Monthly Archives: February 2016

Rhetoric of the Image, Roland Barthes

Image_Music_Text

In Barthes essay, ‘Rhetoric of the image’ he uses photographs used for advertisements as an example of his argument.  Referring to an advert for Italian ‘Panzani’ pasta and salsas he describes the image as having a language that can be read, he suggest that by analysing the picture, three messages can be deduced: a linguistic message, a coded iconic message, and a non-coded iconic message.

Coded and non-coded iconic messages can be mixed together and they are visual queues often learned through cultural experiences.

A linguistic message is a message in text that accompanies the picture and this takes two forms ‘anchor’ and ‘relay’.

Anchoring is the most common and is commonly used for both advertising and press photography.  This is a form of text that anchors the meaning of the image to a written message of the advertisement or the news story.

Relay, is not so commonly used, it is often used for complementary relationships between fragments of text and images.  For example an appropriately complementing photograph to a section of text from a poem.  This type of message allows the picture and text to interact with each other. A picture of a green field dotted here and there with red poppies and a short section of a war poem suggests that the image reflects the text and the text reflects the image.  The image already has connotations of war and remembrance as does the chosen passage from a poem.

The denoted image.  Barthes writes that the denoted image for a photograph is a message without a code, the photograph is able to transmit the literal information but a drawing must first follow rules which even when denoted is still a coded message.  A drawing requires a certain amount of training thus introducing style as a second cultural coded message.  The photograph simply denoting the relationship of nature and a single culture coded message from the image itself.

Rhetoric of the image.  In an image rhetoric is the message based on cultural and educational experiences that communicate to the viewer at different levels based on education and life’s experiences this is done at an unconscious level. Objects that can be recognised as symbols for example the net bag holding the Penzani pasta products suggesting to some connotations of a fishing net or harvesting together a meal, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, connotations of the Italian flag, fresh healthy meal, etc.

 

The Death of the Author, by Roland Bartes

Image_Music_Text

In Roland Barthes essay, Death of the Author, published in, Image Music Text, (Fontana Press) he writes of a new style of writing developing from postmodernism / surrealism.  The author writes in a style that removes himself from the text by writing using the first person and present tense.  Barthes writes that to give a text an Author imposes limits on the text.

Exercise, Project 1, Telling a story

Country Doctor I have just been looking at two photo essays, the first is W. Eugene Smith’s, County Doctor and the second is Bryony Campbell’s, The Dad Project.

Two very different essays , the first was made with the photographer W. Eugene Smith’s chronicling the life of a Country Doctor in the State of Colorado in the late 1940 over a period of three weeks for Life magazine.  The images and accompanying text paints a portrait of a general practitioner dedicated to his work and his community with some dramatic images and some apparent good candid portraits. Smith claims that he began by taking pictures without film in order to relax his subjects and as they got used to his company he then started taking picture for real.  However, he is also had no qualms about staging photographs in order to provide life magazine with the images required.  Smith was also an outsider and although he spent several weeks with Dr. Ceriani the documentary element lacks a personal – emotional involvement type feeling to the pictures.

Bryony Campbell’s work on the other-hand seems to be electrically charged with raw emotional involvement.  Campbell’s images clearly have not been staged and this honesty to her work produces such strong emotional feelings that they are almost palpable.  Whilst Smith’s work make an interesting documentary, Campbell’s work touches her audience on a much more personal level.  The sensitive subject matter she has chosen to document touches us all as it is a subject that we all have to face but all either don’t want to talk about or know how to talk about, Campbell’s essay gives people that opportunity.  As it is about her and her family it is clearly a documentary from the inside and so instead of appearing to be intrusive or insensitive the work appears to be candid and honest.

