online]. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elena-cue/interview-with-hiroshi-su_b_8924692.html [Accessed 9 February 2017]

Horne, R. (2012) “Holly Andres, “Farmer” of Photographs” in The Wall Street Journal (3 January 2012) [Online]. Available at: http://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2012/02/03/holly-andres-farmer-of-photographs/ [Accessed 9 February 2017]

Hutcheon, L. (2002) The Politics of Postmodernism London: Routledge

Shore, S. (1998) The Nature of Photographs Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press

Sugimoto, H. (1982) “Revolution”. Hiroshi Sugimoto [Online]. Available at: http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/revolution.html [Accessed 08 February 2017]