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.
Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, published by Penguin. This is the second book I have read by Berger, the first was ‘Ways of Seeing’. I read this book whilst on holiday which I took with me as I thought that it would help in my preparation for my fourth assignment which is to write an essay about a photograph.
This book is a collection of essays discussing for example the image of the post-mortum image of Che Guevara and it’s similarity to two famous paintings one of The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt and Mantegna’s painting of the dead Christ. Berger also writes an interesting essay on the use of photo-montage for political use and essay on Paul Strand, W. Eugene Smith and a tribute to Cartier-Bresson. He also has writes an interesting essay on a meeting the had with Henry Cartier-Bresson in his flat in Paris (who he was a friend) called ‘A man begging on the Metro’.
Berger is a good writer; but also a typical academic. He studied art at college and is keen on photography but not a photographer therefore his writing can be regarded as a little dry for the hands on type (of which I am one). However, I would recommend reading this book for ideas on constructing an essay for photography. When reading these academic books I sometimes find it hard to gauge what I am actually learn from them. Where on the other hand an exercise book that may refer to these books are more clear and filters out the flowery academic language to explain the heart of the message.
I read these books as well as the text books to try to get a more rounded idea of the intended subjects however, the Jury is still out as to whether this is making a difference to my knowledge.
I have been reading this book whilst on holiday, in preparation for my next assignment, Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images, by Richard Salkeld, published by Bloomsbury. This is part of a set of about x10 text-books that are very good and this appears to be last last one of the series for photography that I hadn’t read.
This book is divided in to 6 chapters covering the following topics:
What is a Photograph – Briefly covers the history from invention and marriage of chemistry and optics, through to the evolution of photography and its practice. Case-study.
Reading the signs – Briefly covers the theory of meaning, language, semiotics, ideology in an easy to understand way. Case-study.
Truth and Lies – Considers images reflecting truth in what is real, representation and reality, facts and fiction. Case-study.
Identity – Covers people and portraits, signifying identity, looking,the body. Case-study.
Big-Brother – The modern world, the bad, the mad and the other, surveillance society: and Panopticon (originally a 19th century idea to watch prisoners in a specially designed prison). Who is looking at whom? Public spaces – private lives. Case-study.
Aesthetics – Is it Art? What is art? Photography as art the history of an idea, into postmodernism. Case-study.
This is a very good and useful book to read, in fact I read it twice. An easy read and very well illustrated with profiles on key authors for further reading such as Roland Barthes and John Berger to name just a couple. I would strongly recommend this book and I am surprised that it is not listed as either recommended or essential reading for my OCA course covering Context and Narrative.
This is a must have book for any degree student for photography! Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange, published by Focal Press.
This book debunks the sometimes baffling academic language from the likes of Barthes and Sontage and summarises the message that authors like these are trying to put across to the poor half comatose reader with assignments to help the student explore these theories more thoroughly.
The books covered: John Berger’s Way of Seeing; John Szarkowski’s The Photographers Eye; Stephen Shore’s, The Nature of Photographs; Susan Sontage’s On Photography; Roland Barthes’, Camera Lucida; Martin Rosler’s essay, ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts’; Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s essay, ‘Inside/Out’; Clive Scott’s The Spoken Image: Photography and Language; Andy Grundberg, The Crisis of the Real; Raghubir Singh’s River of Colour; Bertand Russell’s Appearance and Reality; Iatalo Calvino’s The Adventures of a Photographer; Poems by Felix Morrisseau-Leroy and George Szirtes.
I have just finished reading this book ‘Camera Lucida’ by Roland Barthes. I found this book a lot easier to read than ‘Mythologies’ but didn’t find it very interesting or useful in terms of ideas or methods of thought. To be honest, I personally would categorize this book along with the wardrobe of the Emperors new clothes. All about nothing, intellectually trendy twaddle or how to fill a book about absolutely nothing. Not a book that I would recommend.
The one thing that I got but didn’t fully realize until now is his idea of studium and punctum that I first understood but then half forgot it after reading on and it then got buried under all the theory that he lays on top of it. I spent so much time trying to decipher what he was saying I lost the thread. Fortunately, a fellow student had just posted a link to a good video explaining this theory from Barthes book which has brought the idea back from the depths of my confusion. https://phlearn.com/punctum-better-image
Maybe I am just an ignorant retch in the eyes of a true academic but why oh why say so much with so much unnecessary thesaurus fuelled language when it could be much more easily explained and summed up? I found I needed a dictionary for practically every paragraph of this book for words I have never seen before and it even defeated by Oxford dictionary from time to time! Maybe I needed Latin, Ancient Greek and French.
I have just read this book ‘Mythologies’ by Roland Barthes, although it was not listed on my OCA book list for Context and Narrative, I am so glad I have read it. I found it difficult to read, as I have to admit I struggled to understand the academic language even with a dictionary. However, I think that I had understood the gist and Barthes ideas of mythology in combination with Semiology is giving me food for thought for subject matter for my next assignment. The first section is a collection of essays about various subject matter that Barthes came across in day to day life that can be associated to modern day myths for example: The world of wrestling, Soap-Powder and Detergents Steak and Chips. But it is the last section, titled Myths Today which is the gold-nugget of information to be read and if necessary re-read until understood. Hard work to read; but a must for all art students.
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.