Assignment 4 – Research – Poststructuralism & Deconstruction

Having looked quite quite a bit at Semiotics (the science of signs) and it’s usefulness in decoding an image to decipher meaning, I felt it appropriate to take a further look at Deconstruction.

I find that the subject of deconstruction is very in depth, and highly complex. It relates primarily to literary criticism, but can be applied equally to any form of language or communication, which photography is. I struggle to read about this subject, loosing interest (or understanding) very quickly. Thankfully, I found a few helpful videos that have (hopefully) explained it in layman’s terms.

Where Semiotics is largely associated with Roland Barthes, Deconstruction is the further exploration (and often contradiction) of it by Jaques Derrida.

If Semiotics can be associated with Structuralism – where things have a specific and set meaning, then Deconstruction is associated with poststructuralism – where something can have multiple meanings, often contradictory to their intent.

To me then, in its simplest terms, Deconstruction (or poststructuralism) is about looking for alternative meaning or the lack of meaning altogether. It is about questioning what is being communicated.  The sign, being the sum of the signifier and the signified, can actually be a signifier of something else. Likewise, a message can be picked apart so much that it no longer means anything.

Deconstruction is highly critical, and (to me) is akin to sarcasm. Take this example:

“You like nice today.”

What seems like a straight forward communication can actually have multiple meanings if deconstructed (and if we’re being picky). Without knowing the intent of the sender, we can only surmise the possible meanings. A reply from a structuralist would likely be:

“Thank you”.

Whereas a possible reply from poststructuralist could be:

“What do mean I look nice today? Don’t I look nice everyday?”

Here there has been a need to question the senders intent because the message has not been communicated effectively.

Here is another example:

A sign on a lift door reads:

“Guide dogs only”.

Again, the message seems quite obvious. but what does it actually mean?

Are humans allowed? What if the blind person has some other form of guide animal, is that allowed? Who is the sign for? We assume a blind person, but how do they read it?

Therefore, through deconstruction, we can actually say that the sign is meaningless.

For those interested in exploring Deconstruction or Poststructuralism further, the links below will take you to some quite refreshingly lighthearted and simplistic explanations, using animations.

References:

Bolton, C. (2012) Animating Poststructuralism. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a2dLVx8THA&feature=youtu.be (Accessed: 9 February 2017).
Brian Artese — Tube o’ Theory (2010) An introduction to Poststructuralism – 1 of 3 (Derrida). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6d-7ReYQkUc&feature=youtu.be&spfreload=5#t=73.874714178 (Accessed: 9 February 2017).
Nance, T. (2015) What is Deconstruction? Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cku46UJRlNo&feature=youtu.be (Accessed: 9 February 2017).

Assignment 4 – Research – John Berger: Ways of seeing

In trying to open my eyes to the world of art criticism and to widen my understanding of how images are read and interpreted, I have watched the series; Ways of Seeing, written and hosted by John Berger. This is a 4 part series that was held in high regard and which was highly recommended by my fellow students. Despite its age (aired in 1972), and the fact that it concentrates largely on the medium of oil painting, it is still very relevant and interesting.

Episode 1

Episode 1 explores context, and the shifting meaning of images with time, context and mass reproduction.

Initially Berger discusses how the mass reproduction of paintings, through the use of cameras, can change their meaning. Photographs in the media, whether in newspapers, on TV or viewed on the internet, bring the meaning to the viewer. This alone shifts the meaning which can differ from when a unique art work is viewed in an institution.

This mechanical transmission of meaning opens up the prospect of manipulation. In Semiotic terms, this manipulation (if unintentional) may be referred to as Noise (see last post). When shown on the TV, or in a paper, an image may be cropped or shown in a different sequence. When viewed on the internet, the scale may be different, or colours may be represented differently. Music could be added which can change the significance or interpretation. We cannot ignore that today, we view most images in the context of our own homes. Although many contemporary images are created with this intent, it changes the meaning of images that were not originally intended for viewing juxtaposed against these surroundings and other media.

The last key point that Berger raises is on the subject of art criticism and the effects that mass reproduction have had on it. He talks of ‘false mystification’: Where art has been made more accessible through mass reproduction, the negative effect of this is that it has been made less accessible by the jealously guarded language used by ‘art experts’, which is a response to this mass production and accessibility. In an interesting clip, he shows a painting to a group of children who de-construct it, relating it to their own experiences, simply reading it for what it is. Although they lack knowledge on the intent of the author and other such factors which affect interpretation, they deduce their own meaning and cut through the mystification.

Whilst this demonstration by Berger argues that even children can make sense of art without a whole raft of academic text on the image, it is a flawed argument. Yes, the children found enjoyment in the image and they deduced their own meanings, but they may well have missed the authors actual message.

