Narrative – Project 2: Image and text – Exercise 2


The aim of this exercise (and Assignment Two) is to encourage you to develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something rather than a record of it.

Choose a poem that resonates with you then interpret it through photographs. Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.

Start by reading the poem a few times (perhaps aloud) and making a note of the feelings and ideas it promotes, how you respond to it, what it means to you and the mental images it raises in your mind. Next, think about how you’re going to interpret this visually and note down your ideas in your learning log.

You may choose to develop this idea into creating a short series of images reflecting your personal response to the poem (or another poem). Write some reflective notes about how you would move the above exercise on.

The number of pictures you choose to produce for the exercises and assignments in this course, including this one, is up to you. Try to keep in mind the following tips for knowing when you have done enough/not done enough:

• Are the images repeating themselves? Are there three versions of the same picture for example? Can you take two out?

• Does each image give a different point of view or emphasise a point you want to make?

• Do the images sit well together visually?

• Have you given the viewer enough information? Would another picture help?

I began looking at this exercise just over a month ago, and dreaded the thought of it. I’m not a poetic person. I have no fondness for poetry and know nothing about it. Whilst searching for inspiration I became aware that Anzac day was fast approaching, and that we were only a month away from VE day.  This got me thinking about the act of remembrance, and almost instantly, the Kohima Epitaph came to mind. That’s not surprising given that it’s been recited at every remembrance parade I’ve attended over the past 17 years of military service. Although not an actual poem, it is verse, and it got me thinking…..

Epitaph: A short text honouring the deceased that is inscribed on a tombstone or plaque. It may be in poem verse¹.

The Kohima Epitaph is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds² who created a collection of epitaphs for WW1. Four of these were published in The Times newspaper on 6 Feb 1918, on page 7 in an article entitled Four Epitaphs³.

Although each of the four epitaphs are different, and they were essentially written for death in different battles/scenarios, they evoke some generic emotions and feelings.  These are feelings of sadness and loss. Bittersweet contrasts of victory despite an ultimate sacrifice. Peace in the knowledge of victory, and no more pain and suffering in war. Gratitude and a need to remember the sacrifices. Patriotism, and death far from home all spring to mind. Although generic across the four verses, each epitaph also generates it own response, and it was for this reason, that I decided to create a single image for each, accompanied by the text in a bold, engraved style.

For a general grave on Vimy Ridge:


On some who died early on the eve of battle:


On those who died at the Battle of Jutland:


For a village war-memorial:


If I were to move this idea on and create a series of images, I would probably look to take it in a slightly different direction. Rather than looking back at the sacrifices made, I would look to the present day in an attempt to marry the epitaphs with the “things” that the sacrifices were made for. Freedom and Preservation of the English way of life. Perhaps a look at where sacrifices were made in vain could be an option too, for example, marrying the epitaph “You come from England; is she England still? Yes, thanks to you that died upon this hill” with an image of inner city London, emphasising the unemployment, crime and multi-culturalism.


¹ [accessed 22/05/15]

² [accessed 22/05/15]

³ [accessed 22/05/15]


Narrative – Project 2: Image and text – Research point

Research Point

Examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice include Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field (see interview in the Appendix to this course guide) where clashes of understanding or interpretation work together to create a perhaps incomplete but nonetheless enriching dialogue between artist and viewer.

Look these pieces up online. Investigate the rationale behind the pieces and see if you can find any critical responses to them. Write down your own responses in your learning log.

Take Care of Yourself – Sophie Calle

At face value, Sophie Calle appears to be an artist who is adept at turning emotional turmoil into art as a means to minimise any potential pain and suffering.  The rationale behind Take Care of Yourself appears is just that. Initially, it could be assumed that the body of work is a form of revenge, taken out on her ex boyfriend for dumping her by email. In actual fact, it’s an exploration and detailed investigation into the feminine response of 107 people (including a parrot!) into the email that ended “take care of yourself”. It’s very difficult to get a full view of the work online, with most search results returning interviews, book purchases or youtube video’s of her installations. The many interviews help to provide an insight into Calle’s rationale. The text that is used in conjunction with Calle’s images and video’s is a combination of extracts from the original email, or responses from the women that she invited to examine the work, many of whom were wordsmiths in one form or another, from Crossword compilers to Grammar experts, each chosen to provide their response based on their profession. Each piece of work is thought provoking, as it is the response of an individual. How many of these women have been scorned themselves? How much objectivity did they bring to their response in light of Calle’s request? Not much it would seem, but then I believe that this is the whole point, as the meaning of the work is dependant heavily on the subjectivity of the viewer and the artist.

Objects in the Field – Sophy Rickett

Although undoubtably a colourful character (see her body of work entitled ‘Pissing Women’), I found ‘Objects in the Field’ to be rather dull. Rickett’s work is a strange fusion of science and art. Without the inclusion of her written text (which can be found in the references below) and the audio soundtrack to the accompanying film ‘Afterword’, it would appear to solely be an archive of astrology images. The rationale behind the body of work was an Associateship at the Institute of Astronomy, coupled with an interest in some film negatives from a 3 Mirror Telescope, fuelled by an artistic/scientific relationship with the telescopes inventor, along with memories of childhood. The best critical response to Ricketts work can be found coming from the artist herself, in an interview with Sharon Boothroyd. Personally, I find it hard to connect with the work. The narrative is ambiguous and incomplete, as is the case with much contemporary work, but in this instance, I as the viewer have very little to bring to these images in order to conclude any relevant meaning. The use of Dr Willstrop to do the voice over creates a sense of joint authorship, but with his differing viewpoint on her work, it just adds to the sense of confusion in the narrative. From her interview, I gather that the confusion is intentional, and a part of the narrative, which I relate to the postmodern style, but it’s an essay that makes too little sense to me, no matter how hard I try to derive meaning. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still find the work interesting. I find the individual images interesting from an astrology point of view, and the details of a tenuous relationship between a scietist and artist, along with their differing viewpoints quite humorous.

