Exercise 1: Looking at Advertisements
Dana Woolley revisits a 2014 Protein World advert initially discussed in her Looking at Adverts: 2 blog for her Looking at Adverts: 9 blog.
https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/photography/looking-at-adverts-9/ [accessed 20th April 2020]
Woolley contrasts the public reaction to an advert placed by Protein World in 2015.
Woolley notes that there were significant protests about the 2015 advert and defacement of the posters, and questions why.
Woolley quotes Berger’s opinion that a painting of a man informs the view of his place in the world and thus presents him as the subject, whereas a painting of a woman portrays the woman as an object to be viewed and possessed. (Berger, 1972, p. 47)
On considering the text, Woolley argues that the 2014 advert does not specifically link the man’s body with the caption “Beach Bodies 2014”, whereas the 2015 directly asks the viewer if they are “Beach Body Ready”. The question posited by a bikini clad female (one whose body can easily be admired or desired) suggests that the advert is aimed at female viewers, encouraging to convert their (presumably not beach body ready) body through the use of protein and weight loss powders. Of course, men gazing at the 2014 advert may not be beach body ready and may compare themselves, but the advert does not encourage them to do so.
The man’s gaze is averted; he may not care if the viewer is gazing, as he knows his position, his power, his desirability. In contrast, the female looks directly at the viewer and her pose is arguably provocative.
Project 1: Captions and Titles
There are three ways of looking at the relationship between images and captions. One way of thinking about this relationship is through the following three categories:
Directional captions are explanatory and are designed to force the viewer to one meaning, the meaning intended. Example uses are in photojournalism (guided explanation) and advertisements (guided desire).
Orientation captions provide context by informing the viewer of genre, location, time period or some other general reference, without informing on the meaning or intent. The viewer is left to form their own subjective opinion.
Both text and image work together in a complementary fashion. The space between the image and the caption is where the meaning is created in the viewer’s mind. An example of this is Rene Magritte’s This is not a Pipe.
Barbara Kruger is an American conceptual artist and collagist, famous for her layered photographs, who challenged cultural assumptions by manipulating images and text in her photographic compositions. Her work explores society and gender roles, among other themes. She is also known for her typical use of a red frame or border around black and white images. Added text is often in red or on a red band.
Exercise 2: Reflective Day
I have approached this exercise with the two main hinderances: that I am not wandering around in this COVID era, and that there are no billboards, or adverts in area that I live. I have therefore “wandered” images on the net, using two search criterion: open and closed adverts.
There are many open adverts on the internet that I could find, advertising from cars to tomatoes. One common feature appears to a narrow approach – namely double entendre – much of it crass and unsubtle. Every case that I found was an innocent image masking a sexual connotation. I would have to call them open because the text did not spell it out, even though 90% of viewers would probably reach the same conclusion.
I found fewer closed adverts, and most were uninteresting and only a few informative. I can imagine that most if not all closed adverts were failures.
Research Task: Rhetoric of the Image
Barthes (Barthes, 1964, p. 265) asks if it is possible to conceive of an analogical code (as opposed to a digital one), noting that not only linguists are suspicious of the linguistic nature of the image. Barthes poses this as the greatest problem facing the semiology of images. He noted that general opinion has it that images are somehow resistant to meaning. To address this issue in a simplified way, Barthes submits an advertising image (whose message is frank and direct) to analysis of its meaning, where it begins and ends.
Barthes notes that there are three messages:
- With only knowledge of French (and writing), one can interpret the first (what Barthes calls linguistic) message – pasta, sauce, luxury Italian Parmesan. The message also includes the brand name – Panzani – signifying “Italianicity”. Note that this single message is both denotational and connotational.
- The images themselves convey what Barthes calls a coded iconic (and symbolic) message and carry four signs:
- The use of produce spilling out of a string bag one might associate with shopping at the local market, signifies freshness of the ingredients and the resultant concoction.
- The Panzani products displaying the hues yellow, green and red signify “Italianicity” again.
- The collection of (apparently) all necessary ingredients for the final product, suggests a total culinary service provided by Panzani.
- The scene brings to mind numerable still life paintings.
- The individual items, that combine in the ensemble, are readily identifiable – pepper, mushroom etc. Barthes describes this message as being a message without a code. This message can be seen as a literal one, rather than symbolic. Barthes calls this a non-coded iconic (and literal) message.