Episode 2

The whole of Episode 2 explores the female nudes of the 18th/19th century. During the first half, Berger explains how the conventions of the nude allow us to understand how women and their appearance have been defined by such artworks. Berger states that in the vast majority of these nudes, the women are not naked as they are, they are naked as they seen. In this sense, Berger is saying that the women are objectified, and implies an awareness of being seen. They are in essence wearing a disguise by being nude, and displaying an expected aesthetic. They do not see themselves, they see themselves being seen. He concludes this part by posing 2 questions:

  1. Do these images celebrate the women within them, or the male voyeur?
  2. Is there sexuality within the frame, or in front of it?

Both questions are almost rhetorical, and given the age of the programme, it is easy to see how accepted norms have (or haven’t) changed. Today, such images could be regarded as sexist or demeaning, but little has changed. We do not see so much female nudity in art or advertising, but women continue to feel that they fall short of expectations due to sexualised images in pop videos, advertisements and the digital manipulation of such images.

The second half of the episode is a group discussion, in which a group of women (who have seen the first half) discuss the programme and the questions it raises. Inevitably, many of the women agree with the sentiments of how they feel about themselves and their expected appearance/inadequacies, which brings the episode to its conclusion.

Episode 3

To begin with, I though this would be an episode about consumerism or advertising and their place (if they have one) as art. I was completely wrong. It was all about wealth and ownership within European oil painting. Berger begins by posing a question about oil paintings:

  1. Where does their value come from? The same question could be asked of certain photographs of the same period.

In essence, the episode looks at how wealth is depicted in oil paintings and how the ownership of such paintings depicts wealth. He also looks at how the depiction of tangible, valuable objects in a painting is desirable as a form of ownership, even if it is only of their image. Early portraits depicted wealth, often through generations of a family, and the style of the paintings could say a lot about the subject e.g. ‘I am respected’.

Towards the end of the episode, Berger uses an example image of a woman counting pearls to demonstrate how taking the time to really see an image can reveal alternate meanings. Unlike so many paintings of the time, this is not about wealth, but the suspension of time and capturing of a moment. But the viewer must really look, to see this meaning.

Berger closes by concluding that European oil painting was a medium that celebrated possession.  With little experience in this field I cannot argue this, but from what I have seen of early photography, I would agree that both mediums have been used throughout history for the same thing.

Episode 4

By looking at advertising and the images used, Berger makes comparisons between photography (advertising) and European oil painting. He is also critical of our culture, using arguments based on contradiction and contrast that demonstrate incomprehension. For me, this was the most interesting episode and the one most relevant to the reading and criticism of photography.

We are literally surrounded by adverts. Images of an alternative way of life, many of which portray or sell the concept of glamour. Glamour goes deeper than just looks, but depends entirely on them in an image. Glamour is a relatively new concept. Before the mass reproduction of images, people had or did not have ‘status’. The paintings they owned portrayed what they already had, and re-affirmed this. With the advent of consumerism, the idea was sold that anyone could be glamorous.

Much of what we see in advertising photography takes inspiration form European oil painting; the atmosphere, poses, symbols of prestige and gestures. The nymphs and goddesses of oil paintings have been replaced by models that allow our imaginations to revel in what might be, while the advertisers try to sell us that dream.

Although he doesn’t specifically say so, Berger implies that adverts lie to us, and I have to agree with him as a generalisation. The common theme amongst most advertising campaigns is that if we buy the product, our lives will be changed or improved somehow.  We may look better, we may be the life and soul of the party, may have different or better relationships, will be happier etc. This is achieved by making us feel that we are currently inadequate, and that we could be ‘more’. Coupled with this is the consumerist culture. The backwards idea that to be wealthier, we must own more, even though the spending of money to do this will make us poorer. In turn this has led to a sense that our ability to buy, and what we own is linked to our virility or status.

In looking at adverts, Berger asks us to look through them, and to see the ‘interminable present’. If we see through the lies, we will see the reality of the manufacturing process, of the workers who make these products, and the need of the marketers to sell them. That there is much more to a product than its advertising or promised results. The objects themselves are in fact neutral, but they are made glamorous by inserting them into a context.

By far the most interesting part of this series was Berger’s criticism of the consumerist culture. He uses the example of a weekly colour supplemental magazine, which is full of current affairs stories, interspersed with advertisements. The adverts are in stark contrast to the photojournalist images that they are juxtaposed against. The reality of the advertising images is absolute. We want to believe them, and the images are tangible. Yet, the realism of the photojournalist images of starving and dying refugees is also absolute. When we see a crying, starving child on one page, followed by a smiling child drinking coka-cola on the next, we have to ask, is our culture mad?

