On Reflection: Week 12, Module Four

‘Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses.’

– Rembrandt Van Rijn

So, it’s done! Module four is essentially complete. OK, there are a few items which I want to look at in weeks 13 to 15 but the teaching part is over, the assignments finished and submitted. An anxious wait now for the results …

I am pleased with my Work in Progress portfolio submission. The critical research journal is ongoing but, again, I am happy with the submission.

Video presentations continue to be a nemesis.

I made significant progress during module three and his was reflected by some very positive feedback for the assignment.

In all honesty, I don’t feel as comfortable about the video presentation for module our as I would like, I don’t feel it is slick production I would like it to be.

Things don’t always go according to plan, that’s the reality. Things certainly didn’t go as planned with regard to producing images for the WIP portfolio. Props needed for the images didn’t arrive from the supplier of first choice. The back-up plan didn’t go without hitches, with problems including non-existent and late deliveries.

Notwithstanding logistical issues, the necessary items arrived and from thereon the WIP images went ahead as planned.

That wasn’t the case with the video presentation.

It raises an interesting question. What happens when setbacks necessitate the delay of a video production? Setbacks have, after all, caused delays in the completion and subsequent launch of major film productions.

Video is an area I want to work in. I find it enjoyable – it’s oral presentation assignments which I don’t enjoy, and there are obvious advantages from a marketing point of view: firstly, videos are powerful marketing tools in their own right, and secondly, being able to produce videos is a valuable addition to my portfolio of skills.

But would I choose to make the kind of videos that are required for the assignments?

I think the answer to that question has to be a definite no.

Oral Presentations (to use the correct terminology) are designed to tick boxes. They take me out of my comfort zone, they ‘test’ me – which is excellent, it’s exactly what I want.

My vision, however, of how videos can be incorporated into my practice is very different – for example, I wouldn’t choose to narrate videos myself and I think voiceover is achievable even on a small budget.

A key point is that clients will commission me for my unique style of video production. Fundamentally, this may be very different from an oral presentation.

What went wrong?

I think I need to step back for a while, then critically review the video presentation with fresh eyes. But for now, timings were an issue. I think there is a disjoint, a disconnect between the audio and video elements of the presentation. There isn’t a massive timing difference between the audio and video tracks, but it’s enough for me to feel uncomfortable with the presentation.

Technology, in most cases, helps. But sometimes it can hinder.

There is a compromise arising from using technology to produce a ‘slick’ video – the more you do to something, the more there is to put right when something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, the assignment deadline meant that there just wasn’t time to (essentially) deconstruct the video into its various elements and sync them.

So, for this round of assignments, I need to capitalise on my strengths, which are (hopefully) a strong WIP portfolio and a strong CRJ.

Looking to the future, I need to spend some time during the Christmas break developing my video editing skills.

In last week’s reflection I wrote the following:

‘A potential equipment upgrade has led to some interesting conversations this week. Photography is both an art and science and consequently I think photographers fall into two categories: those who have a bias towards the artistic, and those with a bias towards the science.

Discuss a lens with a fast aperture and the artistic will comment about the ‘beautiful bokeh’ the lens will produce, discuss the same lens with those biased towards the scientific and they will comment how the lens will ‘let in bags of light’’.

This was as accurate as I thought, and far more prophetic.

Paraphrasing, an early appraisal of my Work in Progress submission – apparently it shows I have a good camera.

Interesting …

Receiving Treatment …

Creative treatment based on a brief set by Amy Simmons, M & C Saatchi.

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Details of brief:

‘This is for a European department store who is trying to break into the UK market, so that’s the client that you need to have in mind. The target market is UK shoppers, any gender aged 20 – 30.

The brief itself is a campaign about how people have intimate and personal relationships with inanimate objects. You should focus on an item of your choosing within the treatment. It can be clothing, a book, a piece of art, food, electronic item, basically, anything that someone might purchase in a department store.

You can do this in any way that you choose, this is a very open brief. It’s your interpretation of that, We do get briefs like this sometimes, where the art director doesn’t come up with a visual and they really leave it down to the photographer. You can take this in any direction that you so choose in terms of treatment and lighting. You could just do a simple still life or you could do something with cast or on location, as long as there’s a sense of affection that can be illustrated for that object. You really need to feel that someone loves that object, however you choose to interpret that.

This is a bit of a practical element to the brief: where is the copy going to sit on the image? It’s going to sit in the top left hand corner and will read ‘This -insert object here- is mine’, obviously that would be the name of whatever object you would choose. The copy will be in white, so you should have a darker space in the top left for legibility. The logo of the company will be in the bottom right. Those are some considerations you should talk about, how you would compose the shot and how you would keep those areas clean to ensure that both of those things are legible.

Treatment and lighting, as I mentioned. This company are commissioning a variety of different photographers who have totally different styles, so it is very much your take on the brief. Do it in your style, with visual references that inspire you.