Barthes questions by what right we can distinguish between the two iconic messages, even though it is straightforward to separate both from the linguistic message.
Barthes argues that the literal iconic message is in support of the symbolic iconic message, thereby taking over the signs of the symbolic system in order to make them signifiers in a system of connotation. The literal image can be said to be denoted and the symbolic image can be said to be connoted.
Barthes posits that the presence of the linguistic message suffices and that its position or length is significant. However, Barthes goes on to define two functions of the linguistic message in relation to (in this case twofold) iconic messages: anchorage and relay.
One of the functions of the linguistic message is to reply to the question “what is it” – the text helps to identify, purely and simply, the elements of the scene and the scene itself. As Barthes puts it, it is a matter of a denoted description of the image. This operation or function (as opposed to connotation) corresponds to the anchorage of all the possible (denoted) meanings of the objects by recourse to a nomenclature. Barthes provides an example of a picture showing a plate of rice, tuna and mushrooms. While he may hesitate to interpret the image correctly, the use of the text “A plate of rice, tuna and pasta” would anchor the viewer, focussing their gaze and their understanding. Anchorage is a control, bearing a responsibility for the use of the message. Anchorage is common in press photographs and in advertisements and is the most common function of the linguistic message.
Barthes notes that the relay function is found in cartoons, comic strips and film. The text stands in its own right, complementing the image(s) and together forming a whole. In film, the relay carries the bulk of the information, whereas in comic strips meant to be read quickly, the image carries the bulk of the information. In the case of film, the relay does not just elucidate but advances the action by setting out a sequence of messages, meanings not found in the sequence of images.
The following old advert from Hershey provides an example of a relay. The first literal message clarifies the nature of the product and its two major uses. It denotes the portion size and the cooking method. Perhaps of less interest, but nevertheless literal, is the location of manufacture and the relative sales volume of Hershey’s product. The iconic message is as rich as in the case of the Panzani advertisement, but does not help describe the literal message.
The Garfield comic strip below demonstrates the relay. One can interpret the iconic message, probably many ways. In parallel, the mind can parse the relay. There is nothing in the relay which links it to the iconic message (in this case); they could be from any comic strip, or not from a comic strip at all, but an extract from a novel, say. Together the relay and the iconic message work together to fulfil a greater goal, to begin to explain the character of Garfield and Garfield’s owner or friend, to describe something of the environment in which they live, the type of life they live and so on; something that neither could do separately.
How might the understanding of the use of anchors and relays help with the creative approach (in photography), outside of the obvious creation of comic strip, movie film, or food (or shampoo etc.) adverts.
Firstly, the discipline of asking, and answering the questions, “What is my anchor?” and “What is my relay?”, creates a pregnant pause, during which one considers in more detail and with more purpose the answers to the question “What is my anchor (or relay) trying to say?”. That is to say, one is forced to plan, giving up spontaneity.
Secondly, the habitual analysis of others’ images to ascertain the purpose of the anchor and relay, creates a new mental muscle, that over time may become subconscious, so that in the end, the planning and execution may become seamless, and can be mistaken for spontaneity.
Thirdly, this habitual analysis can provide a source of potential ideas for photographic projects, such as photo essays and of course advertisements (or spoofs thereof).
Lastly, and perhaps very relevant to portraiture, is that the consideration of the anchor and relay seems complimentary to the recommended habit of spending time with the subject in advance of the shoot, in order to understand the subject. Through this we understand the subject, and through the use of anchor and relay we hope to pass that understanding on to those gazing on the resultant images.
Exercise 3: Storyboard
Following the cue that the exercise should be a light-hearted look at the role of image and text, I chose to create a cartoon strip of our dog Charlie. We “rescued” a very naughty Charlie from a family when he was 6 months old. Charlie is now 6 years old and, in that time, we have converted him from being very naughty, to just being very mischievous. We named him Charlie in memory of those lost at Charlie Hebdo, and of course Peanuts.
This is Charlie’s story in his 7th week of lockdown…
Je suis Charlie
The images were photographed rather than drawn, and having converted the RAWs into JPEGs, I subsequently used FotoSketcher to simulate a moderate oil pastel look. Affinity Publisher was used to create the layout and add the text.
I selected ten images out of the culled set, based on my expectation that they could complement the story. The images themselves without the text could be interpreted many ways, but those choices collapsed to one once the relay text was added; the final cartoon strip makes sense only because the images and the text works together.
