Exercise 5.2

Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment? Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five.

In the paper “Photographs and Contexts”, Terry Barrett introduces us to visual communication theory by quoting Roland Barthes who was a leading structuralism thinker in the 20th century, and who drew on the science of the way signs behave in society, particularly the arbitrariness of signs within communication systems[1].

Barrett quotes Roland Barthes’  http://www.arts.uwaterloo.ca/~raha/700_701_web/BarthesLO/intro.html (Accessed 14.09.2016)  point of how the context of a photograph is related to its “channel of transmission” (and a point of reception). In his theory of visual communication, using press photography as the analogy, Barthes adds that even if the original context of a photograph is, for example the couple drinking wine in a French cafe as in the Doisneau photo, it is also dependent not only on the photographer, but the journalist who chooses the photo, those who put it into context in the publication and those who give it a title. Following these variants the point of reception i.e. the reader of the publication then interprets the meaning of the photo. In this case three different channels of transmission change the original context of the shot, depending which publication and context it is viewed in. When a) it is used by a campaigning group to warn of the dangers of alcohol, b) it is used by a scandal sheet, this time with a by line leading the viewer to be shocked by prostitution on the Champs Elysee or c) when it was viewed in its original publication Le Point. There is a further interpretation of this same shot when it was presented as art in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and lastly it was published in a book by the museum where the curator suggests that the photo is one of potential seduction and from my interpretation of this adding certain eroticism.

So, to take us back to the Barrett paper the internal context does not really change. The environment of the café with the couple drinking wine is still present. However, if we then apply a conceptual framework as an aid to interpret photographs other considerations come into play and may be applied in an order or randomly. Commonalities including, selectivity, instantaneity and credibility may help us with deciding the cohesion of the shot. The contextual considerations as described by Barrett of internal, external and original will give information within the shot, information surrounding the shot and information about the making, evidence and meaning of the shot leading to a conclusion for the viewer.

On reviewing my own photographs for this assignment I came across a shot I’d taken of a sign when practicing with depth of field. At the time the original context was depth of field practice and the sign was a useful tool to practice with. However, since the referendum on leaving the European Union the context surrounding the shot has changed.



My focus point was the word EUROPE with the surrounding words out of focus. The words above Europe include the English Channel, Southampton and other place names in England all out of focus and suggesting (now) a distance between Europe and England.

In my research for this exercise I came across the work of Ray Carofano  http://carofano.com/about-ray/.  I was particularly attracted to the desolation and beauty of his Broken Dreams and Riverrun portfolios. I discovered that all shots were captured using a cheap plastic camera called a Holga. The Holga’s plastic lens renders the centre of the image sharp with the sharpness falling off at the edges. He then uses a very complex darkroom editing process, using very expensive equipment. I was intrigued whether or not this technique could be replicated using a DSLR and Lightroom or Photoshop post production editing.

I am not yet competent using Photoshop or Loghtroom and know that there is a way of reducing sharpness by selecting parts of the shot. However, I did not master the technique for this exercise. I did manage to produce a soft focus effect by reducing the contrast and I applied a sepia filter in Lightroom. Many of his shots have a dark vignette at the edges and I applied one to my shot. Although, not a direct comparison to the Carofano technique I was quite pleased with the outcome of the style I had achieved.


http://carofano.com/portfolio/broken-dreams/ (Accessed 03.09.2016)

The original context of Broken Dreams is the rundown and decline of buildings (usually in the Mojave Desert) the given date lets us know that the original context is modern. As it is presented as part of a portfolio in similar style this is also part of the original context. As part of a portfolio and exhibition, the internal context is in the style that leads us to believe it is an old picture of an area in decline and allows us to imagine what the scene may have been like in it’s useful life. The external or environmental context suggests an area in decline.

baud-station-1-of-1-2My response, Baud Station, Brittany, 2016.

In my response to Carofano, I was drawn to the subject of decline but also the style in which the shot was presented. Within the limitations of not having access to the equipment used to produce the effect of the Broken Dreams series. The original context my shot is of a station and a factory (an agricultural cooperative) in which I wanted to demonstrate the decline in the French economic system. By using a post editing process in response to the Carofano photo, I did not want to present this as a “real representation” of the station but wanted to present it as a more artistic or romantic shot (original context). The station was in use from the early 20th century until the beginning of the 21st century for both passenger and commercial use (internal context). From the weeds on the line it can be seen that the station is no longer in use but although it is not clear, the factory still is (the external context).




[1] http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf (accessed 14.09.2016)


Exercise 5.1: The Distance Between Us

Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot. When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame. 


For this exercise I visited Alnwick Garden. Situated within the grounds of Alnwick Castle, and is part of the Duke of Northumberland’s Estate.  The Duchess of Northumberland created it in 2001, from an original garden by Capability Brown which had fallen into disrepair. The garden is a series of formal gardens with complex planting and formal structures.  As a keen gardener the distance between my dream garden and this vast area of cultivated land is immense.  I was interested in the combination of planting and structural designs.  The elaborate fountains are integrated into the planting plan and provide an interactive opportunity for visitors.