Berger concludes the series by summarising that many of the traditions in photography began with European oil painting and that all images, regardless of genre must be viewed against our experiences.

I enjoyed the series more than I expected. It is dated, but then so is photography. The fact that each episode is only 30 mins, and the content is put across in an understandable, non-academic way is great.

Bibliography

BBC (1972a) John Berger / ways of seeing , episode 1 (1972). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk&app=desktop (Accessed: 8 February 2017).
BBC (1972b) John Berger / ways of seeing , episode 2 (1972). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1GI8mNU5Sg (Accessed: 8 February 2017).
BBC (1972c) John Berger / ways of seeing , episode 3 (1972). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7wi8jd7aC4 (Accessed: 8 February 2017).
BBC (1972d) John Berger / ways of seeing , episode 4 (1972). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jTUebm73IY (Accessed: 8 February 2017).

Assignment 4 – Research – This means this, this means that: A users guide to semiotics

The book ‘This means this, this means that: A user’s guide to semiotics’ was highly recommended by a number of fellow students. I found it to be very well structured and easy to read/understand. With so many elements to semiotics I have created my own reference list below (using this log as my electronic notebook) with my own take on the meanings/definitions of many of the terms used, so that I can refer back to it in future.

Chapter 1 – Signs and Signing

The things that make up a Sign and which shape our understanding of language and meaning.

  • Signifier – The ‘thing’ that means something.
  • Signified – The meaning/interpretation of the ‘thing’.
  • Sign = Signifier + Signified.

A signifier can have more than one more significance. e.g. the signifier ‘Apple’ can signify Temptation (Adam & Eve), Health and Fruit.

  • Icon – Something that is ‘iconic’ i.e. it RESEMBLES something. e.g. a map resembles (is iconic of) the place depicted. A photograph resembles (is iconic of) the object in the photograph.
  • Index – A non-arbitrary relationship between the signifier and signified is ‘indexical’ i.e. CAUSED BY e.g. a black eye is caused by a punch.
  • Symbol – Something that is symbolic of something else through a relationship. e.g. A dove is a symbol of peace (doves are peaceful) and scales are a symbol of justice (the relationship is balance).
  • Sender – The author/creator of the message being conveyed. Knowledge of the sender, their background, culture and intent will aid in deciphering and interpreting the message.
  • Intention – What is the senders intent? Knowing this will likely influence the receivers understanding/reading of the message.
  • Message – The meaning of the whole. Will be influenced by the receivers understanding and may differ from the senders intent.
  • Transmission – messages are transmitted through a medium:
    • Presentational – Voice, face (expressions), body language etc.
    • Representational – Paintings, photographs, books etc.
    • Mechanical – TV, phone, internet etc.

The message in the Mona Lisa is transmitted using all 3. The Smile is indexical of happiness/emotion and is transmitted through a facial expression. This is transmitted representationally in the original painting and is transmitted mechanically in digital form.

  • Noise – The unintended distortion of a message, perhaps during transmission, e.g. not displayed as per the senders intent?
  • Receiver – The actual person receiving the message (the audience). How sense is made of the message will depend on how the receiver interprets it.
  • Addressee – A person, whether real or imaginary who is ‘said’ to be the target of a message.
  • Destination – When the message has been decoded and interpreted it has reached its destination. The message that arrives may not be the same as the message that was sent.

Chapter 2 – Ways of meaning

Methods of communication beyond the literal.

  • Simile – The likening of one thing to another. This can be through a linking property or figures of speech. e.g. a Hedgehog is like a brush (linked by bristles), or something flat is likened to a pancake (figure of speech – ‘flat as a pancake’). X is like Y
  • Metaphor – An implied comparison between two things that share a certain quality e.g. a thing in nature (such as a waterfall or flower) has qualities of naturalness and freshness linking it to/making it a metaphor for an object such as soap, washing powder or perfume. X is Y.
  • Metonym – Something that is closely related to/associated with something else, and which often indicates its presence e.g. a throne (object) indicates a monarch (concept). A picture of the White House (image) indicates the president of the USA (person). Watergate (word) indicates the impeaching of president Nixon (event).
  • Synecdoche – Using a part of something to represent the whole, or the whole to represent a part. e.g. using an image of Elvis’ hair to represent him. In this case the hair style is an iconic symbol of Elvis. Another example is using an individual to represent a group.
  • Irony – The use of language to convey a meaning that is at odds with the literal meaning, often with a humorous intent. Can be misunderstood if not used commonly used.
  • Lies – A claim that is literally false. Unlike irony which uses the same modality, it is the underlying message that makes the statement a lie.
  • Impossibility – Something that is not literally possible, though it may not stop us trying to imagine the possibility.
  • Depiction – What and How something is being depicted which can be affected by perspective. What is depicted can be different to what is represented. For example, what is depicted as a dove may represent the holy ghost. linked to Denotation and Connotation.
  • Representation – What is represented by the items/images – may require explanation or a deeper understanding.

