Exercise 4.2

Exercise 4.2

Choose a day that you can spend out and about looking with no particular agenda. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in the real world – on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and online, for example. Make notes in your learning log on some specific examples and reflect upon what impact the text has on how you read the overall message.


• Does the text close the image down (i.e. inform or direct your reading) or open it up (i.e.

allow for your personal interpretation to play a part in creating the final meaning)?

• What do you think was the intention of the creator in each instance?


Example 1 -Skoda


This is an advertisement for a car from a June 2017 edition of The Guardian weekend magazine.  The text reads ‘Be Yourselves The new Skoda Octavia, Driven by Something Different’.the car appears to be placed in a large garage.  The walls are covered with personal effects such as clothes, tools and other items.  They are laid out neatly like a gallery wall or specimens in a museum.

Rather than employ the directional text more often seen in car advertisements (this is faster, more economical, prestigious or desirable) Skoda take a different approach and use more orientational language.

The text opens with the phrase ‘Be Yourselves’.  By using the plural of ‘yourself’ it hints at two different meanings.  Firstly, we immediately consider the others that might make use of the car.  W are being guided to consider the wider interests of the family not just the principal decision maker for a new car – typically the husband!  We might already be thinking that the sleek sports car we always wanted might not be so sensible after all.

Secondly, this orientational text invites us to reflect on the fact that there is more than one side to us.  We are, in effect, plural and have many facets.  Now we have been reminded of all our other hobbies and interests (pinned to the wall behind) how would we get our bike or golf clubs in that racy convertible with a tiny boot?

After planting this seed, that we have lots of very different requirements in a new car, the advertisement simply announces the name of it before suggesting that this car is ‘Driven by something different’.  Perfect match then!


Example 2 – Beauty and cosmetics

Here I selected two different advertisements for ladies cosmetics and beauty products from a magazine. I wanted to expore why they might have taken such visually different approaches to the use of image and text for what are essentially very similar products.
The first advertisement is quite astonishing in that it is offering a “£30 facelift that DOES work” yet has only a single very small image of the alleged product results.  Only approximately 10% of the advertisemet carries any image, with 90% given over to text against a white background.  The text is very directional, unequivocally informing the reader that the produce actually works, has many satisfied customers and is low in price.  The text has an aesthetic mimiking a newspaper, presumably an attempt to trick the casual observer into believing it is more trustworthy magazine content rather than an advert at all, or at least using semiotic codes to suggest editorial rather than advertising.
On closer inspection of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images both are too small to assess how well the product apparently works with any certainty.  The forehead hair makes it obvious that the ‘after’ image has been softened in photoshop or similar.  Interestingly the ‘after’ image seems to be framed higher up yet the mouth, nose and eyes are level in the frame to the ‘before’ shot, leading to the conconclusion that the camera position may be slightly higher on the second shot and lower on the first. The apparently smaller neck supports this.
Overall, this advertisement relies on directive text rather than letting the product photo ‘do the talking’ – despite the assertion that a persuasive before and after comparision is volunteered.
The second advert takes the opposite approach with a close up portrait occupying all of the space with far less text overlaid onto it. Lighting is soft with no shadow on the face but rapid light falloff to the sides.  I expect this is lit with a softbox above the model and reflector, or fill light, below to fill shadows.  There is a trace of a shadow below the nose but falling short of traditional ‘butterfly lighting’.  This view is supported by the single square catchlight in the upper part of the pupil.  The emphasis is on the face itself: presented as flawness and available for critical inspection.
The eyes take a very prominent role in the image.  Taken slightly from above, the gaze is up with a small amount of white visible between the pupil and lower eyelid.  The chin is down.  The look is therefore seductive, beautiful, confident and alluring.  Without saying it, surely a look that any potential purchaser of the product would aspire to?
The text is a thin sans serif font, ensuring that as much of the image as possible remains visible with an aesthetic hint of the Art Deco era of glamour and haute couture.  It supports the image by focussing on the eyes and suggesting that they ought to be used to convey emotion rather than age.  We have already discussed the very clear female allure being suggested in the gaze. The orientational text suggests how we might achieve this.  It does not say ‘use this product to make your eyes look less old’.  But that is what it is gently leading us to believe, placing the product and company name neatly in the right corners of the image.
Two very different approaches to combining words and text to sell beauty cream.  The first relies on directional text and supporting images.  The second puts an arguably perfect look centre stage, charged with seductiveness, then loosely associates the product with removal of the barriers to achieving that look.

