Tag Archives: Roland Barthes

Assignment 5 – If I (the animal) were you (the person)

The Brief:

Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make series, elaborating on the same theme. … draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – using various forms of narrative, using yourself as subject matter, telling stories and reading images. The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. Remember to create a story with a specific context … This means you need to have an artistic intention. …The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image. … If the narrative is to be set in a different era then the elements of the image must reflect this. Also consider the symbolic meanings of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach. … For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s). Include snapshots of setting up the work and write about how you felt your direction went, how you found the location, props, etc. How did this process affect the final outcome? Write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).


For centuries, mankind has been the dominant species. We’ve domesticated animals, locked them up, killed them for sport. But a series of recent events seem to suggest, all across the globe, animals have decided no more.

Zoo TV Series Opening introduction, episode 4 (narrated by Nonso Anozie), Wikipedia

This statement from the TV series Zoo served as the inspiration for my project, If I (the animal) were you (the person). This mythical, surreal narrative is my reaction to the senseless hunting and poaching of game that is taking place in Africa and other countries. By reversing the roles of hunter and prey, I hope to create a moral and visual awareness that may help to address the custodial role that humans need to take to safeguard the longevity and existence of the various species in the animal kingdom. The prey lying on the ground will hopefully “rise from the scene, shoot out of it like an arrow, and pierce [you]” (Barthes, 1980: 26).

Location scouting

To enhance the surreal nature of my project I scouted out a location that would not be indigenous to lions, namely a forest of spruce and Douglas fir trees. The location for my photo shoot was Kealy Woods Park in North Vancouver, a rather deserted little forest. When I first went to scout out the location a couple of weeks ago the forest floor was slightly damp. On the day of the shoot it was positively soggy and slippery, which was rather treacherous for us in some spots. I mainly shot in front of the huge rock outcrop. Movement was restricted by the trees, exposed tree roots, fallen trees and stumps. Below are a couple of pull back shots from different angles.

Pull back shot No 1
Pull back shot No 1
Pull back shot No 2
Pull back shot No 2
Make up trial/Props

I did not need very much in the way of props as initially mentioned in my planning post. I had purchased a lion’s mask which I sourced online in China, a camouflage jacket and gloves for my hunter model (my husband) to wear which was purchased from a red-neck American outdoor/hunting store which shall remain nameless, as well as a toy rifle, from the same store, which hopefully comes across as fairly realistic in the images. My prey model (my son) just wore regular clothes.

My main prop was really the bullet wound makeup that I had to apply to the model’s face prior to the shoot. I had practised this two weeks ago and felt fairly confident in recreating the prosthetic. However, it seems that every attempt comes with its own challenges and I struggled to get the shading right this time. Unlike the practise run, this time I had real fake blood obtained from a movie FX retailer, which made the makeup more realistic. Below is a closeup taken after the shoot. As you can see, the dripping blood held up really well as there was no need for any touch ups during the shoot.



I had initially planned on using flash in the forest as I had hoped to get in there fairly early in the morning. However, the makeup took longer than expected and I arrived at the location later than I had anticipated with the sun already quite high in the sky. As a result I did not need to use flash and relied on the beautiful natural lighting that was filtering through the forest canopy from camera left at about the eleven o’clock position. Initially I had set up using a tripod, but found that the location was too restrictive, and the terrain was not conducive to a tripod as it was fairly steep with lots of obstacles to navigate, so I abandoned the tripod so that I could change my viewpoint more easily.


I had a fairly good idea of the poses that I wanted from my models, but once in the forest we had to adapt to the in situ conditions as there were many branches that had come down during the two wind storms that occurred after my scouting trip. For the most part the direction went well. I took care to direct my son to keep his head turned to his left in the same direction that the blood was flowing, otherwise his poses would have looked strange. His greatest problem was to keep a straight face. The biggest problem my hunter faced was keeping his chin down, so that the camera would not pick up his face inside the mask. From certain viewpoints the wearer’s mouth is visible through the lion’s mouth. To help with this I had him wear a balaclava so that there would be a dark tone inside the mouth. Happily this strategy worked well.

