Category Archives: Part 4

Research Point – Barthes


  • Written in 1964, a seminal essay on the analysis of a photographic image from the book Image-Music-Text
  • Barthes starts out by highlighting the Latin root of the word image as presenting a key conundrum.  Image is derived from imitari– copy or representation.  I.e. Not the same thing but a facsimile
  • Bathes asserts that there are three types of encoded message, the literal, coded iconic and non-coded iconic
  • Literal – the accompanying words and text.  In his example, the brand name of the food suggests Italianicity.  The Literal can be either Anchorage or Relay:
    • Anchorage – the viewer is directed to a clear meaning.  Used as captions in newspapers, titles for images and so on, which will generally have text informing us of exactly what it is that we are looking at
    • Relay – less prescriptive, the viewer has space to explore the relationship between the image and text in their own way; used in cartoon speech bubbles for example where the viewer will interpret the story from the dialogue and image sequence.
  • Coded Iconic – he points out the split shopping bag, suggesting produce fresh from the market and so plentiful that it is bulging out of the shopping bag
  • Non-Coded Iconic – the literal visual. E.g. ‘A tomato’ or ‘a pepper’.  Supports the other coded Iconic and literal elements.

Barthes’ analysis asserts that the drawing is connoted far more than the photograph because everything in a drawing is a connoted decision on the part of the artist, even the choice of brush marks.  By contrast, the photograph always has a coded Iconic element to it as the ‘there then’ presented as a faithful ‘here now’ copy (despite choices made by the photographer to connote meaning through framing, colour/black&white, exposure and post-processing).

How can I develop the ideas of Anchorage and Relay in my own work?

  • Irony: a caption that at first sight appears contrary to the image.  This may be used as a device to initiate a Relay instead of Anchorage (which would be an anachronism).  For example, a photograph of a dropped ice cream with the caption ‘Enjoying the holiday’.  Perhaps a child dropped it and cried – hardly a happy event.  Maybe other images in the set would suggest it might have been thrown with carefree abandon when something even more attractive presented itself
  • Hidden story: Relay titles that prompt the viewer to find a deeper meaning in the visual image.  For example a beautiful female portrait with a title that suggests the series of images show secretly unhappy women forced to work in the sex trade.  Healthy looking crops and issues around GM and pesticide use, as another example. Similar to the previous but with a social or documentary angle, maybe inviting us to question our own purchasing decisions
  • Where a series interweaves two storylines, Anchorage titles would make it clear which fits where, avoiding confusions.  Like cinematic lighting and mood being used to differentiate separate sub plots in a film.



Summary – Part 4

Having turned the corner in my earlier fears, Part 4 saw me starting to enjoy the course more.

This was helped by an interest in how advertising and politics manipulate and manage the messages we receive, so I found the exercises to be particularly interesting.  An online subscription to Source magazine provided a steady stream of Advertising articles by Judith Williamson which I found fascinating.

The impact of titles was something I discussed with my tutor as an area I’d not previously looked at in detail.  I noted my tendency to give images tight titles which forces the viewer down my intended meaning – I learned to be less directive and allow space for the viewer to explore their own meaning more.

This has made me much more aware of the coded messages that I consciously or unconsciously include within my own work, which I feel comes through as a more self assured result in Assignment 4.  While this is a personal reflection of life inspired by a poem from Edward Thomas, it opens up the viewer to make their own conclusions about their relationship with the past, present and future.

Exercise 4.5 – Five Words

For this exercise I asked my partner for her five favourite words with the intention of setting out to ‘create five images that do justice to them’.  After some consideration she offered the following:

1. Love

2. Goddess

3. Happiness

4. Laughter

5. Sacred

The first thing that occurred to me was that these were mostly feelings or at least archetypes with which people might have stromg emotions.  I therefore chose to make a set of momochrome images to further underline this in the overall aesthetic style.

Each image had to be either of her, or of an object that is important to her.  I wanted to explore the potential of five words turned into images to evoke her character and personality – since, as these are her five favourite words, they must in truth say quite a lot about her.  Hopefully the images could do the same.

Some are huge subjects in themselves – ‘love’ for example.  So I decided to approach this by selecting details, hopefully poignant elements that invoke the intention my partner had when selecting these words.  Similarly, as these invoke emotion and a sense of living life fully in the present moment, I additionally chose a square format to suggest the ‘living in the moment’ aspect of social media.

I took several images and selected five as the final cut then experimented with the images both with, and without, the text.  I decided that they worked better without.  Having so strongly inspried the images in the first place, the two elements together were too literal.  However by leaving the text out I found that The images gave space to interpret while retaining the essential meanings.

The images are below:






Exercise 4.4: newspaper captions

This exercise asks me to select various press images and create different captions for them, bending the message to suit different agendas.  It also then asks for additional captions that completely change the nature of the story.

This image is from the London Evening Standard and accompanies a story about the success – or otherwise – of Donald Trump’s first six months in office.

“Trump stays strong in spite of recent setbacks”

“Trump Administration in Tatters”

Trump staff turning their backs on the president”

Trump ejects aides in cabinet shakeup”



“Aides walk out on a flatulent Trump after recent trip to India”

“You’re Fired!  Trump brings the Apprentice to the White House for new reality TV show”


This second image is from the Daily Telegraph as part of a feature on the dangers of China’s debt bubble:

“China celebrates strengthening economy”

“Chinese economy continues to show strongest world growth”

“Chinese people ignoring dark economic clouds”


“Cheap flags on eBay dissapoint hundreds of Glastonbury festival goers.  Trading Standards investigating”


Lastly, this from the Guardian:

“Ukraine bride cools off in European heatwave”

“Deaths accross Europe as heatwave takes its toll”

“British tourists warned against travel to Europe during heatwave”


“Opening ceremony promises a spectacular games to come”

“Snow White production company in controversy over using children as dwarves”

Exercise 4.3: The Animals

This exercise asks me to draw a storyboard that is not dependent on text then to add text afterwards, noting how this has the power to change the meaning of the images.