I found myself drawn to the structures in the garden, some of them created with the plants themselves.  This was unexpected as I had imagined that I would be taking lots of shots of flowers and plants.

Alnwick Garden (3 of 11)

I took this image because I liked the leading line and the enclosed pathway created by the arched beech tunnel.  I am wondering what lies behind the bend in the pathway in this shot.  I had not expected there to be lighting in the tunnel, seen here below the white box on the left hand side, because the garden is only open during daylight hours.  This left me wondering why?

Alnwick Garden (1 of 11)

The garden is famous for its water features, and many of them are purely decorative.  I was drawn to those which had curtains of water falling from a flat surface and once again, found myself wondering what was behind the screen of water and wanting to get behind it, hiding, looking out onto those passing by.  I took several shots of this type of fountain and in particular liked the line of the fountain rim showing what appears to be a gentle fall of water but which was in fact a massive amount of water, creating quite a lot of noise.  Again, an unexpected find, as I assumed that the use of water in a garden was to provide a more relaxing type of noise

Alnwick Garden (10 of 11)

Even within the formal flower gardens there is structure to the design and structures within the design.  These enormous vases are an example, and the contrast between the peach roses and the blue delphiniums both in colour and size was an interesting discovery.  The vases are built-in with unique stone slabs which host an array of colours complementing the flowers.  Who made these solely decorative and extravagant pieces of art?  Although I had visited the garden previously, I had not noticed the vases (my photographs show that they were there), and I realised that gardens can provide a surprise for visitors and viewers.


Alnwick Garden (5 of 11)

Because of the size of the garden the scale of the structures within it are also very large and I was drawn to this monkey because of his face (one of three), holding up and enormous urn .  I couldn’t decide if he was laughing or trying to scare people away.  Although, the garden is only 15 years old the patina on the urn was well established and it looked like it had been there for hundreds of years, which made me wonder if it had been an original included in the Capability Brown design.

Alnwick Garden (6 of 11)

In this cropped shot the flatness of the water provided a lovely mirror to catch the reflections of passers-by.  The feature was in a circle of enclosed planting which meant it was impossible to capture the people and their reflections.  I initially rejected this shot but really like the effect and decided to crop it to lose the torso of the people, but left in the structure on the right which is a reflection of the fountain in another enclosure.  I was tempted to turn the shot on its head to replicate a mirror but decided to leave it because it creates a mystery about the people and why they might have been there.

Alnwick Garden (4 of 11)

The garden is also famous for its enormous Treehouse restaurant.  I was disappointed not to be able to get a decent view of the Treehouse because of the foliage growth around it.  However, down a track behind it I found a series of walkways and rope bridges, built just for fun for visitors to enjoy when visiting the restaurant and cafe within the building.  The tower gives an idea of the scale of the building.

Alnwick Garden (8 of 11)

Although, technically this isn’t a great shot, I wanted to demonstrate the way the structures provide interaction for  the public.  On a previous visit the day was hot and sunny and the fountains were full of children fully clothed which was surprising.  I don’t think I would have allowed my children to dive in and out of water fountains when they were small but it appears with the development of this type of water feature around the country it is more acceptable than 30 years ago.

Alnwick Garden (7 of 11)

Just before I visited the garden on this occasion I had been studying Ernst Haas and this is an example of Homage to his photography.  I asked the girl in the previous shot to swirl the water so that the ripples were coming toward me but it didn’t really work so I created the ripples myself. The now previously flat surface of the water is disturbed but still creating a sense of calm.  This is perhaps the way I might describe how I felt about the garden.

Alnwick Garden (9 of 11)


One of the streams leading to the main fountain is stone bottomed which provides a lovely surface for the water to bubble and tumble over.  Like all of the structures they have been carefully created to provide interest.  Some are straight, and some like this one are gently curved.  In contrast to the fountains with the flat surfaces this creates a sense of excitement and left me wondering where it was going and what I was going to find when I got to the source at the end of it.

Alnwick Garden (11 of 11)

My selection.   In terms of the brief of the exercise all paths and streams lead to this point.  The Grand Cascade.  Here I am waiting for the fountains to start and I have distanced myself from it and the other viewers.  I am behind a bank of plants and the other people are unaware of my presence.  They are all getting on with their own thoughts about the garden.  The man in the mid ground is pushing a wheelchair and talking to the person in it, the person behind the central yellow flower had their arms folded.  What are they saying to the person almost completely hidden behind the plants?   There is a woman in the central ground with her arm on the back of a child. In front of them is a couple, one sitting and one standing, and then the  child in the centre at the bottom of the cascade is standing with her hand to her face, waiting in anticipation for the spectacle.

All in all the distance between me (the photographer) and these shots has surprised me.  From the scale of the garden, the clever designs using structure and planting that I would never have considered, through the discovery of the many paths, tunnels (including a bamboo maze) leading me to another surprise, of the distance between me, there for the purpose of taking shots for this course and all of the other visitors, there for their own reasons.  A very revealing exercise for me.