Category Archives: Projects and Exercises

Part 5 project 2: The Archive

From the day of the invention of photography the inherent quality and capability of the photograph has been to make a representation of reality and this has been used to justify, normalise and perpetuate western economic, social and culture relationships. This usage has stretched from a pivotal contribution to the growth of colonialism and racial stereotyping through to the reinforcement of gender roles and differences in social class that define history, propaganda, advertising, mass popular culture all of which collide and collude to create our social reality.

The archive is essentially a wider collection of photographs with a common quality running throughout the population of images organised and used to provide context, information, evidence, meanings and explanations whether they be of an historic or contemporary nature. “The model of the archive, of the ensemble of images….exerts a basic influence on the characters of the truth” (Sekula, A. 1991)

This model of the archive becomes even more significant when we consider Sekula’s point that, “Archives are property of either individuals or institutions and their ownership may or may not coincide with authorship. One characteristic of photography is that authorship of individual images and the control and ownership of archives do not commonly reside in the same individual.” (Sekula, A. 1991)

Sekula goes on, “In an archive, the possibility of meaning is ‘liberated’ from the actual contingencies of use. But this liberation is also a loss, an abstraction from the complexity and richness of use, a loss of context.” (Sekula, A.1991). This Sekula believes is particularly problematic within the practice of the creation of the photo-book that is made entirely from archived photographs.

Many artists are now responding to the photography archive through exploring and challenging the context and meaning of these images. These archives include official archives held by public bodies for bureaucratic or historical purposes, family photograph albums, found or auctioned photographs.

Liz Wells quotes Jane Connarty on the importance of the archive in art practice, “the themes of history and memory have been central to cultural production and discourse through much of the 20th and into the 21st centuries. Photography, film and the archive are associated with the concept of memory, functioning as a surrogate, or virtual sites of remembrance, or as metaphors for the process of recalling the past. The experience of viewing archival photographic prints or film can have a seductive, even spellbinding effect in the viewer; their evoking a sense of time and nostalgia or conjuring fantasies of history. (Connarty and Lanyon 2006:7). (Wells, L. 2009:63)


Figure 1: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin taken from People in Trouble (2011)

I like the Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin collaboration People in Trouble the result of a commission by Belfast Exposed, originally founded in 1983 in response to the close and careful control of an archive containing over 14,000 contact sheets depicting British Military activities during the troubles in Northern Ireland during the 1960s and 70s. This photo archive established by UK authorities was a direct response to concerns over the behaviour of the British Military and the images themselves are a mixture of citizen, journalistic and official photographs. What the artists found most intriguing was how specific images from the archive were marked and labelled by a system of different coloured dots by the archivists.

Broomberg’s and Chanarin’s artistic response was to remove the dots in order to see what tiny round part of the image had been hidden beneath the randomly placed coloured dot. These tiny snippets of hidden image systematically and arbitrarily affected are re-imagined to give the photographs alternative dialogues and fiction.

This project highlights the control that photography and the process of archiving can exercise in creating and establishing a particular and seemingly natural version of reality. The artists describe their work in their own words, “Each of these fragments – composed by the random gesture of the archivist – offers up a self-contained universe all of its own; a small moment of desire or frustration or thwarted communication that is re-animated here after many years in darkness.”

To see this work visit:

I find this this concept of a hidden, lost, affected or manipulated interpretation of history and reality to be of real concern and interest. The politics and power relationships in making, acquiring, archiving and distributing images within economic, cultural and social structures I find quite disturbing.

Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne taken from The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996)

Other works of interest are The Fae Richards Photo Archive the collaborative outcome of artist Zoe Leonard and film-maker Cheryl Dunye. These photographs provide a narrative chronicling the life of the fictional character Fae Richards, an African-American actress born in the early 20th century through to her old age and involvement in the civil rights movement. Dunye attributes her photographic falsification of a life history to the lack of information recorded in real life

“The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.”

Through the use of photographic and archival conventions Leonard and Dunye successfully borrow from the lives of historical figures to create a believable narrative that explores questions about what is actually left out of history and it’s records.


Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin People in Trouble at the artists website (accessed 5/12/16) AT:

Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996) (accessed 5/12/16) AT:

Sekula, A. ESSAY: Reading An Archive Photography between labour and capital (1991) – Taken from The Photography Reader Wells, L (2002) London: Routledge

Wells, L. Photography a critical introduction 4th ed.(2009) London: Routledge

List of images

Figure 1: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin taken from People in Trouble (2011) full details of access from bibliography above

Figure 2: Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne taken from The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996) full details of access from bibliography above

Part 5 Constructed realities and the fabricated image, Project 1: Setting the scene


Figure 1, Cindy Sherman taken from Centrefolds (1981)

Similar to film or theatre the tableau or staged photograph, “relies heavily upon a narrative for it’s reading….and…. it has become most synonymous with contemporary art photography.” Bright, S (2011:77).

There are a number of highly influential artists in this field dating from the post-modernism period such as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia through to more contemporary artists such as Hannah Starkey, Sarah Jones, Taryn Simon plus many more. What is common to all is a tension between what is real and what is constructed and whilst scales of production and complexity can vary enormously, what is irrefutable is that the role of the artist is central to creating a representation of a reality inviting critical interpretation in much the same way that classical art paintings operate. (Bright, S. 2011:78).


Figure 2, Cindy Sherman Untitled taken from Film Still (1978)

Cindy Sherman

Has responded to the influences of film and mass media through her highly influential works questioning and subverting female roles and the construction of stereotypes.

Born in 1954 in New Jersey, she originally studied art but after a few years as a painter decided that photography was the medium to best explore the society of popular mass culture. Sherman works completely on her own and appears in her own visual scenes where she plays fictional characters that she has drawn from the archives of our collective sub-conscious.

Brought up in the golden age of American TV and film Sherman began shooting her first major work ‘Untitled Film Stills’ in the 1970s. The images appear as stills taken from films (industry) that shaped popular culture in the 20th century, and although they are all original scenes they create a sense of familiarity as they resonate with the images, which had become ubiquitous in our everyday lives through the constant feed from the mass media.
Eva Respini describes her work as a “revealing and critiquing the artifice of identity and how photography is complicit in it’s making….she addresses the anxieties of the status of the self with pictures that are frighteningly on point and direct in their appraisal of the current culture of the cultivated self ” (Respini, 2012:P13)

Jeff Wall

Rejects the notion that he is always in total control of his artistic or creative process. He proposes that his work is often a combination of random thoughts or experiences which are available to everybody and he uses the example of his image Boy falls from tree (2010) to illustrate this idea. To find out more follow the video link below of an interview where the artist discusses his work. Jeff Wall: Tableaux Pictures Photographs 1996-2013.


Figure 3, Gregory Crewdson taken from Twilight series (1998-2002)

Gregory Crewdon

Is famous for large-scale cinematic productions that explore a darker side of the vernacular of American life. The artist’s planning and attention to detail are admirable and certainly set him aside in his field. His intention is to create a frame of beauty that is infused with a psychological tension that I think he clearly achieves with his extensive use of props, colours and lighting arrangements.

Untitled - March 1999 1999 by Hannah Starkey born 1971

Figure 4, Hannah Starkey Untitled (1999)

Hannah Starkey

Is an artist who initially developed through creating stage compositions mainly of young women positioned within the urban spaces created by Capitalism. I find her work more accessible than the likes of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson and connected more with people even if it what is depicted is ironically a process of dehumanisation.


Figure 5, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20 (1989)

Philip-Lorca DiCorica

I found Philip-Lorca DiCorcia series Hustlers really interesting in how it combines the candid moment of real life with the sense of artificiality of a staged event. The subjects of the portraits were male prostitutes hired by the artist in Hollywood, LA. Instead of receiving their sexual services DiCorcia took their photograph. The titles of these images include: the name of model, age, location and amount of money that they were initially looking for in order to sell themselves. I like that by creating these titles the artist seems to imply that we are all to a point complicit in this relationship.

