Category Archives: 07 Image and text

Exercise: Metaphorical and Visceral Interpretations

For this exercise we are asked to select a poem and then interpret it through photographs by giving a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.

We are asked to read the poem a few times, making notes of the feelings and ideas that emerge, how we respond to it and what it means to us and the mental images that arise. Then we are to think how to interpret this visually.

After searching high and low for a suitable poem (I haven’t studied poetry since my high school years so I’m woefully out of practise) I settled on Robert Frost’s Leaves Compared with Flowers.

Robert Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet and Pulitzer prize winner for poetry. His initial works were published in England and then only later in America. He experienced lots of grief and loss in his life. His father died of TB when he was 8, his mother died of cancer and his sister was committed to a mental institution where she too later died. Both he and his wife suffered from depression. Four of his children predeceased him, one from cholera, one after child birth, one after giving birth to her own child and one committed suicide.

Leaves Compared with Flowers by Robert Frost

A tree’s leaves may be ever so good,
So may its bar, so may its wood;
But unless you put the right thing to its root
It never will show much flower or fruit.

But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough.

Some giant trees have bloom so small
They might as well have none at all.
Late in life I have come on fern.
Now lichens are due to have their turn.

I bade men tell me which in brief,
Which is fairer, flower or leaf.
They did not have the wit to say,
Leaves by night and flowers by day.

Leaves and bar, leaves and bark,
To lean against and hear in the dark.
Petals I may have once pursued.
Leaves are all my darker mood.

Initially what stands out for me visually are the visual prompts of the poem: leaves, bark, fruit, flowers, fern, lichen, giant tree, men, petals and time of day.  It is a also poem of opposites – rough/smooth; leaves/petals; flowers/trees; giant trees/lichen. I believe it is about the poet’s experiences in his life that have led him down the road of depression to have an affinity for the darker aspects of his life which are represented in the bark and leaves.

My interpretation of this poem is that it is one of sincerity and disillusionment in mankind and the flowers and leaves are metaphors for people. In the first verse, the reference to ‘put(ing) the right thing to its root/It never will show much flower or fruit’ can be linked to a Biblical reference: Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 12:33 ). A person’s character depends very much upon his upbringing.  A lot of love goes into raising a child (or a tree). The second verse hints at personal experiences, disillusionment has set in. Superficiality in mankind is not a prized attribute. The mad chase for achievement in life (giant trees = today’s yuppies) is followed by simpler needs when one ages (the fern and lichen). And for me this is where the poet’s depression sets in ‘Now lichens are due to have their turn.’ Man is fickle, wavering in opinions, not having the courage of their own convictions. The mood then shifts once more when the poet says ‘Petals I may have once pursued./Leaves are all my darker mood.’  Once he was optimistic and enjoyed the company of frivolous people, but now he is given over to his depression.

But unless you put the right thing to its root It never will show much flower or fruit.

Leaves for smooth and bark for rough, Leaves and bark may be tree enough.

Some giant trees have bloom so small They might as well have none at all.

Late in life I have come on fern. Now lichens are due to have their turn.

I bade me tell me which in brief, Which is fairer, flower or leaf.

Leaves are all my darker mood.

Reference List

Bible Gateway [online]. Available from: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12:33-37 [Accessed 26, 2015]

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Research Point: Sophie Calle and Sophy Rickett

We are asked to look up Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field online and investigate the rationale behind the bodies of work and see if we can find any critical responses to them. We are also asked to respond to two statements:

  • How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?
  • Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio

Stephen Bull (p. 12) describes postmodernism as ‘call(ing) into question the universality and progressiveness of modernist ideas. Offering … a more fragmented worldview, it often focuses on social issues rather than aesthetic ones.’ He goes on to say (p.13) that ‘the focus of postmodernist criticism, is outside the photograph: what is in the image itself is ignored and instead the cultural context in which the image is put to use comes to be considered central.’

I really struggled to find Calle’s Take Care of Yourself online. The Vancouver City library also had no books on Calle and I was not prepared to go out and purchase another book, so my research point on Calle’s project will mainly be my understanding from a few interviews that I have read on this work.