Chapter 3 – Conceptual structures

The fundamental level of human thinking. Explored in opposing pairs.

  • Truth & Falsity – Exploring what is true and false, often in representation. Is a picture of a pipe a pipe? Is the word pipe a pipe? Raises questions about the ability of an image/language to represent or misrepresent an item/object/word.
  • Sameness & Difference – It is only our perception that makes one thing different from another. Differences occur in kind (a fundamental difference) and in degrees (when the difference between 2 things is only by degrees of separation). Sameness is rarely absolute, but is often found in certain qualities (shape, size, colour. texture etc).
  • Wholes & Parts – A whole, consisting of parts, is only a part of a greater whole. An iris is part of an eye, an eye is part of a head etc etc. It is important to focus on whats important, including enough, but not too much.
  • Subjectivity & Objectivity – Many experiences cannot be described objectively and are purely personal (subjective). Despite scientific objectivity and tests, these are not able to articulate what something actually means to a person.
  • Appearance & Reality – Many things add to or detract from the reality/realistic appearance of an image. Perspective, Tone, Colour, Texture etc.
  • Continuity & Discontinuity – In general, analogue signs create relationships that are graded on a continuum (e.g. an analogue clock face allows us to see how much time has passed, as well as what time it is now). Examples are things that have a more/less quality such as visual images, physical gestures, facial expressions, bodily movements, textures, tastes and smells. Digital signs have an either/or quality (like a digital clock face) that can seem discontinuous because the categories used are unitised. Examples are things like Black/White, Zero & One, Off and On, This or That, Light and Dark, Alive or Dead.
  • Sense & Reference – In referring to something, we rely on shared understanding of things we take for granted to communicate what we’re referring to. This can lead to misunderstanding and makes us consider shifts in meaning.
  • Meaningful & Meaningless – The meaning of something can vary from culture to culture, e.g, the meaning of the colours in a traffic light system.  In order to have an understandable meaning, there must be clear distinction between the elements that form the system, in this case, the three colours.
  • Problem & Solution – One overall philosophical difficulty that we face is that while some problems have one solution and others have many, some problems have no solutions. The problem then, is in telling what sort of problem we have.  “Think outside the box”.

Chapter 4 – Visual structures

Exploration of composition and its 2 dimensions – time and space.

  • Viewer & Image – An image can be interpreted and re-interpreted a number of times. The notional position of the viewer (in relation to the image) can shift based on the description.
  • Ideal & Real – Idealised elements tend to be at the top of a picture, with the realistic elements at the bottom.
  • Given & New – Depending on which direction an image is read (left to right in western cultures), given information tends to come first, followed by new information e.g. a diet product will show the ‘before’ on the left, ‘after’ on the right.
  • Centre & Margin – Objects in the centre tend to have significance/higher importance than subjects in the margins which appear to have less importance/gravity.
  • Foreground & Background – When certain things are perceived as being in the foreground, the other things tend to form the background and can go unnoticed. A perceptual switch can occur, in which the foreground becomes the background and vice versa, but this does not happen often and is usually deliberate.
  • Proximity & Presence – Objects that are in close proximity tend to be grouped together which can draw the viewer’s attention. How objects are placed can also be used to divert attention away. Presence can be indicated by size, colour, sharpness, tone, texture etc. Size usually indicates importance and authority, colour = naturalism, sharpness = realism, contrast = drama, texture = imperfection/flawlessness.
  • Before & After – The conventions of how an image is read (e.g. from L to R) can be deviated from, as long as the change in convention is understood, otherwise the deviation can result in incomprehension.
  • Past, Present & Future – How are the 3 represented pictorially? Quaint, nostalgic, exciting, boring, frightening etc.
  • Fast & Slow – Time can be represented through photographic techniques and the use of metaphor (a walking stick = slow, motorbike = fast). Consider what speeds can mean e.g. Fast  = exciting, energetic etc. Slow = calm, contemplative, sluggish etc.

Chapter 5 – Textual structures

Examining the structure of text/images in order to understand the relationships and meanings.

