PHO702: Week 4 Coursework Into the Image World

Into the Image World

Week 4 Webinar: You Make Meaning

In the webinar this week you will be considering the intent and authorship of your own practice and how you construct your work for a presumed audience and context.  

Intent – the work I do makes common over family as diaspora. This is where it starts and continues.

Under the MA, there is influence to take this forward and expand context.

A major element of the taught work I thought initially I could not use in my work at least until I translate what I’ve learnt from pictorial work into abstract imagery.


Presumed audience – this starts out as family and extended family

Context – recently the book returned as strong context (I had tried to move the work way beyond this to challenge myself. I have to consider the signification in other contexts). A possible exhibition is a strong maybe.

You will informally present your thoughts and relevant examples of your practice to your peers and tutor. You should try to contextualise your reflections with other relevant visual material and critical ideas.

First Blood: experimental approach

Spot colour v colour control

Identify aspects of this week’s content that have / could influence your own developing practice.

Main influence this week is reading of Photography and Cinema – David Campney

  • Narrative, La Jette

Also, Representation – Stuart Hall – in respect of culture, society, communication

For example, you might choose to:

Examine your own work in the context of any common / disparate interpretations emerging in the forum: So Where is the Author Now?

The taught part was on case studies around advertising. I rejected advertising up until now as a poorly regulated/implemented endeavour. I might change if adverts teach me how to get my work to transmit signifiers guided by author intent.

Reflect on any important peer feedback you received in the forum: Viewers Make Meaning.

Photograph posted and commented upon by a fellow student. Different photography – different abstraction – different intent – yet same theme emerged. This confirms author interpretation carries forward naturally into work.

Provide examples of relevant practices you think are successful in achieving their intent. 

Abstract method 1 is readily supported and works. It works again in combination with further layering and it is trace. It connects with critical reviewer is the sense I get. As commented recently, I can create such representations quite simply now and for the MA  I was looking do achieve something more challenging.

Abstract method 2 is successful in creating visually stimulating (beautiful) images. It works in combination with Abstract method 1 in toning down. These images tend not to fit the theme in call and response titling of trauma and are more inclined to celebration of a theme of life’s force.

From ongoing experimentation variations in abstract style have been introduced this week

Abstract method 3 monochromatic from 1 or 2 with optional colour filter and 

Abstract method 4 monochrome from 1 or 2 with spot colour.

Narrative Call and Response works really well: brief, dramatic in rhythm and to the point. Allows depiction of mental trauma.

Lighting the skin – discussion took place in a studio context of gelled lighting and skin tone (for different models). Actually, I might bring out the gels as a way of enhancing my work.

Explain why you think this is.

Images don’t naturally make a narrative, but video presentation does. Book with written narrative and photographs with text does create narrative. Abstractions with landscape appearance is a form of imagery readily signified to viewers and takes om more effect with layering (as depth).

Discuss the intent of your own work and reflect on how successful you think this is. 

Recognise gaps in childhood communication loved ones to child. Complete those gaps many decades later.

Analyse the audience and context in which your work should be viewed.

Family or by identification other families.


Evaluate how meaning might change with context.

Let’s get the core solidly set and plan for other contexts what I term MA “influenced” contextualisation.

Week 4 CRJ: Independent Reflection

Week 4 Activity: Viewers Make Meaning


A fellow student wrote:

This is an enigmatic image which could carry multiple meanings. There are soft-edged abstract shapes in the foreground, on a background which itself appears to have a layer of soft blurring shadow – it reminded me of a rain storm crossing an expanse of water.  On the ‘horizon’ a pinprick glow guided my eye like a distant ship or lighthouse, perhaps symbolic of a search. To me, this reflected a sense of lost-ness – a small dot in a large space. The kite-like shape seems to pull upwards as if wanting to lift, and the dark shape is underscored by a reddish version of a similar shape, like a reverse shadow. The lower part of the image, the tail of the ‘kite’, is slightly disjointed, and at first appears distorted by water or by an effect of technical interference. The darker shape perhaps shadows or masks something that the viewer is prevented from knowing fully.

Another fellow student wrote

Nice work Michael, added black and red to image constructs it a little more on a different plane. Seems it adds depth, and I don’t mean physically, I mean emotionally, it’s trying to show something.

Horizon pin light: ‘most very amazing!’ That tiny light speck as powerful a draw, if not more so than the black square. Malevich would be proud.