First foray into large format

There’s something magical about film.  Maybe its the way it forces you to get it right in the camera with a more considered approach, the tactile nature of it, or the sense of connection to those early pioneers Fox Talbot and Neipce.


The sinar F is a monorail-type large format camera taking 4 x 5 sheet film.  Fitted with a Rodenstock 150mm lens this is broadly equivalent to a standard 50mm lens on a normal camera.


First things I noted:

  • Although not particularly fast at f5.6, the lens stops down to f64 for immense depth of field.  This feature of large format cameras gave its name to Ansel Adams’ famous ‘f64 Club’.
  • Film has to be loaded one sheet at a time in the darkroom at home then slotted into the camera one at a time.  In complete darkeness, it then has to be unloaded again for developing.
  • The camera is fully adjustable on all planes (tilt, swing and rise).  This allows depth of field and perspective to be manipulated in ways impossible for a normal camera.
  • Everything is slow.  Shutters have to be cocked, examining a ground glass under a black sheet is needed to focus the image.
  • Quality is astonishing.  It is impossible to visualise this on screen despite 40Mb scans.

Here’s the first two images I’ve taken, both at f64 with an exposure of 1 second at ISO 125 (Ilford FP4plus).  Notice how the perspective is shifted in the building to eliminate converging verticals by applying some tilt to the front standard / lens board.  No sharpening has been applied nor filters apart from a neutral density grad for the sky:



First impressions:

  • The sense of achievement – of taking just a single photograph – is significant.  This is arguably lost from digital photography.  It takes a lot of forethought, planning and preparation to get an image
  • One slip, one error, and the work is ruined.  With colour film costing around £10 per photograph to buy a sheet of film and develop it (not print) any mistakes are costly.  Black and White is around £2 per sheet and can be developed at home (these were developed by Ilford Labs to provide a benchmark reference point).
  • Quality is outstanding.  There’s a hard to define tonal rendition.  On inspection there seems to be no end ot the detail held in the negatives.  Room-filling images are a possibility and way beyond even the 36megapixel digital camera I use normally.

Study Visit – Cathedral of the Pines, Gregory Crewdson.

Crewdson is known for his meticulously planned, cinematic ‘frames’. This exhibition, Cathedral of the Pines, is said to be his most personal to date.

Up until this point my relationship with Crewdson’s work was mixed.  On one hand it is impossible not to be full of admiration for the depth of planning, choreography and technical quality in each image.

In fact I would describe his work as a Hollywood movie lasting just 1/125th of a second.

But is it too clinical?  How much of Crewdson am I really  seeing here, or is it sanitised and synthesised? Is it so objectively, so precisely, reconstructed that it loses the essence of the original idea?

Looking wider, how much of the recognition should go to his numerous crew instead?  Does it matter that a ‘Director of Photography’ is employed to do a lot of the thinking?

Does it matter whether or not he actually presses the shutter:


There are recurring themes in the works: Bare bulbs; cars with open doors; semi naked ladies staring blankly; sheds or outside toilets.  The holes in the ground – reminiscent of his tales of his his father’s psychotherapist practice on the basement of his childhood home.

There is a curious portrayal of the genders too.  The female is seen in many images as naked, wet hair, staring forward at nothing obvious.  The signifiers are of vulnerability and introspection.  By contrast only one male is shown completely naked, but safely cocooned within the steel shell of his VW Camper.

It is tempting to treat each image as an intellectual puzzle, knowing that each and every element in the image is placed deliberately the brain tries to ‘solve’ the riddle.  I found myself trying to find the reason for every included element like a scene of crime detective.  Like an accountant going over a balance sheet, I felt that everything should be objectified rather than left as a subjective artistic view.

