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

Berries

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.

 

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]. 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

On Reflection: Week 10, Module Four

The mystery of Instagram!

Having analysed several weeks of data, I think there are two issues with regard to growth in the number of account followers.

Firstly, desensitisation. There is an observable increase in the number of followers associated with a campaign of image posting, followed by a plateau.

Why? Do Instagram users become desensitised by regular posts to an account? Is the expectancy associated with routine, regular postings counter-productive?

And secondly, retention. Looking more closely at the number of followers, there is identifiable pattern of rise and fall around a specific number. For every follower added to the list of followers, two or three are lost.

Again, why? This is a phenomenon I have questioned before, and it is a phenomenon which continues to be observable.

Is it that Instagram users which fall into this category are expecting some sort of reciprocal benefit?

Pragmatically, building a network doesn’t happen overnight, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ – these things take time and relationships have to be nurtured.

A huge relief to get the audio tracks laid down for the video presentation. Video presentations continue to be a nemesis, although a nemesis I am seemingly beginning to master.

Camtasia – what wonderful software you are! Long gone are the days of preparing PowerPoint slides, advancing them one-by-one, reading whilst fumbling with the pages of a script only for the recording to be scrapped and the process started anew because of a mis-pronounced word (or a sneeze, or a cough, or someone entering the room … the myriad of things which confound presentation production).

Camtasia – altogether something more sophisticated!

As I write at the beginning of December, thoughts of Christmas are beginning to form into words.

I am looking forward to Christmas for several reasons but pertinently because it offers some respite from study. 2017 has been a long (and difficult) year.

In real terms, this means there is a huge incentive to give everything for one more all-out offensive, one final push as I prepare my assignments for submission on 15 December.

This in turn makes me wonder what the sentiment will be in summer 2018. There won’t be a Christmas break to look forward to, not for some four to six months anyway, only the prospect of the end of two years of study – the end of a (major) chapter in my life. Of course, the end of one chapter signals the start of another.

It’s a very bitter-sweet set of circumstances – there are times I love my studies, there are times where I question my motives for putting myself (and family) through the trials and tribulations of postgraduate study.

Broadgate Estimate

Brief

A small communications agency contacts you and would like you to give them an estimate. They are re-branding Broadgate, an area in London, and need 25 images to use for printed materials, social media, web, tube ads and potentially billboards. The license term is five years. They think you can do the shoot in two days.

Commercial-Estimate_16Nov2017

Additional usage includes the use of 25 images for five years, European market. The brief is quite wide in terms of the printed and electronic media listed, so additional usage is calculated on the basis of all printed and all electronic media.

Prima facie, this estimate may seem somewhat pricey. But a few things need to be considered.

Firstly, this is a notional brief. That doesn’t mean this is fictional estimate. What it does mean is that in the real world, this brief would be commissioned by the company which manages the Broadgate complex – a huge complex of mixed retail, leisure and commercial units. They would have a budget for this and I think that it would extend to meet this and similar quotes, quite possibly beyond.

The images will be used over a five-year period, consequently the Broadgate management company’s accountants may recommend amortisation of the costs in which case at least part of the estimate will be spread over the five-year period.

Secondly, it is an estimate not an invoice. This means two things.

It can be subject to negotiation.

And it is prepared using the accounting principle of prudence (which requires that the worst case is reported). Consequently, the figures are provided are for a four-day shoot – the shoot may only take three days in reality and the cost would, therefore, be less but the higher cost budgeted for.

‘H’

Brief:

Commissioned by a newspaper, tell a story in five to seven images.

Subject is open, although ideally something local. The images must demonstrate a definite story timeline. Focus must be narrow.

What matters in this exercise is to make sure each photograph gets to the essence of what the narrative wants to express.

Although the aim of this exercise was undoubtedly to give experience of working to a newspaper type brief, for me it was much more than that.

I am aware that I need to develop my visual storytelling skills, and consequently I saw this exercise as an opportunity to do just that.

This is a story played out on two levels.

The subject of the story is a 38-year old female suffering from anxiety, depression and fibromyalgia.

Wishing to have her story told, but wishing to retain her anonymity, the subject wishes to be referred to simply as H.

The subjects of the images themselves are items which H feels do not simply ‘belong’ to her, but are those with which she has a reciprocal relationship because of her illness, she feels, in effect, that she belongs to them.

Items which she feels sum up her days, such is the defining nature of her illness.

Together, the five images offer glimpses of both despair and hope.

I enjoyed this exercise, it made a refreshing change. It was interesting to work in a different genre of photography and to be able to use my photography to tell a different kind of story.

To help develop my storytelling skills, I imposed a time limit for this exercise – 25 minutes to shoot five images.

Overall, I am pleased with the resulting images – although there is of course room for improvement. As discussed elsewhere, I am currently working in black and white. These images, however, I felt worked best in colour despite the (obvious) association of black and white with ‘despair and hope’.

This is an exercise I am looking to repeat.

Depression

Deep Heat

Walking Stick

Fibro

#1 Mum

Connoisseurship

‘Connoisseurship involves the acquisition of extensive first-hand experience of works of art with the aim, first, of attributing works to artists and schools, identifying styles and establishing sources and influences, and second, of judging their quality and hence their place in a canon’ (Fernie in Rose 2016).

 

Reference:

Rose, Gillian (2016). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methods. London: Sage Publications Limited

On Reflection: Week 9, Module Four

Fraught by logistics, things are not coming together well this week. Fortunately, time for contingencies has been built into the schedule.

Deliveries of props for my latest Work in Progress images are proving to be a lot more erratic than I would hope. Also fortunately, there is a back-up plan although I don’t think circumstances are so dire as to require it to be deployed just yet.

But less of the negative and more of the positive …

Reflecting on my Instagram posts to date, the post which has attracted most attention relates diet and mental health.

Continuing this analysis …

In December 2016 I was asked to identify potential markets for my work. I suggested that my work would be of interest to photographers and artists, editors, teachers and students, and the public – each group having their own unique stake.

Was I correct in identifying these potential markets for my work?

Yes, is the short answer. Whilst I have yet to fully engage with some markets, response analysis to Instagram posts to date shows that these are the groups showing most interest in my work.

Instagram seems quite an ephemeral entity. My account has seen organic growth in terms of followers – but this is net growth.

There is, however, also gross increase in the number of account followers.

On occasions it can seem to be two steps forward and three steps backwards.

Who are the Instagram users who take the time and effort to like a post and follow the associated account, only to unfollow it at a future date? How do we define them? How do we go about retaining them?

How we communicate fascinates me. As a subject this has featured in my thoughts significantly these past few days. One issue that has really resonated with me as a result of my studies (throughout my studies to date) is what we intend an audience to see, and what they actually see.

As I continue to work on the images for my Work in Progress portfolio, I am increasingly aware of meaning. It is obvious that there isn’t a single meaning.

I think in the past my images haven’t also developed in the way that I had hoped or imagined.

So, this is about learning techniques which enable me to improve the way in which my ideas translate into finished images. My drawing skills prevent me from producing scamps or storyboards. I have, however, found spreadsheets very useful in laying out, for itemising the details for each image within a body of work in order to ‘visualise’ the (potential) end result.

I continue to seek improvements in this area of my image-making.