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)

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