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?

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.

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.