Calle received an email from her boyfriend breaking off their relationship. In closing the email he made the statement ‘take care of yourself’ and this gave birth to Calle’s body of work. After a couple of days she showed the email to her friend and asked how she should reply. Her friend gave her some ideas and from this Calle got the idea to send this cowardly ex-boyfriend’s breakup email to 107 women in a variety of professions, asking their reactions and photographing and filming their responses. Her body of work consists of film as well as photography. A small sample can be see Paula Cooper’s Gallery website. A short video of the work is available on The European Graduate School’s website.

Sophy Rickett’s project, Objects in the Field is just as interesting. In this project she uses the terminology or lexicon of scientists to describe stars (objects) in the sky (field).  Her project was made in response to an encounter with Dr Roderick Willstrop, a retired fellow of the Institute of Astronomy and inventor of The Three Mirror telescope. This telescope produces black and white negatives of the night sky using three mirrors instead of two to widen the optical path of light entering the lens and capture more detail. The telescope was used for twelve years and produced about 125 negatives before being converted to a digital telescope. Rickett made prints from the negatives.

How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?

Calle’s project definitely reflects a postmodern approach to narrative. She has used 107 women’s interpretations and their voices and expressions and photographed their written responses to exaggerate this approach. While some of the women might have had similar reactions, their responses in line with their vocations and backgrounds would have had subtle, or not so subtle nuances of different interpretations to this email.

Rickett’s project reflects a dual narrative – that of the photographer and that of the scientist. Although both collaborated on the project, their points of view were totally different.

In the show at Kettle’s Yard, I titled every work, and Dr Willstrop provided captions – so again, there is a sense of these two voices speaking over each other, addressing the same theme, but slightly in opposition.

(Photoparley)

Part of Rickett’s narrative relates to a time when as a child she was having her eyes tested and her memories of that occasion, which in turn relates back to the optics of the telescope. As well she relates a seemingly unrelated incident of two small boys waving that she fleetingly observed while traveling on a train. Dr Willstrop’s narrative, on the other hand, is very scientific. The full text of Rickett’s narrative can be read on The Photographer’s Gallery website.

Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio

I think including interviews or audio into an image-based project can be very powerful.  A beautiful example of this, I think, is Pedro Meyer’s work I Photograph to Remember, which I reviewed two weeks ago. I think one has to be very selective and careful though so as not to have the audio dominate the images. The interview or audio should serve as a complementary role to the images.

Reference List

Boothroyd, Sharon (2013). Sophy Rickett [online]. Photoparley. Available from: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/sophy-rickett/ [Accessed 23 August, 2015]

Bull, Stephen (2009). Photography. London: Routledge

Bibliography

Chrisafis, Angelique (2007). He loves me not [online]. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art . [Accessed 22 August, 2015]

Johnston, Stephen (2014). Sophy Rickett: Objects in the Field [online]. Inside MHS Oxford. Available from: http://blogs.mhs.ox.ac.uk/insidemhs/sophy-rickett-objects-field/ . [Accessed 23 August, 2015]

Paula Cooper Gallery (2009). Sophie Calle Take Care of Yourself. [online]. Available from: http://www.paulacoopergallery.com/exhibitions/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself/installation-views . [Accessed 22 August, 2015]

Sophie Calle. Take Care of Youself. [online]. The European Graduate School [online] Available from: http://www.egs.edu/faculty/sophie-calle/videos/take-care-of-yourself/ . [Accessed 22 August, 2015]

Sophy Rickett. Objects in the Field (2014) [online]. The Photographer’s Gallery. Available from: http://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/03/19/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field/ . [Accessed 23 August, 2015]

Exercise: contextualisation and multiple meanings of images

The brief:

Cut out some pictures form a newspaper and write your own captions.

  • How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
  • How many meanings can you give to the same picture?

Try the same exercise for both anchoring and relaying. Blog about it.

For this exercise I picked two images from the National Post and another two from the local North Shore News. I covered the caption and tried to create my own comment on the photo before looking at the accompanying caption.

A bulldozer crushes boxes of cheese outside the Russian southern city of Belgorod, part of "contraband" food seizures in reaction to broad sanctions against Russia.
Fig 01 (National Post Vol 17 No. 229, 7 August, 2015)

My caption for Fig 01: Bulldozer removes carton boxes illegally dumped on property.