Caption 1: David Frost and Michel Barnier look relieved that solution has been found.
Caption 2: David Frost sour about concessions required. Barnier the victor.
Caption 3: Frost and his counterpart enter another tortuous round of negotiations.
Caption 1: Alexander Laubert’s kneecaps smashed by police during a protest.
Caption 2: Peaceful protester tortured.
Caption 3: Rioter gets a taste of justice.
Caption 1: Trump and his sister enjoy each other’s company at a national convention.
Caption 2: Maryanne Trump Barry critical of Trump “The man has no principles”.
Caption 3: Secret tapes released. We hear Trump is “phony, cruel”.
One can invent many possible captions for any image, most having nothing to do with the theme of the original article. The text is able to control the perception of the reader to a desired opinion, and the picture’s meaning will be adjusted in the mind of the viewer to fit that narrative, making the combination more powerful than the text alone.
An image alone may provide great latitude in meaning, allowing the viewer to create their own narrative.
I would make use of this principle in any photo journalism or documentary work I might carry out.
Project 2: Memories and Speech
David Favrod writes of his Hikari project:
““Hikari” is a Japanese word which means “the light”.
This work represents my compulsion to build and shape my own memory. To reconstitute some facts I didn’t experience myself, but which unconsciously influenced me while growing up.
I was born on the 2nd of July, 1982 in Kobe, of a Japanese mother and a Swiss father. When I was six months old, my parents decided to come and live in Switzerland, more precisely in Vionnaz, a little village in lower Valais. My father had to travel a lot for work, so I was mainly brought up by my mother, who taught me her principles and her culture.
When I was 18, I asked for dual nationality at the Japanese embassy. They refused. They said Japanese nationality is only given to Japanese women who wish to obtain their husband’s nationality.
I combined this feeling of rejection with my desire to prove that I am as Japanese as I am Swiss to create this work.
My grandparents witnessed the war; they were survivors who finally passed away and whose memories will soon be a part of history.
We only spoke about their experiences during the war once. They told me how illness took away their sisters; the shame; the relief after the war; and the watermelons.
After that single night, we never talked about it again. It was as if my grandparents gave me their memories as a whisper, through the air, before allowing it to disappear from their minds forever.
Somehow, I would say that I borrowed their memories. I use their stories as a source of inspiration for my own testimony.”
“Mishiko was the sister of my grandfather. She fell ill during the war, doctors diagnosed poor hydration. In Japan, watermelon is a very popular fruit and holds much water. So her parents gave it to her regularly. But the diagnosis was wrong; it was a salt deficiency and she died shortly after.”
Lenscratch.com notes of Sharon Boothroyd’s project If you get married again, will you still love me? “Sharon Boothroyd gathers memories of words spoken to separated fathers by their children. She then produced visual representations of these phrases, drawing upon emotions the child may have been dealing with at the time. The images, which operate like film stills, give access to private and intimate moments. In their honestly these photographs portray common relational struggles with disappointment, anger, over-compensation and jealousy.”
https://lenscratch.com/2012/07/sharon-boothroyd/ [accessed 4th May 2020]
Her work provides a window into an experience that some of us have not shared.
The Written Word
KayLynn Devenney met Albert Hastings in 2001 when she moved from New Mexico to southern Wales. Albert rented a small flat, while Devenney and her husband rented a basement flat nearby. Her daily walk to the city centre, where she studied photography, took her past his house, and though initially shy, she befriended him and asked him to work with her on a photographic project.
“and soon I began to learn more about aspects of his life, including his experience living through WWII in Britain, his work as a general engineer, and his relationship to the flora and fauna outside his building. As we became better acquainted I noticed, too, the way he organized his things and his time, and I found his approaches thoughtful. As my photographic studies have evolved I have increasingly focused on ideas and depictions of home. I often seek in my photographs the banal moments of the day—the experiences not usually considered significant enough to warrant a snapshot. I look, too, for domestic patterns and practiced daily routines that make us feel at home or that confirm, or conform to, our ideas of what home should be.