Author Summary

This image sits apart from my normal work being different photography, different abstraction and different initial intent. Surprisingly (or comfortingly?) the interpretation offered takes the theme right back to practice.

Waxing lyrical on the second review:

Sometimes stuff is intuitive and now having read the crit about emotional depth, I have to be honest and admit constructing the remark in response along the lines of seeking. Not knowing what. Knowing it is nearby. Removing and replacing. Leaving trace of having looked and not found. 

Jesse reminds us in the P&P module of how sometimes the author writes of their photography in such imaginative terms that often do not convey through the actual image. #inturmoil

Earlier mention before of crossing over that mental border, resonates still. And you know, (there’s adopted phraseology), it is something that leaks out and almost unawares. Something to be feared. A desperation to never let go and yet in self defeat becomes inevitable.

Week 4 Presentation 2: ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ – The Gendered Ad

In this presentation we examined gendered advertisements of camera manufacturers and a watch manufacturer and in the former saw a range of objectification, and sexualisation of women and then recognition of independent women as a market and compared this to family themed advertising of a watches.

As for the watch advertisements of family, the photographs are divide by gender and with such a family biased message being given it is hard to claim the ads are more gendered than a family might ordinarily be. Maybe male bonding then female bonding might be taken as transmission of existing ideals of gender. This is probably the most neutral permutation of family members and avoids complications or questions yet promotes a continuation of a very conservative family unit. It does not challenge change in any way as it maintains a sense of status quo. It would become more political if women’s independence was to be promoted for the young girl with her mother. I mention this as many might claim there is still a long way to go is removing stereotypes. However, the stereotypes may be recognised by the readers the ads are aimed at and so satisfy a dominant reading.

An ad with interesting relationship to gender

As a convert to advertising only this week, it would be false to suddenly be very knowledgeable especially having only recently been introduced to semiotics in any detail. To be fair I did read about semiotics in Barthes Camera Lucida in an earlier term, but this is my first opportunity to practice, Accordingly, I’ve judged the following as an interesting gendered case but also one that at first seemed reasonably straightforward at by comparison to other cases that could have been used.

The chosen ad is for Harry Winston jewellery. The ad was placed in the Economist 1843 magazine

I’ll look out for signifier (denotational) and determine the signified (connotational).

Two diamond encrusted rings of generous size are featured. A quality desk with a collection of books with gold edging and a contrasting white page with illustration of a ring are shown. The text sends a message of rarity and the reader is invited to act and discover the classic collection. The brand comprises the names Harry and Winston.

The viewer is watch as if looking at a representation of their own desk. They are treated as though educated and knowledgeable and perhaps a professional from Law for example. The person addressed is deemed to be wealthy and in the current times could equally be a successful woman or successful man. The product is intended for a woman. A decision seems to be illustrated by the printed illustration of a ring and a choice perhaps is being considered over the alternative shapes. This perhaps indicates a very busy professional is being addressed and so to help them, they are already tuned to deciding as this is the expensive and quality product they should purchase and helpfully they are prompted to decide on their choice. What more help could be given to ease the purchase. Absence of pricing is only proper as it is clear with wealth it is not necessary to ask the price. The name Harry is famous in England as the nickname of a powerful King and is combined with the name Winston a vey respected British war leader. There is nothing ot question. The brand is very high quality.

The interesting thing that immediately catches your attention is that we have jewellery intended for a female but with opposite gender product branding. This must signify that the product is good enough for a named person to have put their own name to it. Nevertheless it is quite a masculine brand. Maybe it is aimed at the man as purchaser, given the higher numbers of wealthy professional men to women.

Week 4 Presentation 1: Looking for Signs

From this presentation on signs we determine the signifier (denotational) and the signified (connotational) and seek out a common visual language. It is important to become skilled in this reading to improve our own practice. Signs used in ads are full, and formed for optimum reading, whilst being frank or at least empathetic.

So how does this apply to my practice? In my portfolio I theme on remembering ancestors by relating present day injury abstracts to their trauma. Images form into several (potentially too many groups or sub themes) and has been noted in one critique. There is trauma/injury, there is a them of the life glow we emit as a direct biological representation of others in the past and there is trauma as highly coloured imagery that has a different fit again. There is another emerging representation from further experimentation at a time of reduced numbers of injuries. There is scope to analyse signified and signifier amongst these different visual representations as a way of achieving the objectives around signs in the previous paragraph.

There may be an element of the obvious yet there is need for growing awareness as intuitively and through review we can see that the visual language needs to be better formed.