Final thoughts

From a purely aesthetic point of view I certainly feel very comfortable and grounded in the subject matter covered by artists that sit within this particular genre of photography. Having grown up during the 1970s and 1980s on a diet of TV, magazines and film I like many others see this sort of imagery produced as a very natural form and I am drawn to it’s familiarity.

Within this however what I have begun to learn about myself through this C & N course is that the image or work must have some meaningful purpose. For this reason I feel more drawn to work by the likes of Cindy Sherman than say that Gregory Crewdson as I believe that the work matters more. Whilst Crewdson’s work is certainly aesthetically successful what would actually happen if he didn’t produce anymore work? I think the world just goes on, whereas Cindy Sherman’s contribution around roles and identity have definitely made a difference in people’s attitudes and ways of thinking and whilst her work is focussed towards the female gender her concepts have also influenced the thinking around male gender and stereotypes in general.

“We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there – I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.” Cindy Sherman


Bright, S. Art Photography Now 2011 London: Thames and Hudson

Cotton, C. The Photograph as Contemporary Art 3rd ed. (2014)

London: Thames and Hudson

Cindy Sherman, curator E. Respini, exhibition MoMA. (2012) NY.

Starkey, Hannah. Photographs 1997-2007 Germany: Stiedl.


Figure 1, Cindy Sherman taken from Centrefolds (1981)

Figure 2, Cindy Sherman Untitled taken from Film Still (1978)

Figure 3, Gregory Crewdson taken from Twilight series (1998-2002)

Figure 4, Hannah Starkey Untitled (1999)

Figure 5, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20 (1989)

Part 2: Tools for deconstruction – Semiotics

In the 1960s and 1970s theorists looked for ways of overturning the realism that was professed by the modernists and leading the way in this development was Roland Barthes who further developed the concept of semiotics (Bate, D. 2009:30), which had originated from the study of semiology conceived by linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure, as a system for interpreting signs and applying meaning which could also be used to decipher photographic images. (Wells, L. 2010:31).

Barthes wrote his seminal essay Rhetoric of the Image in 1977 and in this he deconstructs an advertising image and effectively interprets it’s full meaning using a methodology still influential in 21st century photography theory (Bull, S 2009:34-37). Whilst Barthes’ semiotic tools are not the only method to interpret images, and current thinking in photographic theory has moved to include more psychologically derived concepts such as the effect of the image and personal response, these tools still provide an important framework for discussion.

A brief overview of these semiotics tools is as follows:

Sign = Signifier + Signified

When applied in semiotic terms:

Sign = the overall effect of the image

Signifier = the actual image, it’s formal and conceptual elements

Signified = what we see when we look at the picture, either as a straightforward referent or conceptually/metaphorically.

For the sign to be successful then the Signifier MUST add to the Signified to make the Sign.

Barthes uses several tools within his semiotic analysis as follows:

Denotation – This refers to what elements exist within the image. In other words, what is it? This concept is in essence one of translation.

Connotation – Interprets what the elements actually mean or connote. This interpretation will be subject to relevant cultural awareness and understanding.

Studium – Is what Barthes would assume to be the status quo of an image and the prevalent cultural, political or social meaning of an image.

Punctum – Is an element that disrupts the stadium or punctures the status quo. This might be through contradiction or by offering alternative meanings, it could be a point that gives the viewer a personal connection over and beyond other elements within the image.

Intertextuality was a term Barthes used to describe a situation where differences in a viewers’ social, cultural, economic, political and historical backgrounds effectively serve to create many different readings and interpretations which become interwoven creating a complex yet rich and colourful tapestry.

We can in effect share and allow our interpretations to become coloured and enhanced by a wider and more open study and reference to sources beyond our own individual thoughts.

To establish his system of interpretation Barthes purposely chose an advertising image because in his own words, “Because in advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional” (Barthes, R 1977:32).