Campbell describes her work of The Dad Project as an end without an end, this could refer to her spiritual belief but I suspect that it has more to do with that this project has become a part of her life and a part of her.  She writes in her website blog that at the end of an interview at the BBC for the World Service the interviewer asked her, “Is it hard to talk about the experience and then just get on with a normal day?  Do you feel that the project is stopping you from moving on?”  Campbell reflects that the project has become part of her normal day and that it has helped her in her grieving process and as such does not feel the need to ‘move on’.  One does not get over the loss of a loved one, one simply learns how to live with that loss and therefore in a sense we all experience at some-point an end without an end.

Considered points to a narrative or essay

  • Do the pictures have a consistent theme?
  • What elements back up your central theme?
  • What disrupts it?
  • Are there good reasons for this disruption?
  • Do the images have a visual consistency that holds the together as a recognisable set?

The Photographers Eye

The Photographers Eye by John Szarkowski is an illustrated book compiled from photographs collected for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1964 and the theme of this book is based upon the theme of the exhibition.

Szarkowski introduces his book by explaining that it’s theme, ‘is an investigation of what photographs look like and why they look that way. It is concerned with photographic style and with photographic tradition: with the sense of possibilities that a photographer today takes to his work.’  Szarkowski looks at how the art of photography has evolved through the period of 125 years from the earliest surviving pictures to the 1960’s.  Szarkowski looks at how photography has created and taught us new ways of seeing; how photography could make it’s own rules independent of the established art world partly through ignorance and from the practicality dictated by the camera and its view and enthusiastic experimentation.  Szarkowshi has selected a range of photographs to illustrate how photographers from different backgrounds all came to share the same photographic vision that was not taught but learned through years of practice and considers the history of this medium, ‘in terms of photographers progressive awareness of characteristics and problems that have seemed inherent in the medium.’

He has divided his book into five sections examining five issues that he believes are characteristics inherent and problematic in photographs and understanding these five sections will help in the understand of the language for the ‘reading’ of a photograph.

The thing itself.

Outside of the studio the photograph, unlike a painting, is captured not created therefor the photographer has fewer choices in composition, he can only choose what to and what not to include in the frame.  However, instead of limiting what photographers would choose to make pictures of the camera’s ability to capture anything in an instant making a permanent record of it opened up opportunities to create images of the ordinary and bland subjects that artist would not have drawn or painted and make them interesting .  However, black and white images would leave out certain details and exaggerate others and yet the final image would still be accepted as a true representative of the subject.  Holgrove wrote, “The nineteenth century began by believing that what was reasonable was true and it would end up by believing that what it saw a photograph of was true.”  The almost lifelike reproduction of the black and white image helped raise the naïve notion that the camera doesn’t lie for which many photographers  were happy not to discourage.  George Bernard Shaw wrote that this was a double edged sword, “There is a terrible truthfulness about photography. The ordinary academician gets hold of a pretty model, paints her as well as he can, calls her Juliet, and puts a nice verse from Shakespeare underneath, and the picture is admired beyond measure.  The photographer finds the same pretty girl, he dresses her up and photographs her, and calls her Juliet, but somehow it is no good – it will still be Miss Wilkins, the model. It is too true to be Juliet.”

The detail

“If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.” Robert Capa.  Outside of the studio, unlike drawings and paintings, photographs can only record what is actually in from of them and in the real world of photography it is usually impossible to alter the position and distance of various subjects to simply improve the composition of the picture.  Therefore often a photographer can only position himself in a place that will only capture a part of the image.  Unlike drawings and paintings photography is unable to produce a story type narrative, as successful painting will often combine several events that have occurred over a period of time and the artist has combined them into one scene that can tell the whole story.  Photography can only capture one scene at a time and when a selection of images are put together to tell the story these images still require text in order to explain the connection to each picture and the event itself.  However, it was soon realised that the photograph could use symbols instead to represent the intended narrative, therefore photographers focused on detail some that may have seemed to ordinary and trivial or dull to the painter but when photographed could symbolise the scene / event / for the narrative that the photographer could not otherwise be so easily produce.  An example of this is a photograph of cannon balls scattered across a road symbolising the recent ferocious battle and bombardment.  The chosen detail is the spent and discarded ammunition on a deserted road symbolic of the recent action.  In this style of imagery few words are needed, the photographer is taking advantage of the viewers own imagination to complete the story for the picture.

