Visit www.weareoca.com/photography/beneath-the-surface/ [accessed 24/02/14] for a blog about Jeff Wall’s, Insomnia (1994), interpreted using some of the tools discussed above.
Read and reflect upon the chapter on Diane Arbus in Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth (2005, London: Tate Publishing). This is out of print but you may be able to find it in your local university library: some of the chapters are available as pdfs online. You’ll find the Arbus chapter on the student website.
If you haven’t yet read any of Judith Williamson’s ‘Advertising’ articles (see Introduction), now would be a good time to do so. See: www.oca-student.com/content/her
I found Sharon Boothroyd’s dissection of Insomnia very insightful, informative and formulaic. By that, I mean that it had a solid structure, and the sum of the parts all equalled the ‘bigger picture’. It was logical and flowed well, and was actually quite easy reading. Big words and academic terminology were avoided which gives me hope that I can pull off Assignment 4! My notes on the blog post:
- Started at the Formal Level – Denotative elements, the facts and how they translate.
- Followed by a personal reading – The Connotative elements, based on own experiences and memories, the interpretation.
- The photograph is then examined in reference to the wider ‘Canon’ of art, looking at Wall’s ‘history’ and artistic habits – references to Shakespeare and literature.
- The article finishes with a look at the actual installation/print and summarises the audience and context.
Jobey’s essay in Singular Images goes into far more depth than Boothroyd’s example. Being relatively new to the idea of ‘reading’ photographs I’ve found both examples to very educational and both have helped to improve my understanding of deconstruction and semiotics.
Jobey’s essay is not quite as succinct as Boothroyd’s. There is a lot of ‘back and forth’ as she pursues lines of thought, which in themselves give the essay a structure. It surprised me just how much of her writing wasn’t about the actual photograph, but instead a lot of it focused on the author and the frames of reference such as America’s social and political climate at the time the photograph was made. Throughout, there are relations or parallels to other art forms. Jobey asks questions and has a tendency to assume that the reader has reached the same assumptions. Like Boothroyd’s example, she starts off by translating the denotative elements such as the poses, gazes and body language. She then interprets these into Signifiers and the Signified until we are left with this metaphor of the ‘unhappy family’ (the Sign).
At one point, there is a discussion about the use of the photo in a British newspaper magazine, and the accompanying letter from Arbus to the editor. This provides a great deal of context which further enables interpretation of the image in relation to the artists intent. This is further embellished with discussion about Arbus, her death and her estate.
At several points in the essay, Jobey makes reference to other writers (with quotes) who may have had differing views about Arbus’ work or counter-arguments. This gives the whole essay a critical and balanced feel, giving the reader further avenues of research and giving them the ability to form their own opinion.