My initial reading of the image in that it is a bulldozer moving cartons is correct, but my context was completely out of whack. The photo accompanied an article on Russia’s president Putin’s embargo on Western food imports. This shipment was only suspected of coming from the European Union. The actual caption is: A bulldozer crushes boxes of cheese outside the Russian southern city of Belgorod, part of “contraband” food seizures in reaction to broad sanctions against Russia. This is a great example of what Roland Barthes refers to as Anchorage. Without this caption supplying the context we would have no idea of the political implications of this image.

At the level the literal image, the text replies … to the question: what is it? The text helps to identify purely and simply the elements of the scene and the scene itself: it is a matter of a denoted description of the image … the caption helps me choose the correct level of perception …

Barthes (1977, p. 39)

Paper lanterns float on the Motoyasu River in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.
Fig 02 (National Post Vol 17 No. 229, 7 August, 2015)

My caption for this image: Local Chinese population celebrate the Lantern Festival on the fifteen day of the Lunar year.

Initially I had thought this image represented a lantern festival, but upon looking closely and seeing the origami cranes in the water I was able to discern the proper context for this image (only because I had seen a TV news article on the anniversary of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima the previous night). I then realised that it was a Japanese event and not Chinese as originally thought. This is another example of anchorage.

The actual caption is: Paper lanterns float on the Motoyasu River in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome (background) in Hiroshima on Thursday. Tens of thousands gathered for peace ceremonies in Hiroshima on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing.

… the anchorage may be ideological and indeed this is its principal function; the text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others …

Barthes (1977, p. 40)

Seymour Salmonid Society volunteers prepare to capture salmon for radio tagging in July.
Fig 03 (North Shore News, 7 August, 2015)

Initially I thought this image had something to do with the recent toxic oil spill from one of the tankers anchored just outside the Vancouver harbour. Although contained fairly quickly, the damage to marine life was evident and the oil spill affected Vancouver’s most popular beaches. So my initial caption was: Cleanup crew inspect boom for marine life.

In actual fact the real caption reads: Seymour Salmonid Society volunteers prepared to capture salmon for radio tagging in July. It accompanies a story about an effort to allow thousands of coho and pink salmon and steelhead trout to return to their spawning ground up the Seymour River. The fate of their current spawning ground is at risk due to a massive rock slide that fell into the river canyon blocking the fish’s path. Another example of anchorage.

… anchorage is a control, bearing a responsibility – in the face of the projective power of pictures – for the use of the message.

Barthes (1977, p. 40)

Mark Traverse and his dog, Sid
Fig 04 (Vancouver Sun, 10 August, 2015). Photography by Mark Traverse

My caption to this image would be Man and his dog. The actual caption that appeared in the Vancouver Sun is: Mark Traverse with his dog, Sid. Neither captions really tell us anything of the story. They are both free to any interpretation. The story is about a Grizzly bear that invaded the Traverse household in the very early hours of the morning. Sid, the dog sounded the alarm by waking his owners with his barking and Traverse shot the bear with his shotgun after the bear lunged at him. Quite a gruesome story, but one would not discern it from the image above. The caption above would be a good example of relay as the caption leaves the interpretation of the image open to the viewer’s experience.

The function of relay is less common (at least as far as the fixed image is concerned); it can be seen particularly in cartoons and comic strips. Here text (most often a snatch of dialogue) and image stand in a complementary relationship;

Barthes (1977, p. 41)

Reference List

Barthes, Roland (1977). Rhetoric of the Image in Image, music, text. London: Fontana Press

Hill, Kevin (2015). Fish rescue planned for Seymour. North Shore News. 7 August, 2015.

Nogi, Kazuhiro /AFP/Getty Images (2015), Refusing to Let Memories Die. National Post  Vol 17 No. 229, 7 August, 2015

Rosselkhoznadzor Belgorod/AFP (2015), Putin’s bulldozers destroy mountains of EU food. National Post  Vol 17 No. 229. 7 August, 2015

Traverse, Mark (2015). Hungry grizzly killed after entering home of experienced hunter in Kimberley. Vancouver Sun. 10 August, 2015