Early in this project Bert shared some intriguing thoughts and comments with me concerning my photographs of him. These comments led me to think more about the ways our ideas regarding photography differed. I wondered too how my perceptions of Bert differed from the way he saw himself. To better understand his feelings about being photographed and his reactions to my photographs, I asked Bert to caption small prints I kept in a pocket-sized notebook. Each speaking from our own perspective, we began the dialog that eventually became this book. Bert’s captions create a new context for my photographs, while some correspond to the thinking that shaped the image, others interpret the image in a different way, thereby adding a critical second perspective to this work.”
https://kaylynndeveney.com/the-day-to-day-life-of-albert-hastings [accessed 5th May 2020]
Duane Michals (b. 1932, McKeesport, PA) is acknowledged to be one of the great photographic innovators of the last century, widely known for his work with series, multiple exposures, and text. “Michals manipulated the medium to communicate narratives. The sequences, for which he is widely known, appropriate cinema’s frame-by-frame format. Michals has also incorporated text as a key component in his works. Rather than serving a didactic or explanatory function, his handwritten text adds another dimension to the images’ meaning and gives voice to Michals’s singular musings, which are poetic, tragic, and humorous, often all at once.”
http://www.dcmooregallery.com/artists/duane-michals [accessed 5th May 2020]
“Understanding photography as a theatrical and fictive medium, Duane Michals creates visually rich photographs that exploit the medium’s storytelling capacity. Over the course of 55 years of creative output, he has staged photographs, written on them, he has drawn, painted and manipulated them and constructed elaborate fictional narratives.”
https://www.widewalls.ch/duane-michals-photography-morgan-museum/ [accessed 5th May 2020]
“I think photographs should be provocative and not tell you what you already know. It takes no great powers or magic to reproduce somebody’s face in a photograph. The magic is in seeing people in new ways.” – Duane Michals
“The American photographer Jim Goldberg could have chosen to shoot only beautiful landscapes, beautiful women and beautiful homes. Instead, he chose to collect all the flaws of how today’s society functions and to throw it in our face, whether we can handle to see the victims of this system or not. He doesn’t seem to care about that, what he cares for is that teenage girl living in the street, or that African American student who was denied an access to the education.
…one of Goldberg’s most important works is definitely a series named Raised by Wolves, created between 1985 and 1995. This project has been derived from Jim’s documenting the life of homeless children in Los Angeles and San Francisco. By combining materials like photographs, texts, interviews, notebooks, snapshots, found objects and even sculptures – Goldberg created a rich and substantially mixed media exhibition that started its journey around America in 1995 and was also accompanied by the book with the same title, later described as a heartbreaking novel with pictures. The most frightening aspect of this project was the fact that the creator of it was reality itself. Goldberg is just a bare witness of what is going on in the streets. He just couldn’t stand still and do nothing about it – so he began documenting his experiences and those of the children. Raised by Wolves is his first project where he deliberately incorporated every possible approach and media: from text, video, audio, found object and ephemera – he used everything in order to extend the experience of the project to the viewers. Jim spent a decade on the streets, creating this voyage through photojournalism, novel, movie, photograph, and sound of street kid’s life.”
https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/jim-goldberg/ [accessed 5th May 2020]
Harry Borden took over 200 pictures of holocaust survivors over three years as a means of finding his identity and coping with divorce.
The Spoken Word
Sophie Calle’s project Take Care of Yourself is an example of how words, including the spoken word, can have a lasting impact.
“When a boyfriend broke-up with her by email, French artist Sophie Calle asked 107 women to read the letter and to analyse it according to their professional interest.”
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/sophie-calle-2692/sophie-calle-dumped-email [accessed 6th May 2020]
“I received an email telling me it was over.
I didn’t know how to respond.
It was almost as if it hadn’t been meant for me.
It ended with the words, “Take care of yourself.”
And so I did.
I asked 107 women (including two made from wood and one with feathers),
chosen for their profession or skills, to interpret this letter.
To analyze it, comment on it, dance it, sing it.
Dissect it. Exhaust it. Understand it for me.
Answer for me.
It was a way of taking the time to break up.
A way of taking care of myself.
In this “tour de force of feminine responses…executed in a wild range of media,” Sophie Calle orchestrates a virtual chorus of women’s interpretations and assessments of a breakup letter she received in an email. In photographic portraits, textual analysis, and filmed performances, the show presents a seemingly exhaustive compendium with contributions ranging from a clairvoyant’s response to a scientific study, a children’s fairytale to a Talmudic exegesis, among many others. Examining the conditions and possibilities of human emotions, Take Care of Yourself opens up ideas about love and heartache, gender and intimacy, labor and identity. 107 women (including a parrot) from the realms of anthropology, criminology, philosophy, psychiatry, theater, opera, soap opera and beyond each take on this letter, reading and re-reading it, performing it, transforming it, and pursuing the emotions it contains and elicits.”
https://www.paulacoopergallery.com/exhibitions/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself/press-release [accessed 6th May 2020]
‘My Mother’s Cupboards’ is a small book made by photographer Anna Fox. The book contains deprecating words spoken by her father to her mother and images of the insides of her mother’s tidy cupboards. The combination of the script font chosen by Fox and the words set out in poetic format jar the reader because we are not expecting such a wicked narrative to unfold. Although it is shocking it also holds an element of humour.