The Stalker
The Shooter
Trophy Final
The Trophy


Contact Sheets

Because I took quite a few photos of the same poses, I have whittled down my contact sheets to show a few options of the relevant poses.

Assignment 5 contact sheets 1
Assignment 5 contact sheets 1
Assignment 5 Contact Sheets 2
Assignment 5 Contact Sheets 2


Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)

My equipment used for this assignment were my 18-140 mm and 70-300mm lenses together with my Nikon D7200 and tripod. Going in I had a fairly good idea of the type of images that I was after. I found that certain spots in the forest allowed in too much overhead lighting and although my hunter was backlit rather nicely, my highlights were totally blown out. Unfortunately I only discovered this after uploading the images to my PC – note to self to check my histogram after taking the photo. Fortunately though, even if the exposure had been correct, I would not have used those images as the hunter’s and prey’s postures were too awkward and looked contrived. Not too much post-processing was involved: mainly just adjustment of highlights, adding contrast and clarity and a little dodging and burning over selective sections of the images.

Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)

I am happy with the outcome of these images.  My planning pages can be viewed on these pages: Assignment 5 Planning, Assignment 5 Planning – Location Scouting, Assignment 5 Planning – Makeup Trial Run, and Assignment 5 Planning – Preselection. I put four test images up for peer review on the OCA Facebook Level 1 group regarding my final image. I was pleased with the positive feedback which can be read here.  I was also relieved to see that the correct connotation had been made in the hunter becoming the hunted. A few comments were made about the wonderful lighting in my second preselection option, but as the lighting was basically the same between images 1, 2 and 3, I simply applied a little more post-processing to my final image of choice. A fellow student also suggested that it might be a good idea to annotate my contact sheets which I have done.

For my ‘trophy’ image I have emulated David Chancellor’s and the countless other images that one sees on the internet with the hunter and the prey centrally placed in the frame to continue the illusion of a real hunt. Like Meatyard, I feel that the use a mask does depersonalise the situation, but at the same time also adds a bit of shock value to the image.

I believe my thought processes are clearly signposted in my planning posts and in my introduction above. I intentionally did not want to overload my images with signifiers as I want to leave the viewer room to play with his/her own interpretation of the myth.

Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)

When I first verbalised my concept for this assignment with a couple of colleagues from work and took note of their reactions, which ranged from horror to “how disgusting/weird” I realised that my narrative had some good potential, even if it was a bit risky. If my verbal narrative could elicit such responses, hopefully a visual one would do so as well. To emphasise the mythological aspect of my narrative, I chose a location where lions are not indigenous (a forest in Canada), with the intention of drawing attention to this global problem. Initially I had planned on only doing one image, namely the trophy pose, but the more I thought about it, I became convinced I needed a few more images to complete my mythical narrative. I have, therefore, followed a bit of a cartoon-like strategy, where some reading between the “boxes” is necessary from the viewer’s standpoint.

I have tried to portray the “thrill” of the hunt in my images. I also decided not to go for the super, polished look that John Hafner’s photographs have, preferring a natural look for my images. The series of images also alludes briefly to the close vicinity that wildlife and humans find themselves in these days. In North Vancouver, where I live, bears, coyotes and racoons regularly encroach into our living space. In my final image by posing the hunter in front of a rock face which is defaced with graffiti, I also want to draw attention to the fact that humans also encroach on wildlife’s living space.

Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)

Hunting is not a subject widely found in the contemporary or fine art environment and it was a bit of a struggle to find suitable photographers to research. In preparation for this assignment I looked at the following photographers (my detailed remarks can be found on their pages):

  • John Hafner – a Montanan based commercial photographer, who specialises in sport hunting photography.
  • Ulla Schildt and Liza Dracup – as suggested by my tutor, as they both photograph animals in an alternative state.
  • David Chancellor – photographer who splits his time between the UK and South Africa and has won the 2010 Taylor Wessing portrait prize for one of his hunting images. I had written to David to request permission to use one of his images in my write up, which he kindly gave. He also requested to read my write up and thought that it was “a fascinating observation” and further requested to read my assignment when completed.
  • Ralph Eugene Meatyard – mentioned by a fellow student for his use of masks in photography.

