Independent Reflection – Week 4 – A Beautiful Way to Die

My interest this week has been captured by the interplay between image and text. The distinctions of sign, signifier, signified, denoted and connoted help to give us understanding of the way hermeneutics changes between images alone and images with text.

The following image has no text. Without text it is left to the interpretation of the viewer. For those on the MA who have seen this image before it is impossible for them to offer a free description as they have already been influenced by the context given to them. To a new viewer with no extra context it is a woman in a bed, resting her head on a red pillow, wearing a black and white item of clothing, covered by red bedclothes and she is smiling. With no other information the range of interpretations (connotations and signified) for this image are unlimited.

Now consider the following image with text. Now the viewer is trapped as in an advert or a newspaper as she is influenced by the words that suggest what the image is about. As Barthes (p25) puts it ‘the text constitutes a parasitic message designed to connote the image, to ‘quicken’ it with one or more second order signifieds.’ There is not enough in these words to tell a complete story but there are enough to stimulate a reaction in the viewer. There are also enough to anchor the viewer in to a particular line of enquiry in to the image. The words have eaten away at you like a ‘parasite’ feeding on the image as you seek to create your own meaning.


I can go further in creating my advertisement or news article in the following image with text. The words have now given the answer to the viewer as to what the image is about. Depending on the point of view of the viewer they may like, dislike or be curious about what is being presented here. In the language of this week the viewer can have a dominant, oppositional or negotiated relationship with this image and its associated text.




We are bombarded with advertising images and text and, similarly news images with text, seeking to guide us to buy something or to support an opinion (propaganda). As Williamson, J (not me) says ‘Advertisements are constantly translating between systems of meaning, and therefore constitute a vast meta-system where values from different areas of our lives are made interchangeable.’ (p43) Further she says ‘They present their ‘manifest’ meaning to us as latent, thereby concealing the real ‘latent’ meaning’ (p134) and ‘although involved in a hermeneutic and limited ‘deciphering’, we overlook the signifying process itself. Our ‘active’ involvement precludes an awareness of our more complex, unchosen involvement.’ (p134) It gets scarier but we all understand this as ‘Ideology is the representation of imaginary relationships between real things: and in these ‘hermeneutic’ ads we discover meanings which, because they involve real things, seem to be real meanings.’ (p136) and finally ‘ideology is so hard to pin down or unravel: because it constantly re-interprets while only claiming to re-present reality. And in the sign’s setting itself up as a simple representation of ‘reality’, it contributes to ideology’s claim to ‘transparency’ and ‘obviousness’.’ (p136)

Our brains are wired to make quick decisions. They exist to identify threats before they harm us. What has gone before gets coded in. Mackeson used to have a tag line that says ‘and by golly it does you good.’ After the advertising standards authority forbid them from using this phrase because there was no evidence it does you good they adapted the advert as follows. Most people who had seen the previous ads would finish off the sentence ‘by golly’ by adding in subliminally ‘it does you good.’

I have a friend who is opening a new restaurant in Spain in March called Peix Blau. Previously the restaurant he ran, La Setla, was the favourite restaurant of my wife, Karen and me. I am photographing the progress of the restaurant as a story from creation to final delivery. I am confident it will be a success because Miguel Frutos is an amazing chef and knows what people like. My suggestion to him is he uses the strap line ‘YOUR FAVOURITE RESTAURANT.’ In my photographs you will see I start my pitch with a title Peix Blau – Your Favourite Restaurant and then my first words are ‘It takes a lot of effort to create your favourite restaurant.’ YOUR FAVOURITE RESTAURANT The mechanism putting images and text together can be overpowering and you will recognise how this sort of subliminal directing of you is being done all the time and most of that time without you being conscious of it. In the above Williamson, J quote I added my own bold text to the words ‘we overlook the signifying process itself.’

By the way if you are ever over here I recommend you go to Peix Blau because I know you will love it and I am confident it will become your favourite restaurant.


Barthes, R. Image, Music, Text. (1977) Fontana Press.

Williamson, J. (1978). Decoding advertisements. Retrieved from
Created from falmouth-ebooks on 2020-02-15 22:00:56.25
Copyright © 1978. Marion Boyars.

Categories: Coursework IC, Informing ContextsTags:


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

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.