Week 4 Module Leader Sessions

Week 4 Module Leader / Group Tutorial

We had an extended lecture on the subject of Gaze.

We looked at Scopic drive, and began by counting numerous gazes in a film clip from American Beauty. To the count we added the viewers gaze. The presentation illustrated forms of gaze and objectification with mention of feminist viewpoints with perspectives generally balanced.

Apart from more direct forms of gaze a really insidious form is that of the Imperial Gaze. I’d encountered the Imperial position more generally in terms of land use in some earlier studies. The Imperial Gaze, is something we are due to learn more about in Week 5.

We were presented with quite a lot of explicit sexualised material with different gender perspectives. Well, it is a liberal arts course that we study. Regarding the explicit, internet traffic is driven by pornography, I learned elsewhere. The images and ideas we encountered in the presentation were quite edgy but likely mild given that examples in the main were from released film clips and earlier era adverts. Attitudes had changed in the intervening period.

Throughout I was reminded of a Freudian interpretation of gaze, where as baby, we look out and yet are unable to control the things we see, being unable to move towards and interact. In terms of basic nurturing and survival I’d assume that the baby, irrespective of gender, would be attracted to its source of protection, warmth and food not even realising at the earliest stages that the mother is a separate entity. Babies in this argument are programmed for survival and behaviours are reinforced in the baby-mother bond.

This behavioural response initially carries forward into the growing individual. However, it then becomes difficult to exploit this argument further and so we have to turn to another explanation. There is the realisation that as human animals we are programmed for reproduction and hormonal differences then (usually) develop and according to gender, possibly modified by lifestyle and life’s pressures, i.e. how we live and behave amongst others we mix within and those we spectate.

Some species mate openly and the strategy for attraction and the use of dominance is open. In humans it is different. There is an argument around fertility where humans have the ability to reproduce all year round. There is then a behaviour where signs are hidden and this generally would mean covering up. So whilst nudity is quite natural it would not be welcomed if it gave away mating opportunity signs say. This would vary by individual no doubt. If we are programmed to recognise and react at a basal level without full cognition, other than guilt over societies generally acceptable levels of behaviour and where these are often legally enforceable. So a potentially dangerous game for the unruly. The consciousness mind is left to react to signs give through verbalisation and other physical behaviours. Dance is an overt example.

As described, this becomes a game with many uncertainties with risks of misinterpreting signals in respect of society or cultural norms. We now especially live in a developed society with economic advantages and choices not known in the past. Self actualisation and freedoms across a broad range of choices are now there to enjoy and such freedoms need to be upheld. Meanwhile modern life develops so fast it is not clear if the two or three generations it may take to adapt behaviour, is consistent with rates of change. Some will recall the summer of love and the accepted norms in the decade that followed alongside empowerment though new methods of birth control. We are only entering the third generation since those times and with living memory of the times, the impetus is to reject former ways, to castaway or even deny life’s earlier experiences in favour of progress.

Given the circumstances, you’d image there would be pressure all round even when trying to conform to new behaviours. Modern communications are awash with interest group impositions concerning (unenforced) Political correctness and new moral codes. If we return to the gaze then both natural display and natural reaction can fall foul of the modern standards.

Feminist viewpoints have been tested against these arguments or observations in the past alongside other points and still they may cause push back. That can be politic and done on principle. It might just be that reliance upon argument of the human animals programmed survival and reproduction behaviour is invalid if seen to be lenient, open to exploitation and if not representative of the cognitive minds ability to exercise self control. Particularly with the Gaze, it is difficult to know if it can always be or even should be stifled if it is what humans do.

Week 4 Module Leader Office Hours

The previous Friday Guest presentation by Matthew Murray was discussed. It was said that given the circumstances of upbringing our guest was a shining example of getting a break in the industry and making progress to the highest levels.

Our guest was seen to be very honest and open.

Starting as a child with a basic camera that created parallax errors and tended to cut off or hard crop portraits, he began a personal style that in recent years has gained popularity. 

Normal practice would be to frame the portrait deliberately rather than leave the cropping to chance. It would be counter-intuitive to create such hard crops across the neck or slice through the top of the head.  Photographers properly or classically trained would no doubt find this counter-intuitive and so missed the opportunity to use hard cropping as an established style.

Mention was made of this week’s reading, David Campany, Photography and Cinema (Campany, 2008). David was also a guest lecture and the recording should be in the archive <not found> .