  • Readers & Texts – Text and Images can be read in multiple ways depending on the concept e.g. structuralist or post-structuralist.
  • Words & Images – Consider Anchor & Relay (how captions work to add meaning). Text can add meaning and/or reduce the level of involvement of the viewer.
  • Functions – The same phrase, said or written in different ways can have a number of functions.
    • Emotive – e.g. giving away a sign of nervousness.
    • Conative – e.g. the effect on the listener/reader/viewer such as irritation or happiness.
    • Referential – When the words/image don’t necessarily matter, but refer to something e.g. the language of Shakespeare.
    • Poetic – About the creativity or aesthetic use of the language.
    • Phatic – To get attention, or to keep channels of communication open.
    • Metalingual –  Checking function e.g. a question that requires a response.
  • Forms – Language can be used to form a type of relationship between speaker/listener, writer/reader namely Formal or Informal.
  • Placing – The placing of objects/words can have an effect on the reader. The same objects/words arranged differently can have a different effect. Those objects/words read first tend to take more prominence as they are easier to recall. Certain clichés also influence us.
  • Prominence – If something is prominent it will be remembered. What happens in the beginning and end are most prominent, the middle tends to be a blur. Prominence can be given by repetition or patterns. To be really prominent, the ‘thing’ must be set against what is not prominent.
  • Inter & Intratextuality – Intertextuality: How works make reference (often in clever ways) to one another. Intratextuality: The internal relationship between parts of the same work.
  • Paratext & Paralanguage – Paratext sits outside of the main work and can add to or alter its meaning (such as a caption or title). Paralanguage is the non-verbal communication that may support or modify the meaning of the main text e.g. body language of someone reading a text, or the way in which an image is displayed.

Chapter 6 – Matters of interpretation

Exploring the need for context in order to interpret a message. Also looks at the notion of making viewers ‘work’ to understand by looking beneath the surface at the deep structures and hidden symbols.

  • Concepts & Conceptions – People can communicate using the same concepts, but their thoughts (or conceptions) and interpretations of them may be different based on levels of knowledge (e.g. the concepts of Oak and Elm trees which only some people may be able to distinguish but many people know what they are).
  • Connotation & Denotation – Studied in detail earlier in the course. Denotation = What is photographed (the literal). Connotation = How it is photographed (the meaning).
  • Langue & Parole – Langue is the ‘code’ (or structure/system/set of rules etc) for how something is communicated. The Parole is the ‘instance’ of use. e.g. How a menu is arranged = Langue. A particular menu = Parole.
  • Combinations & Substitutions – These can be used to create different effects e.g. combining clothes of different styles.
    • Syntagm – Any combination of things that conform to a specified set of social rules e.g. how we dress for a funeral.
    • Paradigm – created by the social rules that dictate when one thing can be substituted/added in a certain system without the system being undermined.
  • Tokens & Types – Tokens = number of instances. Type = Type of instance e.g. a print of which there are a hundred copies from the same press = 1 type, but 100 tokens.
  • Conventions – Agreed systems of understanding that allow us to interpret what is happening. Often a part of a culture, and not always transparent to other cultures.
  • Classifications – Where does work sit in terms of classification? Is it Art? Does it raise questions of classification?
  • Understanding & Misunderstanding – Using the example of gestures, what is widely understood in one culture, could be misinterpreted in another.

Chapter 7 – Framing meaning

Building a framework that will allow the understanding of communication in the wider context of society and culture.

  • Semantic units – An aspect or part of a ‘thing’ that has an actual or potential meaning. e.g. a Chair.
  • Genres – Categories that conform to a division or subdivision of a medium. e.g. Office Furniture
  • Styles – A manner of doing something. Form can matter as much as content e.g. Functional.
  • Stereotypes – A generalised idea of something often derived from certain observations or prejudices that may or may not be grounded in fact e.g. An object with a rather nondescript look (Stereotypical chair).
  • Institutions – Institutions can regulate meaning. e.g. a museum removes items (semantic units) form their point of origin and gives them a feeling of reverence through the use of lighting and the method of display e.g. A Shop (in relation to the example of the chair).
  • Ideologies – A system of beliefs that are characteristic of the value system of a particular class, group or culture e.g. Consumerism.
  • Discourses – Help to form our ideas about the world through regulated forms of use. Discourses can make what is known, seem to be common sense, natural and self-evident. e.g. Need (to prevent a bad back).
  • Myths – Help us to understand the world. Can be true, partly true or completely false. Myths can influence how an artists work is viewed, particularly the myth of the artist themselves. e.g. Practicality (the myth of office furniture).
  • Paradigms – A paradigm-shift is a different way of thinking, based on the concepts/structures applied to our understanding of something. If we view a drawing, and believe it is done by Sigmund Freud, the meaning may be wildly different to the same picture if we believe it was by Albert Einstein, due to what we know about each individual (paradigms). A paradigm may also be called a frame of reference e.g. Modernism.

Chapter 8 – Stories & storytelling

Exploration of concepts that are central to stories and storytelling.