My detailed notes on the exhibitions that I attended are linked to their individual postings and listed below. A few were not of a photographic nature and therefore a little difficult to comment on.

I did an online MOOC course through Coursera on Learning How to Learn, which imparted valuable study methods which will definitely come in handy as I try and assimilate the theoretic aspects of this and following courses.

I caught up on some backlog I’d had with reviews, namely Roland Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image.

Another MOOC course that I completed through Coursera was Seeing Through Photographs which was presented by the Museum of Modern Art. This was a new course and I only wish this course had been available when I began Context & Narrative as it is so relevant to this module. I found the materials and resources MOMA made available for this course very useful and comprehensive and particularly enjoyed the exposure to new artists and their opinions. This is a great companion piece to Context & Narrative.

I read This Means This This Means That by Sean Hall, a very down to earth, no-frills book on semiotics with examples of every aspect. This book was recommended by a fellow student on the OCA Level 1 Facebook group and it has really been extremely helpful in expanding my semiotic knowledge. I would not use it as a substitute for Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners, but definitely as a companion text.

Reference List

Barthes, Roland. (1980) Camera Lucida Reflections on Photography.  New York: Hill and Wang

Zoo (TV Series) [online]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoo_(TV_series) [Accessed 18 March, 2016]

This Means This This Means That

This Means This This Means That A User’s guide to semiotics by Sean Hall is a book which was recommended by a fellow student on the OCA Level 1 Facebook group.

The book covers all aspects of semiotics in a very clear and concise method. Each aspect is accompanied by at least one example and is written in everyday language which makes it very easy to comprehend.

This Means This This Means That by Sean Hall
This Means This This Means That by Sean Hall
ISBN 978-1856697354

I found myself having quite a few “Aha!” moments having struggled with Barthes’ Elements of Semiology  and Mythologies and parts of Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners. Take for instance Barthes’ definition (1968, p.58) of a syntagm: ‘the syntagm is a combination of signs, which has space as a support.’ Chandler’s definition is: ‘A syntagm is an orderly combination of interacting signifiers which forms a meaningful whole within a text – sometimes, following Saussure, called a ‘chain’.’ As we can see Chandler’s definition is definitely more explicit than Barthes’.  Hall ( 2015, p. 138) offers his explanation by way of using a clothing example :‘When we put clothes together to form an ensemble we call this a “syntagm.” A syntagm is any combination of things that conform to a specified set of social rules’. Definitely much easier to understand!

Hall breaks down his chapters into different concepts. Under the heading Signs and Signing he covers signifier and signified, sign, icon, index, symbol, sender, intention, message, transmission, noise, receiver, destination and feedback. His other concepts deal with Ways of Meaning (metaphor, depiction, representation i.a.); Conceptual Structures (truth and falsity, subjectivity and objectivity, continuity and discontinuity, i.a.); Visual Structures (viewer and image, center and margin, foreground and background, i.a.); Textual Structures (Readers and Texts, functions, intertextuality and intratextuality, i.a.); Matters of Interpretation (connotation and denotation, langue and parole, tokens and types, i.a.); Framing Meaning (semantic units, ideologies, discourses, i.a.) and finally Stories and Storytelling (fact and fiction, legends, viewpoints, i.a).

I would highly recommend this book as a companion piece to anyone wanting to get to grips with semiotics. Its not a substitute for Barthes and Chandler by any means, but it helps to cut to the chase and eliminate the waffle and confusing noise.

Reference List

Barthes, Roland (1968). Elements of Semiology. New York. Hill and Wang

Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics for Beginners [online]. Available from: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/ [Accessed 27 February, 2016]

Hall, Sean (2015). This Means This This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics. Second Edition. London. Laurence King Publishing

Rhetoric of the Image – Roland Barthes

Barthes uses an advertisement to demonstrate an analysis of an image. The image he uses is the Panzani advertisement.