The Face to Face at Falmouth was mentioned. There will still be lectures etc running as normal. It would make sense to front load work to fit it in. F2F attendance is optional.

A note had been sent out summarising the purpose of the different opportunities to connect with the course from Guest Lectures, and Group Tutorials through to Tutor Webinars.


Campany, D. (2008) Photography and cinema. London: Reaktion. Available at:

Week 4 Forum: So Where is the Author Now?

I took this in two parts. First I had a lot of baggage around advertising and rejected it almost outright at the same time knowing it is impossible in practice to avoid advertising influence.

I then got back on track with the task of selecting example ads for oppositional, negotiated and dominant readings.

Part 1 – unravelling attitudes

I tend to tune out advertising as an intrusion on a valuable commodity, time.

I tend to stand back and view advertising from a structuralist perspective when it intrudes. When advertising claims are made they can often fail examination or be seen to include bias.

On an associated subject of branding, it is clear that meanings are consumed. When overseas it is not always possible to know what the brands are. Is the roadside Carrefour a supermarket chain or something else? I can’t find breakfast cereal on a shops shelves and settle for something different that is a little experimental. So abroad it becomes clear as to what it is we have absorbed at home without realising it. So we bring our own meaning and it might easily fail us.

Dominant reading would be that a particular brand of computing and mobile equipment is intuitive to use and designed around the person using the equipment. Competitors have sacrificed their business model for the data driven approach that pilfers personal data for financial advantage. This alone justifies paying more for the products.

Oppositional reading would-be towards money-making schemes that encourage selling a share in a property (equity release) in return for cash now. The advertising proceeds in the face of expert analysis that the industry is built on a poor foundation as there is insufficient funding long term to sustain these companies thus creating a climate of financial risk. The next big financial idea set to collapse over the next decade.

Negotiated reading, I initially thought would be the starting position for all advertising when giving advertising a chance. Of late, examination of a supplier’s claim was found to misrepresent. Even when given a chance suppliers can let themselves down. Online ordering and delivery from an internet market place was given a negotiated reading but again there were tricks being played. So even in shutting out advertising and letting it in only on special occasions, it sadly proved untrustworthy and is demoted to oppositional reading.

An aside really but an explanation as to why adverts get shut out:

In a money making advertising world there are many issues around data processing as well as variable pricing models and offers that disadvantage existing customers who must surely pay for the offers.So whatever picture and text is presented are the claims sustainable in practice.

An allied point is that of the individual paying for services that include standing charges and data charges and advertisers intrude on this serving advertisements.

Part 2 the task: oppositional, negotiated and dominant readings

Post made was lost in the act of saving. Here is the abbreviated version:


Clockwise from top: negotiated, oppositional, dominant.

Rafael Nadal advertising Giorgio Armani clothing was a negotiated reading in keeping an open mind over the male reading of an ad more likely aimed at the female fanbase?

The NETJETS ad had lots of signs of negotiated reading for a convenient family friendly service, nicely composed, turning to oppositional due to the frequency of private flights that go over at low altitude creating nuisance by distraction.

The watch ad, has text and styled image giving personal appeal leading to a dominant reading. At twenty grand a time piece though, the lack of calendar function is a downer.

Week 4 Introduction: Into the Image World

My practice is not from the world of advertising but images I create within practice and for competition do benefit from appropriate titling to guide the viewers attention, to aid their interpretation and occasionally to try to say something borderline profound if at all possible or simply entertaining.

A number of the examples of advertising we examined are a couple of decades old now and different in style to modern approaches. Probably the least avoidable adverts are on the walls of tube stations, or alongside escalators and inside carriages alongside the transport route map.

In that environment I’d be more interested in the move to electronic billboard advertising to figure out what new creative methods abound. In the case of illustrated strip advertising alongside the tube route maps over how innovative the advertiser can be in such a restrained space.

About Barthes (who continues to be quoted)

As I spend more time reading and make a closer pass of the work of Barthes the philosophy makes clear sense. In this case claims made, communicate. Elsewhere and by recollection it is understood that Barthes had a tendency to switch interest at will as he followed a smorgasbord of intellectual interests. What Barthes did produce on the subject of photography is insightful although ripe for revision. The technological world continues to march on. So what of the selfie or cameraphone photography and public news gathering / citizen journalism, the gradual fall of printed media, the rise of cinema, then video alongside television, as well as the internet and the worldwide web.

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