The Frame

Where as in drawing and painting the frame is conceived, in photography it can only be selected forcing the photographer to choose what to include or not to include.  In this way what ever the photographer includes in to the frame will now have a relationship with one another that they may not of done in real life for example, two strangers photographed standing together on a platform waiting for a train can now appear to be companions simply because both were selected to be in the frame.  The painter begins with a blank canvas, the draftsman from the centre of his sheet the photographer from the frame.  The photographer must learn how to edit the real world, to isolate and juxtapose when unexpected elements come together within his frame.  The frame contains, what is inside the frame is subjected to close scrutiny but a photograph can also imply beyond the frame.

Time

A photograph is a moment of time captured by the camera this moment can be 1/1000’s of a second in length or up to several minutes or more.  A photograph captures this moment and freezes it in to an image describing a parcel of time which may allude to the past or future can only ever be viewed in the present.  This can mean that an image’s meaning can change or be re-interpreted by future generations of viewers.  Early photography required longer lengths of exposure time for the slower chemicals, often resulting in images never before seen, dogs with two heads babies with two faces transparent or elongated people as they moved during the exposure period.  Often theses early images have been regarded as photographic failures which ironically as film and cameras have improved and become faster modern photographers are now being deliberately replicating the affects for modern artistic styled pictures.  As the exposure time became faster images could be captured never before seen by the human eye, how the horse gallops, a bullet in flight, droplets of water thrown out from a splash as a stone hits the water, and many more sights invisible to the human eye due to the speed of the moment.  Cartier-Bresson defined the expression “The decisive moment” a visual climax a moment when the camera has captured a moment when all the elements came together to capture that image at the right moment.  Thanks to modern cameras with fast shutter speeds and fast continues shooting these decisive moments can be more easily captured providing of course you are prepared for them.  For example, sports photographers positioned to see and focused on the spot he or she will predict the moment will occur.

Vantage point

Unlike a drawing or a painting the photographer has limited choices when choosing a vantage point and so the photographer has sometimes been forced to use unusual view points such as very low level worm eye views, views from backstage seeing only the backs of the actors, birds eye views looking down, distorted and strange views created by lens distortion or patterns of light.  Through the necessity of moving his camera to see his subject clearly or to see it at all the photographer learned that the appearance of the world was a lot richer and less simple than he would have first guessed.  He also discovered, ‘that his pictures could not only reveal the clarity buy also the obscurity of things, and these mysterious and evasive images could also, in their own terms, seem ordered and meaningful.’

 

 

 

On Photography, Susan Sontag

On_Photography

Susan Sontag, On Photography, (1979) London, Penguin, ISBN: 978-0-14-005397-5.

This book by Susan Sontag is a collection of essays discussing how photography has influenced the world since its invention and how it has played a part in the surrealist art movement in the 20th Century.

The book was first published in 1977 and although photography has moved on she spends a lot of time discussing how photography was first introduced accepted or not and how it came to be the most enduring and influential part of the surrealist movement.  She also looks at how photographs are used and how they can be re-used.

Topics and points to note:

  • In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge out notion of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.
  • Photos are a grammar and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.
  • Photos give us the sense that we can hold the world in our hands.
  • In photographs the image is also an object.
  • As object they can be collected, bought & sold, cherished, thrown away, lost & found, etc, etc.
  • Photographs furnish evidence, they appear to provide proof when something is in doubt.
  • A photograph justifies, for example through use of surveillance and is a presumption of proof that something exists.
  • Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that like all mass art form, photography is not practiced by people as an art.  It is mainly a social rite, a defence against anxiety and a tool of power.
  • Photographs can abet desire and emotions of morality.
  • The industrialisation of photography permitted its rapid absorption into bureaucratic ways of running society…photographs became part of the general furniture of the environment – touchstones and confirmations of that reductive approach to reality which is considered realistic.  Photographs were enrolled in the service of important institutions of control, notably the family and the police, as symbolic object and as pieces of information….many important documents are not valid unless they have affixed to them, a photographic-token of the citizen’s face.