Panzani Ad used in Barthes' Rhetoric of the Image
Panzani Ad used in Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image

Coded messages are intentional when it comes to advertising. They are all pre-planned – what Barthes terms ‘a priori’ (p. 33).

Using the image above, he identifies three messages.

  • Linguistic – this deals with the caption and the labels that we read. We notice that the language in the caption is in French, yet the product labels connote a sense of ‘Italianicity’ (p. 33). This linguistic message is both denotational and connotational. The function of the linguistic message is that of anchorage and relay (p.38). When considering anchorage Barthes states (p.39) ‘At the level the literal image, the text replies … to the question: what is it?’ Anchorage is most frequently found in advertisements and press photographs. Relay is less common (see a more detailed explanation in my Contextualisation and Multiple Meanings of Images exercise).
  • Imagery/discontinuous signs – Barthes then proceeds to look at the images and identifies a signified which implies fresh produce and culinary preparation. The net shopping bag is the signifier. One’s culture plays an important role in making the first two connections. A second sign (iconic message) is identified: the combination of the colours of the produce, repeated in the label colours again help to convey the sense of ‘Italianicity’ – the same colours that are found in the Italian flag. The next message to be unfolded is the idea that Panzani has supplied all the ingredients for this delicious meal. It is further implied by appearing in a produce shopping bag that the tomato concentrate, pasta and Parmesan cheese are all equivalent to the organic produce surrounding them. The composition of the image resembles that of a still life, tapping into cultural memories of the viewer. The relationship between the signifier and signified(s) is not arbitrary.
  • Literal message – this is our identification of the items contained in the image.

Rules and methods of composition all fall within the realm of connotation. It is by using the spatial and temporal relationships within the image that the photograph can be properly understood. The denotation of an image plays a role in helping to define the structure of the coded messages within it.

The reading of an image is very dependent upon the viewer’s knowledge and cultural background. This is known as a lexicon. The more variance there is between two viewers’ lexicons, the more evident their different interpretations of an image.

A problem when analysing connotation is that there is no specific language to use – no special terminology.  Instead there is a common ideology. The signifiers within this ideology are termed connotators and the set of connotators a rhetoric (p.49). As Barthes states (p. 51) ‘it is precisely the syntagm of the denoted message which “naturalizes” the system of the connoted message.’

Reference List

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

Assignment 4 – La Vittoria

Robert Capa (1913 – (1954) was born in Budapest, Hungary as Endre Ernö Friedmann. Following the stock market crash in 1929, he relocated to Germany where he studied political science. Fearing the anti-semitism backlash, Capa fled to Paris when the Nazis came to power in 1933. It was only after he changed his name to Robert Capa and together with Gerda Taro ‘invented the ‘famous’ American photographer Robert Capa’ (Magnum Photos, n.d.) that he started to gain recognition. Capa documented the Spanish Civil War, the Chinese war in 1938, and World War II. He is probably most famous for his photograph of the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach. Towards the end of the war, Capa cofounded Magnum Photos together with Henri Cartier-Bresson, and two other photographers. Capa was killed in Indochina in 1954 when he stepped onto a landmine (Jeffrey, 2008, pp. 200-203). Capa is considered to be the father of photojournalism, being the first to provide a point of view taken from within the midst of battles, rather than from afar (Gray, 2014).

ITALY. 1944. Drivers from the French ambulance corps near the front, waiting to be called.
© Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
ITALY. 1944. Drivers from the French ambulance corps near the front, waiting to be called.

The photograph that I have chosen is one of Capa’s lesser known photos and it was taken in the village of Cassino in Italy (Arnold, 1996) during one of the three bitter battles of Monte Cassino which took place between January and May 1944 during World War II. It was a site where there were over 55,000 Allied casualties (Chen, Peter C., n.d.).

Here in this photograph one sees a Dodge WC 54 truck with a muddy tyre, which is fitted with snow chains. On the side of the truck one can see two insignia and a vehicle identification number. Two ladies in uniform sit against the truck knitting, their helmets stacked on top of the truck’s bonnet. The foreground is strewn with rocks and stones of varying sizes. The truck is parked next to two conjoined buildings, judging from the differing external brick work. Just behind the truck the letters ‘La Vitto…” are visible.