  • Fact & Fiction – Stories can be told with an emphasis on morality and symbolism. Whether a story is true or not does not always matter.
  • Narratives – A story must sustain interest. The use of a disturbance to create disequilibrium will create drama.
  • Legends – Their purpose is to communicate some sort of moral to others in a simple, transferable and memorable form.
  • Characters & Persona – Consideration should be given to how a character or their persona is portrayed in an image.
  • Viewpoints – The stories that we tell can be presented from different viewpoints, which will influence how they are read e.g. subjective or objective, positive or negative etc.
  • Mysteries – Provides a space for speculation and interest e.g. what happened next?
  • Tensions – Allow the imagination to wonder what happens next/if? Without something happening, there is no story. Can be used to create expectation.
  • Turning-points – A key moment when something happens to bring about a change.
  • Resolutions – We crave resolution, but should not forget the value of the journey. Resolutions can be profound, leaving the reader with a lasting impression.

Bibliography

Hall, S. (2012) This means this, this means that: A user’s guide to semiotics. 2nd edn. London: Laurence King Publishing.

Assignment 4 – Research – Deconstruction, Semiotics & Poststructuralism

In preparation for Assignment 4 I’ve been trying to further my understanding of the above terms and the processes involved in ‘reading’ a photograph from a critical standpoint. I’ve purchased the book This means this, this means that: A users guide to semiotics, and once I’ve read it, I’ll follow up this post. In the mean time, I’ve come across a few resources that I’ve found useful in explaining Deconstruction and Poststructuralism, and I wanted to put them all in one place for future reference, so here they are (they refer to literary deconstruction, but it applies equally to imagery):

Application of Deconstruction (video): https://youtu.be/Cku46UJRlNo

What is Deconstruction (wikipedia)? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction#Application_of_deconstruction

Poststructuralism (video) with explanation of SIGNIFIER , SIGNIFIED and SIGN. https://youtu.be/6a2dLVx8THA

Derrida and photography: https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/bitstream/2134/15100/3/Jacques%20Derrida.pdf

Assignment 4 – Research – Photograph selection

Whilst reading/viewing Five thousand days: Press photography in a changing word, I’d noted 3 photographs as possible subjects for Assignment 4. The book was chock full of brilliant, thought provoking photographs, but these 3 stood out for reasons mentioned below.

I’m now struggling to pick one on which to base my essay, and so I’m going to try a little experiment. I’m going to ask my fellow students (and anyone else who may read this learning log) which photograph they’d like to read an essay about, and why. Please take the poll and comment directly on this post with your suggestions. Thanks.

Option 1:

Tanks and soldiers of the 7th Armoured Brigade gather in the Kuwaiti desert for an address by US Marine General Tommy Franks. March 2003. Dan Chung The Guardian (p93).

_MG_9179

I’m in this photo, somewhere. Operation TELIC was my 3rd operational deployment and my first time in the Middle East. At the tender age of 22, I’d been in Kuwait for 6 weeks. This address happened shortly before the invasion. I remember it vividly and can even remember seeing the gantry suspended from a crane that the photographer would have been stood in. The caption is actually inaccurate. The soldiers in the photograph are from 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Option 2:

Brian Kane is 6 foot tall and weighs just 6st 10lb. He has been in hospital many times to try and cure him but he thinks he is fat when he looks in the mirror. Roger Allen The daily Mirror (p140).

_MG_9178

My tutor has recommended that I try and continue my exploration of Body Image issues in men, which I began to look at in Assignment 3. As my tutor stated, the topic has had very little exposure so there is scope for some unique work. But because of this, there are not many photographs in this area to study or write an essay about. For that very reason, this image jumped out at me when I saw it and read the accompanying caption.

Option 3:

Empty weaving shed at Bradford’s biggest mill, Lister’s Manningham Mill. The textile industry in the north of England has collapsed in recent times. There are now fewer than 1000 people employed in textiles in Bradford, once the woollen textiles capital of the world. Tim Smith The Observer (p153).

_MG_9180

I grew up in the shadow of Lister’s Mill, living just a stones throw away. It was one of many derelict places where kids with nothing better to do could go exploring/trespassing. What would have once been a been a thriving industrial area had become a very impoverished area, with high unemployment, high crime rate and large amounts of social housing. The mill dominated the Bradford skyline as a symbol of Britishness (the industrial revolution) which is in stark contrast to the perception of Manningham that many have today. With 75% of Manningham’s residents being Muslim¹, the relic of the mill now competes with the countries largest Mosque for domination of the skyline.

So there we are, 3 very different images. Please let me know your thoughts below. Thanks in advance.

Update – 6/4/16

It was really insightful to hear the thoughts of some of my course-mates. Some of their comments can be read in this post’s comments section, and I’ve also ‘cut & paste’ some comments from the OCA Facebook page (below). All said and done, I’ve decided to go with the general consensus and study Image number 2.