But it dawned on me that the opposite might actually be true.  Since every element is a faithful reproduction of Crewdson’s original vision for the photograph, it could equally be argued that we are seeing a reproduction that is very faithful indeed.  Like a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork – everything uncannily replicated, true to his original idea.

Why the recurring themes like car doors and blankly staring ladies?  Is Crewdson moving the key elements of his mind around, juxtaposing them in different scenarios?  We all have recurring thoughts and dreams that we seek to reconcile as part of our life work.  How therapeutic is it for Crewdson to analyse, dissect and reconstruct these inner thoughts?

Indeed, a fellow student on the visit questioned whether we would similarly challenge a painter, having spent months meticulously working on an oil painting.  Clearly we would not.  On reflection it seems unfair to challenge Crewdson for being so meticulous about his work.

I initially found this exhibition difficult for the reasons outlined.  As well as gaining a much better understanding of his work, I came away with great respect for Crewdson as an individual too, not just for the sheer technical accomplishment, but for the almost obsessive attention to detail to faithfully create what is in his mind.

With this in mind, the work is surely authentic and courageous because I now know that he did not miss out anything at all in what he is showing us about his inner thoughts.  The interpretation is left up me – and I’m not the psychotherapist here.



Assignment 3 Tutor Feedback

• Good feedback on the subject matter, offers an interesting insight into an alternative culture.  Raises personal questions about grief and loss.  The ‘celebration of a life’ angle comes through in the images.

Boy with the flower: would have been good to have had the option of the flower in focus and boy soft. Learning: take more shots and options to choose from later on.


Learning: include the assignment brief at the top of the blog post to help the tutor or assessor.

• Good sequencing of the images.

• While the first image gives context, it’s not the strongest.  To be effective it needs to be displayed large.  Consider: removing it.


Consider: include the image of the altar, the one with the two photographs of the deceased.  Maybe this as the first image?



Image 4 – the lady playing the musical instrument (shruti).  To the uneducated it looks like she’s holding a box to hard to contextualise. Consider: removal.


Consider: adding the photo of the back of three people, arms on shoulders. Poingant and interesting angle on the idea of support and comfort


Consider: inclusion of first image (blue table).  Has a theatricality to it. Tissues are a useful signifier.  However the shadow detail of the dark Ganesh statue is lost – recoverable in post processing? Perhaps between images 10 and 11.


Consider: shot of balloons from below is striking but not helpful to the set.  Perhaps more of a stock image?  Suggest removal and replace with the people holding balloons (the one with the Shruti-playing lady).  Also remove balloons in the air – we can work out what is happening so don’t need to see it and never the best shots.


6. 1/30th at f/7.1. ISO500 35mm



Noted: blue theme and flowers running through the set, good for tying it together and continuity.

Noted: learning log now improved due to additional menus and allowing ideas to develop within it, less linear (additional idea after tutor discussion- may consider converting to WordPress Tags rather than Categories to aid linking and cross referencing of ideas even further).

Noted: finding it helpful to use a paper notebook then transpose best ideas into learning blog.

For Assessment: present ‘before’ and ‘after’ thumbnail sequences so the assessor can clearly see what has changed.

We ran out of time at this point so the next session to focus on the wider use of the learning blog and exercises, not just Assignment specifics.

Michael Wolf – Tokyo Compression

this caught my eye and wanted to save it.  


Michael Wolf stands on the Tokyo underground platform as the steamed-up windows reveal the commuters that scroll before him. As we look at the disquieting images we might ask why people tolerate this? You can feel the discomfort. The fingers down the condensation-soaked windows look like fingernails against a cell wall.

But we can also see how it feels ‘normal’ to be a commuter in this every day. It is tolerated.  A fascinating insight into what we humans will accept.

The condensation reduces the faces to abstracts, not real people, just shapes and colours behind a window.  We cant see their gaze, their expressions.  It is as though their humanity is suspended while on the train.  Faceless.  Until they arrive at the other end.