The photograph has been taken from a low point of view and the photographer is quite close to his subjects. It is a strong image with the positioning of the women’s heads and helmets creating a powerful diagonal line which leads the eye through the image. This diagonal line is repeated in the positioning of their knitting needles and women’s right legs, while the two tyres create an intersecting diagonal and their round shape serves to keep the viewer’s gaze within the frame.

The women are dressed in battle fatigues and sport field service caps and leggings. From their dress we connote that they are in the army; more importantly we know they are in the French army due to the symbol of the French flag on the truck’s door.  Since the French Revolution, the tricolour of this flag symbolises liberty, equality and  fraternity. Just above the flag is the vehicle’s identification or unit number. The insignia above the spare wheel is a caduceus. Through social convention this sign has globally come to be associated with the medical profession or medicine. This symbol conveys to the viewer that the truck is an ambulance. The signifier of the caduceus sign is the winged staff of Hermes, with two serpents wrapped around it, while the signified conveys the message of healing.

The snake figure was associated with Asclepios, the ancient Greek God of medicine, and possessed benevolent properties.

(Ramoutsaki IA, Haniotakis S, Tsatsakis AM, 2000)

The detail that provokes the viewer in this image (the punctum) is that of the knitting. Similar to Koen Wessing’s image Nicaragua, 1979 where two nuns walk down a war torn street while soldiers patrol, there is a similar duality in Capa’s image. Here we have a scene of domestic action, that of two women knitting, not seated in comfortable chairs in pleasant homely surroundings as one might expect, but seated between mud and rocks in the midst of a war zone during a lull of fighting. They have a relaxed attitude about them and appear to be concentrating on their knitting. Their helmets sit within easy reach for when the action resumes. As Barthes states: “it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me” (Barthes, 1980).

It is a particularly poignant scene showing the viewer that even though these brave volunteers are serving their country by taking care of the wounded soldiers, they are still caring for their loved ones, back home or on the front line, by knitting socks and jerseys for them, giving credence to the old idiom “a woman’s work is never done”.

The mud, rocks and chains on the tyre serve as indexical signifiers connoting the rough and treacherous terrain the ambulance drivers had to traverse, while one might interpret the iconicity of the field ambulance drivers as representative of bravery when we realize that these ladies had to drive their ambulances as close to the fighting action as possible. The words on the wall “La vittoria” bear witness to the Italian location, i.e. Cassino.

Capa took another photograph of the two women from another angle, showing the environment which can be seen here. Upon researching the partial phrase that is visible on the wall, together with the words in my chosen photo, I found that the full phrase (Spinetti, Piraino, Fiorito ,1940, p. 63) behind the ambulance is: ‘la vittoria non è un punto di arrivo! È un punto di partenza’ which meansvictory is not a point of arrival! It is a starting point.’ This phrase, painted on the wall by the Fascists, is a perfect example of what Barthes (1972) was referring to in his discussion on the signification of myth: ‘… Myth is a double system; there occurs in it a sort of ubiquity: its point of departure is constituted by the arrival of a meaning.’ Ironically, we know through history that there was no victory at the end of World War II for the Fascists, so the meaning of these two sentences has become distorted.

In closing, let us take one last look at the initial image. By photographing the ambulance drivers seated below the words we now know to be “La Vittoria”/The Victory”, Capa is sending a subliminal message to the viewers back home that the Allies are winning. The home front will soon be returning to normal. This photograph is ultimately a message of hope.

Reference List

Arnold, E., 1996. Robert Capa Remembered. [online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/robert-capa-remembered-1358188.html [Accessed 2 February 2016].

Barthes, R., 1972. Mythologies. New York: The Noonday Press.

Barthes, R., 1980. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill and Wang.

Chen, Peter C. (n.d.) Battle of Monte Cassino |17 Jan 1944 – 18 May 1944. [online]. Available at: http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=312 [Accessed 31 January 2016].

