Contexts and Audience

In the search for meaning of a photograph we consider here the impact of contexts and audience. Change the context and you change the interpretation that will be made by a viewer. Barthes tussles with the denoted and connoted nature of a photograph. He concludes there is no objective denoted state as connotation occurs from the moment a viewer sets eyes on the image.

A conclusion is that all photographic interpretation is subjective and full of connotation by the viewer.

Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning

(WALKER, JOHN A AND EVANS, JESSICA. Context as a deterninant of photographic meaning inThe camerawork essays:context and meaning in photography. Rivers Osram. P52-63.)

Walker published his article ‘context as a determinant of Photographic Meaning’ in 1980. In his introduction to a reprint within the above collection he finds ‘its arguments and conclusions are still sound’ (p53). In the light of further developments in the field he would now characterise it ‘as a contribution to reception studies.’ (p53).

He reminds us that ‘Ambiguity and complexity of the image itself was one reason for variations of interpretation. Another was the variety of contexts in which photographs are encountered.’ (p53)

For further developments in the field he recommends ‘ Alan Seluka in particular have shown an acute awareness of the ways the meanings of photographs are governed by the contexts of encounter and the social class of the viewers.’ (p53)

In the article he refers to the ‘immanent structure…(part to part, parts to whole within the framing edge.’ p56. He proposes ‘a context shift is a change of emphasis in the photographs’s depicted parts.’ (p56). ‘meaning is crucially influenced by moment of production but is also subject to changes as the photograph enters in to relationships with new circumstances and publics.’ p(57)

‘Need to examine the life of an image as well as its birth to consider its circulation, its currency as it moves through time and space from context to context.’ p(57)

He refers to what ‘Ernst Gombrich calls the beholder’s share. A viewer approaches an image not with a blank mind but with a mind already primed with memories, knowledge, prejudices; there is a mental set or context to be taken in to account.’ (p60)

‘Context is a troublesome determinant of meaning for artists because so often it lies outside of their control.’ (p61)

The Photographic Message

(White, Ed. How to Read Barthes’ Image-Music-Text, Pluto Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/falmouth-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3386680.
Created from falmouth-ebooks on 2019-03-19 06:55:46.)

‘complex system of “emission,” “transmission,” and “reception” for any press photograph

the image is not reality, but…“perfect analogon …it

“special status” of the photograph, according…“special status” of the photograph, according…“ it is a message without a code ”

that the signifier here corresponds to denotation, while the signified corresponds to connotation.

according to Saussure, the relationship between the signifier and the signified is not natural or inevitable (these roses will not always signify my passion).

But in an “historical reversal,” the text is now (as Barthes writes in the late twentieth century) “parasitic” upon the image (25). What Barthes means is that the text now provides connotation for the image, and in so doing undermines the image by “burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination” p20

As a rule, the image “has no denoted state, is immersed for its very social existence in at least an initial layer of connotation ” p21

The argument here is that, with the press photograph, the connotation— that which is signified— overwhelms the denotation— the analogous depiction of the photograph— more or less completely. Remember here the common-sense understanding of the sign: we typically think that the signifier (a rose) has some intrinsic or natural meaning (love, passion), and thus that the sign describes the dominance of the signifier over the signified. The Saussurean or structuralist analysis answered, No, the relationship between signifier and signified is not inevitable, but is instead contingent: the sign describes that contingent linkage between signifier and signified. But here Barthes offers a different understanding of that relationship, at least as it plays out in the press photograph: not only is the signifier-signified relationship contingent, but it may be the case that the signified dramatically dominates the signifier. So how does this overwhelming connotation— the priority of signified over signifier— occur? It may be the case that a first process of “perceptive connotation” takes place, isolating certain signifiers within the photographic analogon. A second and more complex stage might be “cognitive connotation,” whereby the reader or viewer seeks out “the greatest possible quantity of information” in a search for clarity (29). A third stage might then be some kind of ideological or ethical connotation (29-30). However this connotation happens as a mental process, it is clear that the image itself has no inherent political or ideological meaning. “[N]o photograph has ever convinced or refuted anyone” (30), and the same image can be interpreted to suit one’s views: one could give a “right-wing reading or a left-wing reading” to any image (30), because that reading is not part 22 How to Read Barthes’ p22

The argument here is that, with the press photograph, the connotation— that which is signified— overwhelms the denotation— the analogous depiction of the photograph— more or less completely. Remember here the common-sense understanding of the sign: we typically think that the signifier (a rose) has some intrinsic or natural meaning (love, passion), and thus that the sign describes the dominance of the signifier over the signified. The Saussurean or structuralist analysis answered, No, the relationship between signifier and signified is not inevitable, but is instead contingent: the sign describes that contingent linkage between signifier and signified. But here Barthes offers a different understanding of that relationship, at least as it plays out in the press photograph: not only is the signifier-signified relationship contingent, but it may be the case that the signified dramatically dominates the signifier. So how does this overwhelming connotation— the priority of signified over signifier— occur? It may be the case that a first process of “perceptive connotation” takes place, isolating certain signifiers within the photographic analogon. A second and more complex stage might be “cognitive connotation,” whereby the reader or viewer seeks out “the greatest possible quantity of information” in a search for clarity (29). A third stage might then be some kind of ideological or ethical connotation (29-30). However this connotation happens as a mental process, it is clear that the image itself has no inherent political or ideological meaning. “[N]o photograph has ever convinced or refuted anyone” (30), and the same image can be interpreted to suit one’s views: one could give a “right-wing reading or a left-wing reading” to any image (30), because that reading is not part 22 How to Read Barthes’ p23

Barthes concludes his essay. By “trying to reconstitute in its specific structure the code of connotation,” we may find “the forms our society uses to ensure its peace of mind and to grasp thereby, the magnitude, the detours and the underlying function of that activity” (31). These three qualities are important. “Magnitude” stresses the tremendous, almost universal range of forms. The “detours” reveal how indirect these forms may work— in this case, connotation both imposes upon and draws away from the potential of denotation, so that what seems straightforwardly real is actually nothing but connotation. Finally, the “underlying function” describes the ends for which such means work. p24
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Categories: Positions and Practice

LEN

I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make
decisions.

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.