Final note

“Poststructuralists affirm, consciousness is not the origin of the language we speak and the images we recognise so much as the product of the meanings we learn and reproduce.” (Belsey, C. 2002:5)


Barthes, R (1977. (Image–Music–Text. London: Fontana Press.

Bate.D (2009). Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Berg.

Bull, S (2009) Photography. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wells, L (2009). Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th ed.) Abingdon: Routledge.

Project 2 Reading pictures

Part 1 Deconstruction

As an interpretive approach to reading pictures we can consider the work of Jacques Derrida and his term Deconstruction; which argued that language is malleable containing a power of it’s own which cannot be restricted by the artist or author and essentially what exists are possibilities of meaning. The concept of an equal status between artist or author and viewer or reader is itself an important theme of post-modernism and to find meaning we should deconstruct the picture in order to question it’s component parts. What Derrida was encouraging was in effect a questioning of knowledge and not simply a blind acceptance of what is presented.

In his essay, ‘The Principle of Reason’ Derrida asked:

“Who is more faithful to reason’s call, who hears it with a keener ear….the one who offers questions in return and tries to think through the possibility of that summons, or the one who does not want to hear any question about the reason of reason?” (Jacques Derrida)

Exercise: HSBC Advertisement


The above picture is an advertisement promoting HSBC personal loans operating within the corporate function combined with the viewer’s understanding of the advertising image; the implication is that by purchasing a HSBC loan the viewer will be able to aspire to the lifestyle afforded to the couple in the picture. This is a positive life image built around the following components:

A man and woman presented as an attractive couple, a white man aged around his mid to late 20s smiling in a relaxed manner sitting in the passenger seat of a car. Appearing to be the driver is a similarly aged black woman who is also smiling whilst gesturing in a relaxed manner. This part of the picture shows a young couple engaged in an equal and diverse relationship seemingly in the ascendance of their contemporary lives together.

The couple are driving in a bright yellow car itself a classic-style design yet everyday type of vehicle adding the elements of normality, authenticity and nostalgia. The car is carrying suitcases which are again authentic old style suitcases and the couple are driving through a bright summer rural country landscape seemingly on their way to some sort of a holiday or getaway break seemingly without a care in the world on their way to enjoy the fruits of their aspirational lifestyle and great decision which was to acquire a HSBC loan.

The picture avoids any hint of a summer’s day at the beach as this might appear self -indulgent of the couple or even imply laziness. In this picture we are presented with the couple driving through a rural landscape adding agricultural connotations implying that whilst they may be relaxed they are embarking on a journey that they have earned and is the product of their hard work.

The picture naturally utilises all of the stereotypes created by dominant western ideologies of capitalism and materialism of what constitutes being relaxed young authentic yet happy, carefree, attractive and successful.

Part 4, Project 1: The language of Photography


Figure 1: Allan O’Neill Lucy (June 2016)

Photography acts as a language in so much that it is ordinarily used as form of communication or expression. Examples of photographic images not used in this way in their original context could be; medical and dental imagery, CCTV images, forensic crime images, passport photographs could all be seen as straightforward forms of representation used primarily for identification and evidence with no need for wider interpretation or purpose.

Interpretation (noun) – Oxford Dictionary definition

The action of explaining the meaning of something

A stylistic representation of a creative work or dramatic role

We must remember that pictures are not words how we read photographs is a result of our many personal and cultural components reflecting our own position in the social world. There is no such thing as a universal photographic language when we speak about photography as a language we mean to interpret rather than to translate.

Letters are arbitrary symbols in that when put together in specific formations they can come to form a meaning. C A T put together spells CAT. Add T L E and we have the word CATTLE with an entirely different meaning.

Photographs are referents in that they are not a true representation of the subject themselves but, because of the way photography works for us, they will always possess a certain proximity to their subject. They refer to the subject.

Exercise 1


Figure 2 Elliot Erwitt, New York, 1974

Having seen this photograph many times before I had always interpreted the image as merely a quirky picture of a small dog dwarfed by an adult and a surreal like giant dog. I can now see how Erwitt composed a specific frame from a wider scene containing infinite possibilities for composition in order to express and communicate his particular idea in a manner which could be effectively interpreted by it’s viewer.