Exercise, project 5, it’s a fake!

In this exercise, my task is to create a fake documentary photograph.  An example of what now has become a very famous if not iconic phoney is that of the Tony Blair selfie, see  http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/15/tony-blair-selfie-photo-op-imperial-war-museum

In order to conduct this exercise I first decided that rather than simply find pictures off the internet and blending them into a montage it would be fun to take a number of photos and create my own ‘constructed narrative’.

I first put down some ideas on paper, Ideas

from these I sketched out a couple of ideas, Sketches

I then chose from the sketches my preferred idea and as it was a single image I wrote out a rough storyboard.

Storyboard

I then set about preparing my set.  De-cluttering my kitchen, selecting various clothes to wear, additional lighting from a speedlite in a softbox and camera set on to a tripod.

I took a separate light meter reading using a handheld lightmeter that can measure ‘incident’ from flash and ambient to choose a setting for my speedlight and camera to give 30% from the speed light to keep a natural look.  Camera was set to manual, JPEG normal, W.B. – Sunny, ISO-250. 1/20sec, f/6.3.  Speedlight was connected via a Pocket Wizard and positioned left of camera approx. 45 degrees from subjects and I made some notes.  Storyboard

I usually photograph in RAW and use Lightroom to finish off; but as this was a montage I decided to let the camera save me the work and produce lower res imaged to work with.

I then loaded all these shots in to Adobe Photoshop Cloud and starting with the empty table and the background I loaded each image in turn using Open, select image to open and opening, Ctrl A, Ctrl C, Ctrl W, Ctrl V to add each image and create layers.  Then imaging if you will that the image with the empty table is at the bottom of the pile of layers, starting from the top layer and working down I then used the eraser tool to erase all the surrounding area around the subject or subjects introduced to the empty table until I had cleaned each up to only show the subject.  This I did by clicking on the eye symbol for all the layers I was not working on so when I used the eraser tool I was left with a chequerboard background.  When I had cleaned up all the layers except the last when I turned the eye symbols back on for each layer the subjects in each layer all started to appear on to the final untouched background layer.  Some final erasing in some small areas tidied up the full image.  I then flattened all the layers and resaved a JPEG version.

DSC_8287-resized

A documentary picture documenting Shaun brainstorms ideas for a documentary picture for his exercise.

Exercise, Project 5, ‘The real and the digital’.

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth?’

In the book Photography a Critical Introduction (4th edition), Edited by Liz Wells  and published by Routledge, it is agued that digital technology is challenging the concept of the ‘real’ in modern photography.  With the development of digital media technology it is now possible to construct convincingly realistic images on computers.  Photographic manipulation is not new, it’s been around from the very beginning but what is new is the extent of what is now possible which also co-insides with the loss of a hard original negative.  With the ability to construct an image from scratch Roland Barthes‘, excepted conception of the nature of the photograph, that it is the result of an event in the world, evidence of a passing moment of time that was once but no-more is now becoming harder to defend and perhaps a new formal conception must now be linked to the nature of the twenty-first century digital image.

Liberation, 1991, Jean Baudrillard wrote, ‘the Gulf war did not take place’.  He was making a comment on the nature of the ‘real’ his argument that the Gulf war was in fact a combination of political, social and military action acted out in a kind of social and technical space.  David Campany also comments that almost a third of news photographs are from frame grabs off video film footage.  The point being made is that photography is a medium that is not autonomous or self-governing but inter-related to other medias and is more influenced by culturally than technologically.