Gray, M., 2014. WWII Italy through Hungarian eyes | Alinari Museum hosts Robert Capa retrospective. [online] Available at: http://www.theflorentine.net/articles/article-view.asp?issuetocId=9027.  [Accessed 2 February 2016].

Jeffrey, I., 2008. How to Read a Photograph. New York: Abrams.

Koen Wessing: Duality as Photographic Punctum [online]. Leicaphilia. Available at: http://leicaphilia.com/koen-wessing-duality-as-photographic-puntum/ [Accessed 6 February, 2016]

Magnum Photos, n.d. Robert Capa: American, b. Budapest 1913 – d. Indochina 1954. [online] Available at: http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL535353
[Accessed 31 January 2016].

Ramoutsaki IA, Haniotakis S, Tsatsakis AM, 2000. The snake as the symbol of medicine, toxicology and toxinology. [online] Veterinary and human toxicology, October, 42(5), pp. 306-8. PubMed.gov. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11003127 [Accessed 31 January, 2016]

Spinetti, G. S. ed E.; Piraino, Marco; Fiorito Stefano, 1940. Sintesi Della Dottrina Fascista. [online] Milan: Lulu.com. Available at https://books.google.ca/books?id=X7FfCgAAQBAJ&pg=PP1&dq=SINTESI+DELLA+DOTTRINA+FASCISTA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjS04zc1ebKAhUFuw4KHSaNBTYQ6AEIHzAA#v=onepage&q=SINTESI%20DELLA%20DOTTRINA%20FASCISTA&f=false. [Accessed 7 February, 2016]


Capa, Robert (1944). It’s a Tough War. [online]. Life Magazine January 31, 1944 p 17-23. Available at: https://books.google.ca/books?id=QFUEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA17&lpg=PA17&dq=robert+capa+fifth+army+front&source=bl&ots=kf3QketQBi&sig=Jb08mJK3qIfD3K9rMBnEowA-wF0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjJoc70tNPKAhVLcRQKHRiwDbEQ6AEIKDAD#v=onepage&q=robert%20capa%20fifth%20army%20front&f=false [Accessed 31 January, 2016]

Capa, Robert (n.d.) ITALY. W.W.II. French and American Troops On Fifth Army Front [online]. Magnum Photos. Available at: http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&STID=2TYRYDGO4XDK [Accessed 31 January, 2016]

Dodge WC 54 Ambulance WW2 – Historische Fotos Teil 1 von 4 [online] Available at: http://www.command-car.com/ambulance/historyamb.html [Accessed 1 February, 2016]

Feeney, Mark (2013). The experience of battle in ‘War/Photography’ [online]. Boston Globe. Available at: https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater-art/2013/12/14/review-war-photography-images-armed-conflict-and-its-aftermath-brooklyn-museum/R0uDP9TfIc7A1FIaoKM1EJ/story.html [Accessed 1 February, 2016]

Smith Whitney (n.d.) Flag of France [online] Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/topic/flag-of-France [Accessed 31 January, 2016]

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath Overview of the Exhibition by Section Content [online]. Corcoran Gallery of Art | College of Art+Design. Available at: http://newsite.corcoran.org/sites/default/files/WAR%20PHOTO%20Exhibition%20Overview%20by%20Section.pdf [Accessed 1 February, 2016]

Wilkes Tucker, Anne. WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath [online]. http://photowings.org/ann-wilkes-tucker-war-photography/ [Accessed 31 January, 2016]

WW2 US Army Ambulances and Medical-Related Vehicles. WW2 US Medical Research Center. Available at: https://www.med-dept.com/articles/ww2-us-army-ambulances-and-medical-related-vehicles/ [Accessed 1 February, 2016]


Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)

This assignment is a critical essay, so I have mainly relied on my observational skills and knowledge of photographic composition to make comments on my chosen photograph. I have tried to follow Daniel Chandler’s method for analyzing an advert/photo as well as Helena Zinkham’s advice on visual literacy which I came across just after I began The Art of Photography.

Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)

I think I have communicated my ideas well and presented my work in a coherent manner. I structured my essay by giving a background on the photographer, then dealt with the denotation of the image. From there I tackled the connotations, bringing in mentions of various aspects of semiology and myth. I found that I did struggle a little with the phraseology in trying to convey the idea of the signifier and signified at times, but like any new language one must learn, I’m sure this will become easier with time and practice.

Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)

I don’t this section applies to the writing of a critical essay as experimentation, invention and personal voice are not applicable here. To a lesser degree I suppose imagination would come into play in deciphering signs which I believe I have succeeded in doing.

Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)

I really enjoyed researching my chosen photograph. I found myself researching almost every element within the photograph. Each little piece of information I uncovered led to another nugget of information. I had to rely on the internet for most of my research as the Vancouver city library did not have much choice on Robert Capa. I now know more about the fleets of ambulances used in World War II than I had ever imagined and have read with interest about the various battles that took place at Monte Cassino. The restriction on the number of words, however, prevented me from going into much detail about that. I was delighted to discover another photograph of the same women, also taken by Robert Capa. This photograph allowed me to use my language skills (Latin and Portuguese – albeit very rusty) to tease more meaning out of the photograph. This is the first critical essay I have had to write in many years, but despite the rusty start I think I have conveyed and linked my strands of thinking clearly within the confines of the essay’s length.


My detailed notes on the exhibitions that I attended are linked to their individual postings and listed below. As photographic exhibitions are not very prolific in Vancouver, I have to look at other art media exhibits, which are sometimes rather difficult to comment on as these are media which are not really in my wheelhouse:

I attended my first mixed media workshop (acrylic lifts with panel) with Ross den Otter and found it really fascinating. When I have some free time, perhaps between modules, I’d like to try some of the methods den Otter explained. The methods he used to create different textures were particularly interesting.

I also attended a Fine Art Digital Printing Workshop with Marc Koegel. I now have a better understanding on ICC profiles, soft proofing and different tonalities and depth of saturation that different papers can bring about. All I need now is a photographic printer – my all in one little printer will not pass muster. At the very least, I know what to look for and how to communicate what I want when sending prints off to a print lab.

I continued my journey into semiotics, delving into syntagmatic analysis which I discovered is very relevant to photographic text.

I have done a few rewrites on some of my previous research into photographers from my last assignment as requested by my tutor. The rewrites have been done below the original write up so that the changes can be compared:

I also completed research into Jim Golberg’s Open See which I had omitted to do for my previous assignment.

I completed an online course through Coursera on Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects to try and pick up some study tips. It was extremely interesting, explaining how the brain collects and retains data and the best methods to use to put something into the long term memory bank.


Chandler, Daniel. Analysis of Advertisements [online]. Available at: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Modules/FM21920/analad.html [Accessed 21 December, 2015]

Zinkham, Helena (June 2004). Visual Literacy Exercise. [online]. Library of Congress. Available from: http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/tp/VisualLiteracyExercise.pdf [Accessed 15 March 2014]

Semiotics Continued: Peirce’s model and Syntagmatic Analysis

Charles Sanders Peirce developed his own semiotic model, expanding on Saussure’s ideas. Peirce developed a triadic model:

Peirce's Triadic Model of Semiotics
Peirce’s Triadic Model of Semiotics

Peirce also used the traffic light example to illustrate this. In his example at an intersection the traffic light sign for stop = red light facing traffic (representamen); vehicles stopping = object; the message that a red light conveys to drivers that vehicles must stop (the interpretant).

The object is not in Saussure’s model. The representamen correlates to the signifier, while the interpretant is similar to the signified, but is also a sign in its own right. Roland Barthes describes this mode of representation in his essay Myth Today with a good sketch on page 113. Basically, there can be a series of nested sets of signs within any one image/text, depending on how deeply one looks. The first signifier and signified make up the first sign. This first sign in turn becomes a second signifier which corresponds to another signified, which together form the second sign and so the process continues.

