On Reflection … Week 2, Module Two

Wading through treacle … …

This week has, in no uncertain terms, been hard.

Issues of time management, or more correctly “life getting in the way”, have compounded the difficulties of dealing with some complex philosophical concepts.

Theorists such as Pierce, Barthes, Sontag, Snyder and Allen (and many more) have all been thrown into the conceptual melting pot together with terms like “authenticity”, “representation”, “semiotics” and “indexical” (to mention only a few).

Evaluating the “peculiar” nature of photography and whether this, should it exist, warrants photography having its own methods of interpretation and standards of evaluation has not been a straightforward journey.

At times it has seemingly been a case of two steps forward and three backwards, and at other times it has appeared to be a case of going around in circles (wonder if the circles are “ever decreasing”?)

I am not alone in such a convoluted journey … …

The exploration made by Barthes in his book “Camera Lucida” is subject to a hiatus in which we see him first of all question the existential nature of photography, at times applying semiotics as a means of interpreting photography and photographs, before pausing only to commence again but this time also to question his own, earlier work.

Whilst none of this may lead to a clear-cut and conclusive answer to the question “what is a photograph?”, it does undoubtedly increase the breadth and depth of our knowledge as photographers. Having an in-depth awareness of semiotics and associated terminology, such as icon, index and symbol, further helps us to understand the different contexts in which our work may be viewed, and correspondingly match intent with end requirement.

So, how are such terms relevant in any whatsoever to photography?

Icon – refers to the resemblance a photograph has to its subject, index – is trace evidence of the existence of a subject once photographed, and symbol – an agreed, standardised point 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 accepted that a “car” will have a chassis, four wheels, an engine, etc.).

In order to gain greater understanding, not only of what photography “is”, but also myself as a photographer and my photographic practice, I should first try and appreciate these terms in terms of their relevance to me. Something for further investigation.

Real world examples provided much clarification as to how relevant such terminology, and its use in trying to evaluate photography and photographs, may or may not be. For example, the authorities governing our passports dictate that the picture in our passport has to be a photograph – this prompted David Hockney to protest that a drawing should be an equally acceptable form of “portrait” (Sylvester, 2002, p. 384).

Frustrating as it has been at times, this week has, in reflection, been useful, informative and interesting. I have taken much away from this week … …

The stand out thing for me, however, has been this. There is much debate about “what is a photograph?”, does photography have a “peculiar” nature? How “authentic” or “real” are the images we make? … …

But the question which never seems to be asked is this, “how real do we want our images to be?”

I think this question, or at least phrasing the question in this particular manner, is highly relevant.


Because to do so forces us to produce context-driven images.

Asking “what is a photograph?” is rather a “shooting the stable door” type of interrogation. Asking “how real do we want our images to be?” causes us to address such issues as who will view the work, when, where and why, and then make our images accordingly … …

Suffice to say, all this has left precious little time for project related work.

As interesting and useful as all this theorising might be, I am eager to crack on with the practical aspect of my research project. This is a sentiment I know is widely shared by my fellow students.

Notwithstanding the intensive week of theoretical work, it has been a useful week in terms of the research project – the limited amount of work carried out in this area has provided a high yield. More specifically it has been a week of sourcing props for photographs – with, I am pleased to say, considerable success. There is still some way to go, but, things have started to come together quite nicely … …


Sylvester, D. (2002) About Modern Art. London: Pimlico

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