Without an autonomous and self-governing system there is a lack of rock solid unchangeable definitions in photography which are now beginning to challenge some of the existing definitions in photography. For example the photographic practice of documentary photography is changing and a sub-genre of photography is now well established in the USA calling itself, ‘wedding photojournalism’.

Exercise, Project 4, Sarah Pickering

I have just been looking at the work of Sarah Pickering on her website: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/ much of her work on the website appears to have been with the assistance of the Police and Fire Brigade.

All her images lack people, all her images are totally empty of people in the streets, rooms, exhibitions spaces, etc.

For me Pickering’s project, ‘Public Order’ produces a feelings of silence, vacancy / emptiness, stillness and either implied or suggested impending doom.  The images from the Fire Brigades training facilities, ‘Fire Scene’, are disturbing images of disaster and menace, in so much as they are scenes of house fires with all the victims personal affects in place and it is easy to imagine the victim or victims asleep near by and that these are real events.  In her project ‘Incident’ she examines the charred, smoke damaged and scorched interiors of rooms and corridors that the fire brigade practice searching through under fire conditions with the recovery of victims.  Again these images produce a sense of stillness, and menace the use of black and white also adds an ‘atmosphere’ that I think Pickering wanted to convey in these images.

Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

Yes, I believe ‘Public Order’ is an effective use of documentary.  The images have been set out on her website and the viewpoints that she has selected to take her pictures it is very easy to quickly realise that what you are looking at is either an Army or Police training ground.  The very first image of the entrance to the railway station and the fictional town name of Denton (made famous by ‘Inspector Frost’) clearly shows a station entrance lacking any turn styles and what appears to be film set like building fronts.  As you view each image we are taken on a tour of this training ground and we see signs of recent past use, the two cars blocking the road, make shift barricades with tires and shopping trolleys all tell their story as to the past action.  She takes us behind the scenes to where riot helmets are kept and other scenarios can be acted out.

Is this possibly misleading?

This question  is subject to the context that the images are placed with, are they not?  If we were to say that these images are of a training installation purely for the welfare for us all to protect us from Aliens, Zombies, and Vampire hoards then we would clearly be misleading.  Moreover, to suggest that these facilities could not be used to train a security force to subdue an unhappy population would also be misleading.  We can only except its existence and trust our society that in its openness to allow access and publicity for such sites we are assured that they have no other agenda than the protection public.  should these images have been taken covertly and leaked on to the internet to expose the existence of this facility then the whole context and narrative would be different.

 

 

 

 

Research point – Paul Seawright’s ‘Sectarian Murders’.

The work of Paul SeawrightSectarian Murders‘ (http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian) is and interesting example where a photographic artist has challenged the boundaries of documentary photography by taking images that are only linked by extracts from newspaper reports and the locations in the images.  The images themselves don’t offer clues to their context until the text and images are tied together.  However, the photographers choices of view points creates both an interesting design element to the pictures for an art point of view and the linking text creates a context for a narrative that the viewer can construct themselves.

Seawright’s argument is that to create good documentary photography for an art gallery he must produce interesting images that do not give up their full meaning in one glance.  He suggest such images are advertising or journalistic editorial images chosen for their impact.  He argues that a good artist never makes plain the message in a picture and by leaving a ‘space’ in his images he allows the viewer to construct their own narrative to the images meaning.  This is not a new idea, a visit to any art gallery and viewing many a painting by masters old and contemporary will demonstrate this practice in use.  This is a cleaver and imaginative form of documentary photography.

I do not necessarily believe that by defining a piece of documentary work as a art will change its meaning.  We can define anything as art, I think that what we currently term art is something that is considered suitable for a public display in a gallery or a book.  Therefore, images of the burning Hindenburg, Neil Armstrong on the moon, a starving Ethiopian child suitable framed and displayed becomes an image of art and exhibited in a  chosen context these images can build their own narrative subject to that context and the viewers own imagination.