Facebook comments:

Patricia Howe

Patricia Howe Option 3 for me.

Rob Townsend
Rob Townsend Done – I voted 2
Karen Gomersal
Karen Gomersal Voted, hope the essay goes well
Anne Bryson
Anne Bryson Voted and commented Adam, 3 for me.
Kathy Norris
Kathy Norris Voted. Tough call tho”
Lynda Kuit
Lynda Kuit Option 3 for me too (voted on your blog post). I think you will find a lot of semiotics there.
Lucy Courtney
Lucy Courtney I like option 3 (I voted for this one) although it came close to option 1. Good luck on your essay Adam
Jayne Arksey
Jayne Arksey Wow, can see why you’re struggling too choose. I think I’d go with 2.
Nuala Mahon
Nuala Mahon Did you ask yur tutor for advice? Mine answered immediatly with his ideas on my three. I took his advice on the basis of his experience
Adam Newsome
Adam Newsome He offered some advice in the feedback for assignment 3.
Andrew Fitzgibbon
Andrew Fitzgibbon I’m not going to vote, but offer some thoughts on the photos. I think the choice must really be yours based on what interests you the most and that could be very different for all of us. 1) I don’t know much about the military, so while it is a great photo, I’d have little interest in analysing it. But you would have a huge access to context. The risk would be that you are too close to the subject to bring fresh perspectives. 2) I know you’ve thought a lot about this topic already. I would be inclined to avoid it, if only to apply your creative thoughts to a fresh subject. I do wonder whether an external assessor might, at least subconsciously, not welcome the similarity in topics. But prefer a breadth of exploration this level. 3) This interests me the most because of the sociological and economic context and you’d have such good access to material in Yorkshire and Lancashire (eg Bradford Industrial Museum, Helmshore Museum are both in old textile mills and full of historical information). An obvious comparative photographer would be Bill Brandt – Hell, Hail, and Halifax – which is incidentally a play on a Yorkshire saying from countryside people forced to look for work in the industrial cities – ‘God keep us from Hull, Hell and Halifax’. Good luck!
Rob Townsend
Rob Townsend Funnily enough, on your second point I got exactly the opposite advice from my tutor! As ever, taking tutor advice does involve a certain amount of second-guessing what the final assessor will think… unsure emoticon
Adam Newsome
Adam Newsome Cheers Andrew. The Essay on Brandt’s ‘A snicket, Halifax’ in Singular Images was, in part, one of the things that drew me to this subject.
Adam Newsome
Adam Newsome Rob Townsend, I would hope that the final assessor would read the tutor feedback, and look favourably on students who acted upon the recommendations. But who knows!
Like · Reply · 3 · 4 April at 09:18
Jayne Arksey
Jayne Arksey I can see why they’d want to keep out of Hull.
As for tutor feedback, I think if you go against it you need to write something explaining why.
I think Andrew and the tutor both have good points for and against, down to you really to think if it’s something you want to explore further.
Jayne Kemp
Jayne Kemp 2 looks a good choice smile emoticon
Kate Aston

Kate Aston That’s a tough choice – I would go for 2 or 3. I think my gut favourite would be 3, I saw some great images by Jonas Bendiksen taken in Bradford textile mills. http://www.openforbusiness.uk.com/stories/jonas-bendiksen/

Adam Newsome
Adam Newsome Cheers Kate. I saw the Open for Business exhibition at the NMM during a study visit last year. Thanks for the link smile emoticon

References:

¹http://manningham.localstats.co.uk/census-demographics/england/yorkshire-and-the-humber/bradford/manningham

Bibliography:

British Press Photographers’ Association and Evans, H. (2004) Five Thousand days: Press photography in a changing world. United Kingdom: David & Charles.

Assignment 4 – Research – Judith Williamson’s advertising articles

Although it was recommended to read Williamson’s advertising articles in the course intro, I was put off by the subscription fee for Source Magazine.  With a subscription to BJP, the cost of books on the reading list, printing and other costs, the course is turning out to be quite expensive. To that end, I’ve only been able to find one of her advertising articles online which is on the OCA website (see below).

  • At the outset, Williamson uses a single punchy sentence to set the scene and describe the image “This Apple ad presents an image of illumination”.
  • This is followed immediately by a brief description of the formal denotative elements which leads nicely into an interpretation of the light reflecting in the child’s eyes.
  • This is the first essay on a photograph that I’ve found which uses some of the terminology that I feel expected to use in my own essay.
  • The article is very opinionated and lacks the ‘critical’ approach that I feel is necessary. The image is dissected in a subjective way and advertising in general is being mocked.  The author even uses made-up words (cod-verse) to describe the accompanying text.
  • The author offers some very interesting interpretations of the elements within the scene such as the angle of the product and the references to ‘enlightenment’.
  • The author uses the working conditions of the Apple manufacturers to add context, but these conditions are probably unbeknownst to the average viewer. However, this insight does help to analyse the accompanying text.
  • Unlike other examples of essays that I’ve read, there is nothing in the way of counter-argument or opinion.