“Originally designed as a miniature book using images and texts, the series tells an unusual story about family relationships. While her father was ill for many years Anna Fox kept a notebook recording his outbursts that were mainly directed at the female members of his family. His quotes paired with a series of claustrophobic images of her mothers’ neatly kept cupboards reveal a couple struggling to keep an even keel in the wake of a rapidly debilitating disease.”
Project 3: Fictional Texts
When Text Becomes Image
Sometimes text in a photographic project becomes more than a title or an additional insert. Sometimes the whole basis of a project can stem from a fictional account. Images and words can operate in a way which extends both mediums into an exciting, conceptual and visual piece of art.
Christian Patterson says of his work Redheaded Peckerwood “Redheaded Peckerwood is a work with a tragic underlying narrative – the story of 19-year-old Charles Starkweather and 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate who murdered ten people, including Fugate’s family, during a three-day killing spree across Nebraska to the point of their capture in Douglas, Wyoming. The images record places and things central to the story, depict ideas inspired by it, and capture other moments and discoveries along the way.”
http://www.christianpatterson.com/redheaded-peckerwood-info/ [accessed 11th May 2020]
Patterson notes that, while the photographs are at the heart of the work, they are complemented and informed by documents and objects that belonged to the killers and their victims.
In his essay from Redheaded Peckerwood, Luc Sante says of Patterson:
“In Redheaded Peckerwood Christian Patterson is working out something that hasn’t been done much before, if ever: a kind of subjective documentary photography of the historical past. That requires that the individual pictures be true, as close as possible to the physical details as historically established, while remaining ambiguous and unsettling — because each of them is only an aspect of the story, and because in each of them something is wrong. The accumulation of them, meanwhile, is what thrusts the viewer into the emotional center of the story, in a way you could call novelistic. While each individual photograph pulses, sometimes alarmingly, all by itself, the meaning of the whole only coheres when all of its parts and all the subliminal connections between them have been fully absorbed, a process which takes time and perhaps distance. Redheaded Peckerwood, which unerringly walks the fine line between fiction and nonfiction, is a disturbingly beautiful narrative about unfathomable violence and its place on the land.”
http://www.christianpatterson.com/redheaded-peckerwood-info/ [accessed 11th May 2020]
Joan Fontcuberta’s ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ series directly questions photography’s documentary authority, in terms of actually believing what we see.
“Using the visual languages of journalism, advertising, museum displays and scientific journals, Fontcuberta’s convincing yet subversive and deadpan works are an investigation into photography’s authority and our inclination to believe what we see.
Exhibition highlights included astonishing photographs of mermaid fossils, incredible reports of mysterious fauna and eye-opening photographs of rare plant species.”
https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/what-was-on/joan-fontcuberta-stranger-fiction [accessed 11th May 2020]
Open Versus Closed Narratives
In literature an open narrative is one that often doesn’t have much of a plot. By removing a forceful plot structure, an open text can allow the narrative to loosely meander through ideas and invite the reader to partake in this. Using image and text in a way that keeps the work open allows the viewer to bring some of their experience, knowledge and personal history to the unfolding narrative, potentially creating a much richer artwork. This doesn’t mean the story can’t offer a conclusion or provide ‘closure’. It simply means not being too prescriptive or heavy-handed in the use of image and text and allowing for the viewer’s interpretation of the story to be valid. Working in this way means that you’re performing less of an informing role and more of an invitational one.
In contrast, a closed narrative is one that doesn’t leave much work for the reader. The author tells the story and the reader consumes it. However, this denies the viewer the opportunity to bring something of their own interpretation to the work.
Barthes, R., 1964. The Rhetoric Of The Image. In: A. Trachtenberg, ed. Classic Essays on Photography. New Haven(Connecticut): Leete’s Island Books, pp. 269-285.
Berger, J., 1972. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Classics.