The skill of the photographer and artist is in achieving their own objective even it this is to create ambiguity for the viewer; the role played by the viewer is all important as is the relationship between the photographer and the viewer.

As a point of interest at the beginning of this article is an image I took of our family dog several months ago as part of a personal project and the intention was to depict Lucy in a more intimate manner which showed her on her own terms of individual personality rather than as an objectified family pet or human accessory. To do this I decided, as Erwitt before me, to drop to the eye level of the subject to create the sense that they were central and not peripheral in general terms.

I now use the picture to to demonstrate a sense of active learning.

List of images

Figure 1: Allan O’Neill Lucy (June 2016)

Figure 2 Elliot Erwitt, New York, 1974

taken from:  (accessed 15 September 2016)

Part 3 summary: Self-portraiture

The significant learning from this project has been the recognition that self-portraiture can be much more than an attempt by the artist to identify or capture the essence of themselves. Whilst autobiography can be the central topic of the exercise it can also be used as the catalyst to explore wider issues.

I considered some questions posed about self-portraiture in particular whether this genre is an example of narcissism or self-indulgence? Many artists seem to enjoy independence in their work in order to maintain control and to remain unhindered in their own particular working style so I can relate to this and see the attractiveness of the arrangement so no, I don’t necessarily see self-portraiture as self-indulgent.

However clearly there is much opportunity for narcissistic motivations in self-portraiture and in a culture and society dominated and built upon image this is an unfortunate consequence. I think the question needs to be posed of why does the particular artwork contain an autobiographical and or self-portraiture element but the question of what lies behind the art would always be relevant.

Another interesting question is about the relevance of nakedness in Elina Brotherus’s work. I am currently reading  J Berger (1972) Ways of Seeing and nakedness is clearly defined as a revealing quality, “to be naked is to be without disguise.” (Berger, J. p 54, 1972)

As Brotherus’s Annunciation work is very much about being totally open and honest about the impact of involuntary childlessness and the feelings which ensue then the choice to be naked is entirely relevant.

I think the final point worth mentioning for future attention is that of all the featured artists in our research for this course there was only one male Nigel Shafran. Could this be related to Berger’s general view that the majority of art throughout has been concentrated on the traditional relationship based around the male artist painting a female subject for a male owner/spectator? More than possibly.


Berger, J (1972) Ways of Seeing, 2nd edition. (2008). London: Penguin books.







Part 3 project 3: Self-absented portraiture

Nigel Shafran Washing Up 2000

Figure 1: Nigel Shafran, taken from Washing up (2000)

As previously in Context and Narrative we can communicate our ideas and concepts by means of an absented presence, a technique not restricted to self-portraiture.

Some examples of it’s wider use already researched during this course are Chloe Matthews Shot At Dawn (see here) and Paul Seawright Hidden (see here) the resultant images can create a physical and cognitive space between what is present and what is absent from the frame which allows the viewer to reflect upon and evaluate their own response which can be a deeper emotional process and one which I find intriguing.

An example of a more autobiographical work already researched elsewhere in my learning log would be Sophie Calle’s Take Care Of Yourself (see here) emanating from a rejection letter received from a lover. This and other works by Sophie Calle often draw upon her own experiences as she explores aspects of human social interactions and as such are a form of self-portraiture.

The final artist I will consider in this study of self-portraiture is Nigel Shafran the former fashion photographer who now concentrates more on capturing the everyday in life often taking images of objects in their immediate environment almost as still life images as seen in his series Washing-up (2000), “How we place things can be telling of what and who we are,”. (Shafran, 2008).


Jobey, L (2008) ‘Domestic Harmony’ The Guardian (Online) AT:

(Accessed 6 July 2016)


Figure 1: Nigel Shafran, taken from Washing up (2000) AT:

(Accessed 6 July 2016)