Im not famous for my drawing nor storytelling skills so this could be interesting…

The picture sequence is designed to portray a happy family trip which turns into a tragedy.  However the words put a completely different angle on things.  All the animals do something to annoy daddy.  But for the text, we would otherwise never have known about the stolen ice cream, the birds pooing on them, and so on. (There is also an attempt at a humour with a double meaning over a jaguar).

Eventually daddy snaps – this is no tragic accident – daddy is actually an evil murderer.  Even worse, he tries to cover his evil tracks to get away with it, making it look like an accident when the police arrive.

Nasty daddy.

Sleep well children.

On a more serious level again, I clearly wont be giving up the day job to become a children’s author.  But this rather frivolous exercise does indeed point out the power of text to dramatically alter the meaning of an image.  In film and tv the images are accompanied by dialogue which provides this very important additional dimension.  Music is also used to influence our mood in respect to what we are seeing.

Whether we read the text or not completely changes our level of empathy for the father.

Daddy took daughter to the zoo

The fox ate her ice cream

The rhino chomped daddy’s camera

The birds did a poo on their head

The seahorses just looked at them

Daddy always wanted a jaguar

The gorilla was the most frightening animal

The gorilla ate the girl, just as daddy had hoped it would

Daddy pretended to be sad so that it looked like an accident.


Developing a personal voice / Identity and Place / direction after the doldrums

I have been reflecting on this in light of my recent ‘creative block’ (previous post).

I see the land and how our ancestors lived in it as important.  I’m interested in walking, routes, maps and ancient monuments. My spirituality is based around the concept of a Mother Earth.

So this is my ‘place‘, exploring the ‘identities‘ of the natural world and folk that used to inhabit it.

I have long been fascinated by how people understand themselves using landscape, by the topographies of self we carry within us and by the maps we make with which to navigate these interior terrains.” (Macfarlane, 2012).

I feel that this is something I care about, a part of what drives me as a person and therefore I ought to get back to incorporating this into my photography.  It forms the basis of what I might develop to become my personal creative voice.

How do I give the ancestors, the land, the environment a voice in these modern times? What are the commonalities with how we live here today? What are the conflicts and issues?

I feel that I need to start bringing these threads together in my studies – my personal passions, my sense of identity and place.  Still stretch, explore and experiment, open to all the wonderful influences that my OCA studies reveal to me.  But maybe I’ve been trying too hard to go somewhere different than where my passion lies. Hopping about.   I need to be true to myself and use that as the basis for my practice – while still stretching myself as hard as I can with this underpinning it.




Macfarlane, R. (2012) The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot.  London, Penguin.

Challenging times again

Ive taken a break for a couple of weeks, being away with my partner and friends in SW England and at a festival.

Before i went i was feeling very flat and demoralised again with my practice.  This is something that hasnt happened before (been taking photographs for 30 odd years) but has happened twice on Identiy and Place.

First of all, lets get this out of the way, it is nothing to do with the quality of the course or my tutor.  My tutor has been fantastic throughout – a great mix of encouragement, support yet prodding and challenging me where I need it.  And I quietly smile to myself when she’s intuitive enough to know which one I need – wise stuff and immensely helpful.

The course content is exactly what I wanted it to be – a challenge in the largely unexplored arena of people photography.  So that is also good.

While on holiday I hardly picked up a camera.  It felt like I needed a break.  I did read – I used the time to really try and get under the skin of the more difficult texts such as Barthes and Sontag. I was asked to take some photographs of my partner and her colleagues at an award ceremony.

A bit messy.  Could have arranged them better.  Shows where my head was at the time.

This lack of motivation created a loss of inertia, a downward spiral, a loss of confidence, apathy and procrastination.

Not good.

So what is going on?  How do I get my mojo back?

I have really dug deep into myself during my time off to try and learn why.

I think one thing is work pressure.  Ultimately photography is foreced to be a hobby to fit in around work.  When work is busy and stressful (and it is just work, not anything that feeds my soul) then my energy for other things is diminished.  But that is just reality. A reality faced by many others on the same path.  But work hasnt been / isnt great.

I’m also suffering from something I call ‘People paralysis’.  I find it harder to motivate myself to take pictures of people…sometimes. I took these photographs of strangers at a festival a week ago.  I think the difference is that they knew they were ‘supposed to be’ photographed at an event.  There was no ‘approaching strangers’ hurdle to ask them involved:

So it isn’t a fear of people per se.  Its a fear of approaching, of supposed to be there in that role of photographer.  I need to work hard to overcoome this but, equally, i need to enjoy my photography again by taking images of things that inspire and interest me.

This fear drives a procrastination which is hard to overcome after a 12 hoour working day and a hot dinner in the evening.


Yesterday a friend asked me to share some photos from the events above.  This I did, to the expected oohs and aaahs on Facebook of those I was there with.  And suddenly Im back.  Motivated, and thinking about Exercise 4.3 again.  But why do we fall into these lulls, waste time and struggle to overcome them?  Especially when it is something we know we fundamentally like to do?