Cast: if you think that you do want to use cast, obviously include some references of the sorts of people you are thinking of. They must look like they might genuinely own that object or item. If depicting multiple people, they should be a mix of ethnicities and the same age range as the target market.

If you are thinking about shooting on location, the location should be UK based but also this could be shot in a studio, it really depends on how you want to interpret the brief. I think one of the key factors will be making this object feel like the hero of the shot in some way.

Formats: this is a key point. The brief is just for one asset, so one shot, but it will be for a social media post. As I talked about earlier, please be aware in your treatment and maybe discuss how this image is going to work for the square crop for Instagram, the portrait crop for Snapchat, and the landscape crop for Facebook. Will you capture everything in one shot or would you compose the three different formats differently?’


On Reflection: Week 11, Module Four

‘Classics, they defy time, they defy fashions.’

– Raymond Blanc

Words which really resonated with me this week. Relevant as I currently pursue a black and white aesthetic, itself a timeless classic, in my photographic practice.

I sometimes experience difficulty in defining the qualities that make black and white such an appealing aesthetic. Although Blanc was talking about a specific dish, roast turbot on aromats, I think his words capture very nicely an appeal of black and white photography which is both wide and long.

A potential equipment upgrade has led to some interesting conversations this week. Photography is both an art and science and consequently I think photographers fall into two categories: those who have a bias towards the artistic, and those with a bias towards the science.

Discuss a lens with a fast aperture and the artistic will comment about the ‘beautiful bokeh’ the lens will produce, discuss the same lens with those biased towards the scientific and they will comment how the lens will ‘let in bags of light’.

I am exploring ideas which take me beyond my current Work in Progress project, Carousel. The use of photography in the social sciences, including visual anthropology, is of increasing interest to me.

The artists of the Dutch golden age made reference to the fleeting moment of life in their vanitas paintings. Can I make reference to the fleeting ephemerality during our lives?

How my photographic practice can focus on social issues, and what those social issues might be, are areas I am keen to explore.

The reportage activity in week eight was a very interesting activity and I was pleased with the results. However, I want to develop my storytelling skills.

Consequently, I am considering the feasibility of a mini-project for the early part of 2018.

Shooting in natural light is an option.

I am currently looking at possible, viable themes for the project but a big question is the frequency of image-making: is daily too much? Is weekly not enough? Is twice a week on, say, a Wednesday and a Friday a suitable frequency?

There’s a lot to consider, especially having the final major project to work on,  but this could be an interesting and informative exercise …

WIP Analysis: Carousel


Morris, 2017. Berries

Audience 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 “preferred” meaning is the way in which advertisers “expect” viewers to interpret an advert.

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.

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.

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

Authors will identify the target audience. They design the advert to convey a specific message, the preferred message, to that audience – this is encoding.

Decoding occurs when the audience views the advert.

Audience members from outside the target audience may have their own experiences or opinions that mean they reject the preferred reading, receiving their own alternative message in an oppositional reading.

Carousel is a photographic exploration of the relationship between diet and mental health: the images being derived from journal entries maintained over a three-year period by a female suffering from anxiety, depression and fibromyalgia.

Berries is an image from the Carousel series.

How does audience theory relate to this image?

The preferred reading is that there is a link between diet and mental health. Furthermore, it assumes that the audience accepts two fundamental ideas. Firstly that there is a positive correlation between mental wellbeing and nutritionally dense food, and secondly that not all individuals have equal access to quality food.

Negotiated reading viewers will accept that diet affects our mental wellbeing but will do so on the basis that all individuals have equal access to quality food, rejecting the idea that some individuals might only be able to afford nutritionally poor food.

Or accept that diet affects our physical wellbeing but not our mental health

Oppositional reading is the view that diet does not affect our mental wellbeing.

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.

Selective focus leads the viewer’s gaze to items of food consumed by the diarist which are shown alongside the pharmaceuticals used to treat her medical conditions. Self-help and recipe books related to the sufferer’s conditions complete the story of an individual struggling to live with debilitating disease. Sheets from a tear-off calendar represent the passage of time. These are the signifiers referred to by Barthes and Heath, the ‘of something’ referred to by Hodgson.

The signified is the effect our diet has on our health. Berries invites the viewer to ask whether greater emphasis could be placed on nutrition as a means of not only treating mental illness, but preventing it.

It does this by linking healthy, nutrient dense food with a mineral supplement and a recipe book specific to the individual’s disease.

Other images in the series link highly processed, nutrient poor foods with pharmaceutical treatments and books aimed at managing the diarist’s conditions.

The inference, then, being that healthy foods are linked with mental wellbeing, and poor nutrition is linked with mental (and in some cases physical) illness. This is the ‘about something’ referred to by Hodgson.

How does this type of analysis benefit my photography?

I think the benefit to my photographic practice lies in the development of the visual narrative which derives from an understanding the polysemic nature of the image.

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.



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]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc (accessed 19 February 2017)

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

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