• How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?

For starters, they defy convention. They are not linear, and do not contain a structured Beginning, Middle and End. Rather than photo ‘Stories’, they are ‘Essays’, which attempt to involve the viewer, inviting them to draw their own meaning from the combination of image, video, text and audio, all complimenting each other and working in Relay. Endings are open, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions. The postmodernist approach has been used to create the enriching dialogue between the artist and the viewer, provided the viewer has something to bring to the conversation.

• Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio.

The New York Times has a simple but effective project online called One in 8 Million about the inhabitants of New York. It includes images of people from different walks of life and professions with audio clips overlaid to give a voice to the subject. It is a clever way of celebrating the richness and diversity of a city with such cultural and social diversity.

Some photographers use interviews and diaries to incorporate text with their images.

Have a look at these examples:

Kaylyn Deveney – The Day-to-Day Life of Alfred Hastings [accessed 24/02/14]

Karen Knorr – Gentlemen [accessed 24/02/14]

One in Eight Million is a fantastic project, and although it does not use text, the use of voice over really adds an element of depth to the narratives and project as a whole. It is quite an epic piece of work to get through, and I have barely scratched the surface with the few stories I’ve watched/listened to. It will take me some time to get through the rest.

I absolutely love Deveney’s work. The text in this set works to both anchor and relay meaning, enough to allow some interpretation by the viewer, but also enough for the artist and her subject to retain enough Authorship and tell their story. Deveney is a contemporary artist that I will definitely return to look at in the future.

Karen Knorr’s work is equally interesting yet is more ambiguous and open to interpretation. There is definite humour, and  a sense of probing inquisition in to the institutions of ‘mens clubs’. The chosen text, from speeches made in parliament or from political news are married to the images in order to challenge the possible narratives. As for Deveney’s work, I will no doubt re-visit Knorr for inspiration at a later date.

References: [accessed 16/04/15] [accessed 16/04/15] [accessed 16/04/15] [accessed 16/04/15] [accessed 16/04/15] [accessed 16/04/15] [accessed 16/04/15] [accessed 16/04/15] [accessed 16/04/15]      [accessed 16/04/15]

Narrative – Project 2: Image and text – Exercise 1


Cut out some pictures from a newspaper and write your own captions.

• How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
• How many meanings can you give to the same picture?

Try the same exercise for both anchoring and relaying. Blog about it.

Before attempting this exercise, I decided to do some additional research by reading two essays by Roland Barthes. ‘The Death of the Author¹’ is an essay about the poststructuralist position of some literary authors, adopting a postmodern approach to writing which is  intended to involve the reader to a far greater degree. This is achieved by ambiguity, open ended plots and reduced descriptive language, allowing the reader to put themselves in a story, with their personal histories and memories playing an important part. In ‘Rhetoric of the Image²’ Barthes gives us two terms that help to define ways of using words with pictures:

Anchor – In news stories the text that accompanies pictures is usually there to control meaning – to stop the image from being interpreted in a manner that isn’t in keeping with the political views of the newspaper, for example. In advertising this type of anchoring text is used to fix the meaning of the image into one clear and distinct message (i.e. why you should buy this product).

Relay – In the second definition the text has equal status with the image. Image and text bounce off each other to create a fuller picture that allows for ambiguity and various interpretations. This is more in line with a postmodern view of narrative.

The original captions can be viewed along with the image source at the link above each image.

Anchoring [accessed 16/04/15] 1. Children at Dunmow Primary School attempt to break ‘Pat a Cake’ Guinness World Record.

2. Schools in rural Essex criticised for not teaching ‘Cultural Diversity’. [accessed 16/04/15] 1. Primary school pupil looses patience trying to teach the PM to read.

2. Prime Minister bores children to tears with his election manifesto.

3. Prime Minister pledges to put education first if Conservatives win general election. [accessed 16/04/15] 1. A Queens Guard ‘Breakdances” whilst on duty outside Buckingham palace. Street Dance routines are just a part of wider reforms to modernise Ceremonial Drill, performed for tourists.

2. Soldier is knocked to his feet by a comrade during the changing of the guard, over accusations of involvement with a married woman.

3. Captured: The dramatic moment a Queens Guard is struck by a snipers bullet during terrorist attack on Buckingham Palace.

Relaying [accessed 16/04/15] A typically British primary school? [accessed 16/04/15] “Education, Education, Education!” [accessed 16/04/15]“Man Down!”

How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?

Put quite simply, they change the meaning of the images. When the captions Anchor, any variation on the caption fixes a new meaning and interpretation. Particularly if the image is already ambiguous in nature and can be easily manipulated with words. Some images require far less explanation, and are not as open to mis-representation or mis-interpretation, but I have purposefully chosen recent news images which can be re-contextualised. With Relay, the context is less fixed, as we expect the viewer to bring more to the party in terms of interpretation. A viewers ability to interpret and read the image will depend on the level of ambiguity of the author, the education and cultural upbringing of the viewer.

How many meanings can you give to the same picture?

When using Anchor, any one caption is limited to one meaning. Again, the level of ambiguity in the image will dictate the scope of possible captions and believable narratives. When using Relay, the number of meanings can be endless. Each different viewer will take away a different meaning, or even multiple meanings. I found it far more difficult to come up with meaningful Relay captions for the images, hence only 1 per image, but I think they suit the images very well. The problem here is Authorship and Control over meaning. I have created captions with an intended meaning, but I cannot control the meaning that a viewer derives from it.


¹ [accessed16/04/15]

² [accessed 16/04/15]