At the Flowers Gallery until 1 July.



A response to Mother River by Yan Wang Preston

Inspired by this exhibition at Bradford, i decided to apply a similar methodology to a local walk, taking a photograph at precise intervals of every 1/4 of a mile.

I chose a square format to provide an ‘Instagram’ aesthetic, suggesting snaps taken at intervals along the way.

Key things i learned:

  1. The picturesque wooded areas felt like a significant part of the walk.  The photographs suggest otherwise (the woods only feature in a couple)! Im reminded once again how our selectivity in choosing photpgraphic subjects so often distorts reality. Arguably this is a much more authentic portrayal of the walk.
  2. How much we miss in our everyday lives! There is always something of interest if we care to stop and look.
  3. Im unhappy with the ending, the water.  Does not bring the set to a logical comclusion.  Perhaps a closeup of removed boots or a pot of tea in a cafe would have neen better.

Exercise 4.1 Adverts

Article 8 in Dawn Woolley’s series focuses on the semiotic codes hidden in adverts for the 2015 general election:


After reading it I thought it might be fun to put this into practice, applying the techniques to the very latest adverts for the upcoming 2017 election to be held in just over a week’s time.

This poster carries a strong navy background and text beside an image of Theresa May apparently giving a talk.  The appears to be addressing at least two ladies (we only see the back of their heads) in a factory setting.  The text carries the word ‘Leadership’ in a larger font to the rest.

The photo suggests Mrs May as being in contact with real people – addressing voters in a factory setting. She is animated, talking passionately about something, using hand gestures.  This connotes her having a clear vision she wants to communicate, reinforced by the word ‘leadership’.

The word ‘Conservatives’ is much smaller than everything else on the poster, being about half the size of ‘Theresa May’.  We would be forgiven for thinking the election is a popularity contest for Mrs May instead of promoting her party’s chances overall.  Maybe there is recognition that the person is more appealing to the public than the party is.

The navy background provides – literally – a bold, strong and solid backdrop for the poster.  It also connotes reliability and understated constraint.  It is the colour of business suits and executive limos.

We are being informed that this is a serious, stable person who will act ‘in the national interest’.  It invites us to put to one side our preconceptions of what the Conservtives might stand for: theres a job to be done, and Mrs May is the best person to do it.

We don’t vote for any prime minister in this country, we vote for our local MP.  So it is interesting to conclude that, for this election, the Conservatives are playing themselves down and trying to persuade us that we are instead voting for her personally.


For the Labour Party on the other hand, it was hard to find a poster thst did have their leader on it.

The posters all have a common aesthetic, shared with conference backdrops, of a clear slogan on a bold red background. The principal slogan being ‘For the Many, Not the Few’.  There are witty plays on words such as ‘Let’s make June the end of May’.

Although the Labour Party have red as their party colour, if has often been subdued in previous years (as a red rose against a white background, sor example).  Here the connotation is pure passion, rage, an anger.  Are they trying to suggest that they feel just as passionately about what needs to change in this country as you do? Or are they trying to use this colour to ignite this passion within you? For the latter, it is known that most young people do not support the Conservatves, but many don’t bother to vote for anyone else. Is the poster actually red or really a ‘blue touchpaper’?

The puns certainly might appeal to a younger voter, disengaged with ‘stuffy’ Westminster politics.  The slogans connote being on their side, not the elite class.

The labour Party know that their leader is divisive so are taking the opposite approch to the Conservatives, promoting human values over personality.  The message suggests cooperating with the many folk out there – rather than taking a ‘tough business deal’ to our European friends.


Liberal Democrats:

Leaving to one side the strange merged caracature of Theresa May and Nigel Farage, the Lib Dem posters frequently show hoards of supporters holding ‘Winning Here’ signs like this one:

The message is clear – you are not alone if you support the Lib Dems.  There are many of them.  They are winning ‘here’.  The messages here are less subtle and easier to interpret.  Maybe this lack of sophistication is a deliberate attempt to show them as straightforwrd and honest, alternatively it could just reflect a lower advertising budget.