I learned about the existence of this essay from a text-book I read a few weeks ago (Reading Photographs by AVA Publications) whilst on holiday and thought it useful to get a copy and read it for myself.
Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey has only recently been published as a book accompanied by an illustrated essay by Rachel Rose. This essay has apparently been very influential in the world of cinema since it’s first publication in ‘Screen’ 1975. So I thought it important to read it.
The essay discusses a similar argument to John Berger in his famous ‘The Way of Seeing’ regarding how woman have been used in the arts and media as sexual voyeuristic objects. that employed and seen on the movie screen. Mulvey goes on to argue that women on the cinema screen represent castration due to their lack of the male sexual organ and also objects of desire by way of their glamour. Mulvey suggests that the audience is encouraged to become voyeurs by the the theater that puts them in the dark; so that they can feel that they can look in private. She also goes on to consider the ideas of voyeurism that she believes has been explored by the great Hollywood Directors, Sternberg and Hitchcock, in their movies, Morocco and Dishonored by Sternberg and ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Marnie’. Much of Mulvey’s essay is now regarded as out of date regarding how women are now portrayed in modern films (by Mulvey’s own admission as a footnote).
A small book of about only 30 readable pages, interesting and I am sure that if I didn’t read it now I would find myself reading it later in my degree course.
At the beginning of section 4, ‘Reading photographs’ for my course, ‘Context and Narrative’, I have been asked to try to think of any photos that may be produced that are not intended for expression or communication.
Assuming that the photo hasn’t been over of under exposed to a degree that the image is totally white or black then the short answer is no. For surely all photos either express something or communicate something.
However, my first thought as to a possible contender would be a photo taken for say quality-control to record that something was made or fitted to a set standard or requirement. components in a nuclear-power-station that once fitted can not easily be inspected or checked and therefor are photographed during installation. But this still communicates a detail of information that may at a later date be referred to.
I can only suggest that a live picture from a CCTV that is both unrecorded and un-viewed comes close to this description, for as long as no one is watching the monitor screen then the images communicate nothing nor do they express any meaning. There existence has little point. Perhaps a philosopher can take this observation and apply it to any photograph arguing that for as long as no one is looking at a picture, the picture communicates nothing and nor does it expresses anything until there a pair of eyes to look upon it. This argument may be stretched to argue that without cultural / or use of a humans recognized visual language then any photo may not make sense to the viewer. For example as viewed through the eyes on an insect, domestic pet or a Martian.
The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, ISBN: 9781514341018.
I purchased this book earlier this year to read as part of my study for my photography degree. I can not recall why I ordered it as it is not listed anywhere as a book to read but as I had it and was going away on holiday where I would have the time and opportunity to read it.
Russell discusses the fundamental argument of philosophy by discussing what is real? He begins by arguing for and against the physical existence of the table he is sitting at and do people all experience the sense of sight, sound, smell and touch the same way? He refers to the information that we receive regarding sight, smell, touch etc. as sense-data which is an interesting choice of words given that this book was written in 1912 and I believe was an expression originally coined by J.M. Keynes. Almost 21st century I.T. language.
This was not too hard to read, if perhaps seeming a little bizarre to read about an argument about the existence of a table but again I like to keep an open mind as I often find that knowledge always find a use, if only to be a bore at a dreadful party!
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.