The article was a very interesting and informative read. Despite highlighting good practice for the deconstruction of an image, I feel that it actually serves as an example of how not to write a ‘critical’ essay due to the excessive personal opinion that is aired.

Bibliography

Williamson, J. (No date). Apple. Available at http://www.oca-student.com/content/her (accessed 31/03/16)

Assignment 4 – Research – Essays on remarkable photographs

The book Singular Images: Essays on remarkable photographs is now out of print and sells for anything from £50 – £150. With my library unable to source a copy, and not wanting to spend that much money, I was able to find some of the essays online and through fellow students. The Arbus essay was available on the OCA website and my thoughts on this can be found in this previous post. I have since read another 3 of the essays in a bid to further my understanding of critical analysis.

Jeff Wall – A view from an apartment 2004-5, by Sheena Wagstaff.

Wall, J. (2004-5). A view from an apartment

Wall, J. (2004-5). A view from an apartment (photograph).

  • Wagstaff had a deep insight in to this work, having met with Wall during its making.
  • This gives a greater insight in to Walls intention/meaning. This makes me ask if she’s reading the photograph herself, or is she ‘telling it how it is’ according to Wall?
  • There is some discussion of of the technical and logistical aspects to creating such a staged photograph, which in themselves provide some context.
  • Wagstaff compares Walls work to paintings by Velasquez and Goya, and references them as influences on him.
  • There is quite a lot of ‘conceptual’ talk about the window actually being a mirror and the view actually being a reflection of ourselves. There is no argument for this which makes me think its a personal opinion or a personal reading.
  • The essay reads quite well (structure) and feels like an interview with Wall about this photograph, rather than just the authors take on it.

Bill Brandt – A snicket, Halifax 1937, by Nigel Warburton.

Brandt, B (1937). A snicket, Halifax (photograph)

Brandt, B (1937). A snicket, Halifax (photograph)

  • Warburton discusses the different appropriations & contexts that have been applied to the image over the years.
  • Discusses the formal elements before alluding to the ‘Artistic Ouvre’
  • Like previous examples, the essay delves into the artists background, his work with Man-Ray, his surrealist influences and his Formalist approach.
  • There is quite a bit of info about Brandt’s processing – The image is largely a result of of the darkroom processing, bringing out the atmosphere and excluding much of the detail.
  • Again, we see references to and comparison with other art forms, this time film.
  • Warburton uses the history of the place and the politics to deconstruct the image and provide context.

Martin Parr – Jubilee street party, Elland, Yorkshire 1977 by Val Williams.

Parr, M. (1977). Jubilee street party, Elland, Yorkshire (photograph)

Parr, M. (1977). Jubilee street party, Elland, Yorkshire (photograph).

  • This essay differs slightly in construct in that it starts with the history of the artist/context of the photograph rather than the formal aspects.
  • It is an interesting photo with an awful lot to convey. I was surprised that the essay was a short as it was – Brevity will be key to my own essay.
  • As for other essays, the author discusses how the photograph has been used in differing contexts.
  • There is some deconstruction of the lighting and what it means in terms of atmosphere. The same goes for the composition and inclusion of certain elements.
  • There is input from a third party (publisher Jonathan Cape) which gives a slightly different take on the photograph.
  • In many ways, this feels more like an essay about Parr than this particular image.

These essays have given me some food for thought in terms of content for my own essay. Refreshingly, I found very little use of terminology such as Sign, Signifier, Signified, Denotation etc. etc. Instead, what the authors gleaned from each photograph seemed to come more from research into the artists, their backgrounds, or the places they’d photographed, rather than just from reading the photograph.

Bibliography

Sheena, W. (2005) ‘Jeff Wall: A view from an apartment, 2004-5’, in Howarth, S. (ed.) Singular images: Essays on remarkable photographs. London: Tate Publishing.
Warburton, N. (2005) ‘Bill Brandt, A Snicket, Halifax 1937’, in Howarth, S. (ed.) Singular images: Essays on remarkable photographs. London: Tate Publishing.
Williams, V. (2005) ‘Martin Parr, Jubilee Street Party, Eiland, Yorkshire 1977’, in Howarth, S. (ed.) Singular images: Essays on remarkable photographs. London: Tate Publishing.