Preferred Interpretations, Vagueness and Ambiguity

‘One way to envisage the difference between ‘art’ and ‘documentary’ in photography turns on this relation to language and narrative. In the main, documentary is a closed form, designed to produce preferred interpretations. As such, images are usually combined with some form of anchoring text that steers the viewer/reader in a particular direction. Photographic art, in contrast, typically abjures words, or employs elliptical text, in order to leave the image open to associations and interpretations. For art, vagueness or ambiguity are often the preferred modes.’

Steve Edwards (in Read, 2014)


Read, Shirley (2014). Exhibiting Photography: A Practical Guide to Displaying Your Work. Oxon: Focal Press

FMP Test Images

Test shots to evaluate the visual impact of handwriting/paper/finish combinations for the insertion of text into FMP images.

All images SOOC (unedited).

Custom WB.

ISO 100, f/8.0 – shutter speed as stated.

Set 1 cropped

Set 1: Lined, handwriting 1, ripped (1/15 – 1/15)

Set 2 cropped

Set 2: Plain, handwriting 1, ripped (1/25 – 1/15)

Set 3 cropped

Set 3: Lined, handwriting 2, ripped (1/20 – 1/25)

Set 4 cropped

Set 4: Plain, handwriting 2, ripped (1/20 – 1/20)

Set 5 cropped

Set 5: Plain, typed, ripped (1/20 – 1/20)

Set 6 cropped

Set 6: Lined, handwriting 1, trimmed (1/20 – 1/25)

Set 7 cropped

Set 7: Plain, handwriting 1, trimmed (1/25 – 1/20)

Set 8 cropped

Set 8: Lined, handwriting 2, trimmed (1/20 – 1/25)

Set 9 cropped

Set 9: Plain, handwriting 2, trimmed (1/25 – 1/25)

Set 10 cropped

Set 10: Plain, typed, trimmed (1/20 – 1/20)


Square cut, or trimmed images have less visual appeal. The ripped finish adds character to the images in sets 1 to 5.

Images with handwritten text have more visual appeal than those with typed text, which appears somewhat soulless.

From a technical point of view, this exercise has been a failure in terms of image quality. There is a huge variation in image quality arising from fluctuating natural light conditions. Repeatability and reproducibility are key requirements for the series.

Chromatic aberration is observable in the images and steps would need to be taken to either prevent this (preferred) or to correct in post-production (not preferred).

Being positive, this experiment was intended as a starting point, rather than an end point. Much valuable information has been derived.

Moving forward.

The intention is to repeat the exercise using a background which is better able to hold the subject in place (maintaining the subjects in the correct location was a significant issue due to slippage in this first experiment), and also using foamboard reflectors which were unavailable during the first experiment (now available).

The exercise will also be repeated using a light source with a constant output (LED lighting or a speedlite – to be confirmed).

Artistic Ambiguity

‘For the arts generally, critical interpretation is considered an important element of a picture’s validity. Interpretation is harder to pull off than criticism. It is easier to explain what you consider the merits or demerits of a picture than it is to say what you understand about it. The latter involves risk, the risk of being ‘wrong’; yet if you feel something about an image which no one else experiences, this does not make your view foolish. It simply means that your context, your life experiences or your training may have prepared you in a different way than others. Artistic ambiguity is good, leaving room for diversity of viewpoint and creating space for critical appreciation.’

Robert Albright HonFRPS



Albright, Robert (2018). ‘The Logical Next Step’. Journal, May 2018, Volume 158, Number 8, p. 323