Assignment 4 – Brief and first thoughts

As is now common practice, I’ve taken an early look at Assignment 4 before I make any headway on this part of the course. This will allow me to be mindful of the requirements and to make good use of the time I have to generate ideas and conduct research.

Assignment four

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

• If you choose a well-known photograph, take time to research its context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc. Add all this information into your essay to enable you to draw a conclusion from your own interpretation of the facts.

• If you choose to use a found photograph, a picture from your own collection, or perhaps one from an old family archive, use it as an opportunity to find out something new. Avoid telling us about that particular holiday or memory – look directly to the photograph for the information. It may be interesting to compare and contrast your memory with the information you’re now seeing anew from ‘reading’ the picture so intensely.

It’s not enough to write an entirely descriptive or historical account of your chosen image. You must use the facts as a means to draw your own conclusions about what the picture means to you. You may wish to apply what you’ve learned in Part Four regarding translation, interpretation, connotation, signs, punctum, etc., but be sure you get the definitions correct.

Follow thought associations and other images that relate to the discussion, directly or indirectly. Look at the broader context of the image and its background and specific narrative as well as your personal interpretation of it and what thoughts it triggers for you. Follow these associations in a thoughtful and formal way. Allow yourself to enjoy the process!

There are many good examples of writing about single images (e.g. Sophie Howarth’s Singular Images), which you may find helpful to read before attempting your own. Take note of the level of critical analysis and aim for a similar approach in your own writing. You may write about personal connections but ensure you express yourself in a formally analytical and reflective manner.

For more information on how to write critical essays see: [accessed 24/02/12]

You’ll also find a guide to writing visual arts critical reviews on the OCA student website. This is primarily intended for Level 2 and Level 3 students, but you should be able to pick up some useful tips. And don’t forget that your tutor is there to advise you.

Send your essay to your tutor, together with the relevant pages of your learning log or blog url.

When it comes to writing a 1000 words, I think I can manage that without too much trouble. In fact, my issue here will be brevity, as once I get going going, I may struggle to restrict myself to a 1000 words. Deciding on a photograph to review will be difficult, but I will no doubt try and pick something that I can relate to, although this could prove problematic in terms of remaining objective and critical in my analysis.

My biggest struggle will be the content of the essay, having never written a Critical Essay before. I will need to do plenty of research in this area, and I have a few resources to look at:

UCA Essay Writing Guide:

Book: Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth – Currently £50+ online!

John Berger – Ways of seeing:

Course: Seeing through Photography:

Book: Regarding the pain of others by Susan Sontag, which I have and am yet to read.



2 thoughts on “Assignment 4 – Brief and first thoughts

  1. You seem to be cracking along at a good pace Adam. There was a book I found very helpful for this part of the Course “‘Criticising Photographs:An Introduction to Understanding Images” by Terry Barrett. I’ve got the Fourth edition, 2006 but I see on Amazon that there’s a later one.


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