Signs can be:

  • symbolic: the signifier is abitrary and we need to learn the relationship. It is not obvious. Examples would include the alphabet, numbers, punctuation.
  • iconic: we understand that the signifier resembles something, e.g. cartoons, a portrait.
  • indexical: the signifier is directly connected to the signified in some way. We make some kind of judgement call when we observe indexical signs. These signifiers are links which can be observed or assumed, e.g. footprints in the sand, a rash, a weather vane on a house’s roof.

These three signs are not mutually exclusive. A sign can be symbolic, iconic or indexical or any combination.

Peirce argues that an historical shift or hierarchy tends to occur from one mode to the other. He cites iconicity as the original mode of signification as it is the most simple and primitive. From there we move down to the index mode and finally to the symbolic mode.

Syntagmatic Analysis

This is the relationship of signs to each other. this has to do with the structural analysis of a text. I’m reminded of sentence analysis that we had to do during English in high school. There are various forms of syntagmatic structures:

  • narrative: the most common, based on sequential, linear relationships
  • spatial: the way montages in photographs work through juxtapositioning
  • conceptual: such as argument or exposition.

Exposition is reliant on the conceptual structure of argument or description and involves three elements, which are a more familiar set of circumstances that one would find in a court of law:

  • propositions;
  • evidence;
  • justifications

According Chandler, most theorists e.g. Peirce and Gombrich, the relationship of exposition is not applicable to visual media. Indeed, one would find it hard pressed to find all three elements in one photograph.

Spatial relationships include:

  • above/below
  • in front/behind
  • north/south/east/west
  • left/right
  • close/distant
  • inside/outside
  • centre/margin

Left/right, top/bottom and centre/margin is how we read text. Left/right deal with the horizontal compositional axis where elements situated to the left of the centre of the image indicate some that the viewer should know (it’s a given). Elements to the right of centre indicate something that is not quite known yet.

Top/bottom deals with the vertical compositional axis where up = more and down = less. Up also symbolises goodness and virtue, high status and power, while down symbolises death, low status, depravity, emotion. The upper portion of an image tends to deal with abstract ideas, while the lower portion deals with practical matters. Daniel Chandler states in his book Semiotics for Beginners that in western advertisements the upper sections show us ‘what might be’, while the lower section is more informative, showing us ‘what is’.

Centre/margin is where the most salient element is placed in the centre, and the other elements are arranged around the periphery or edges of the frame. This allows for a ‘to and fro’ reading between the various elements.

Narrative relationships tend to be sequential. A narrative, as we are all taught in school has a beginning, middle and end. Barthes very succinctly describes the levels of the narrative in Image-Music-Text:

To understand a narrative is not merely to follow the unfolding of the story, it is also to recognize its construction in ‘storeys’, to project the horizontal concatenations of the narrative ‘thread’ on to an implicitly vertical axis; to read (to listen to) a narrative is not merely to move from one word to the next, it is also to move from one level to the next.

(Barthes, p 87)

Reference List

Barthes, Roland (1977). Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press

Chandler, Daniel (1994 – 2016). Semiotics for Beginners [online] . Available from: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/ [Accessed 19 January, 2016]


Barthes, Roland (1972) ‘Myth Today’. in Mythologies. New York: The Noonday Press

Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen (1996): Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design [online]. London: Routledge. Available from: http://www.scribd.com/doc/288179939/Kress-Leeuwen-1996-2006-Reading-Images-The-Grammar-of-Visual-Design [Accessed 22 January, 2016]

Assignment 2: “60 Points of Pain”

The brief:

Photographing the unseen. What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? Implement your ideas, aiming for a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7-10 images. Include an introduction of around 300 words.


When I received the date for my long awaited knee replacement surgery, I immediately realized I had my subject for Assignment 2 – pain. I would be my own research guinea pig, documenting my thoughts, feelings and daily happenings during this long recovery process. Initially I thought it would easy. I would take my camera with me to hospital and document my experience there.

Once home and eventually able to sit for a short while at my computer I communicated my ideas with my tutor. I happened to mention to her that at one stage I was experiencing really weird Salvador Dali type dreams. She encouraged me to go down the dream route for my assignment. Immediately I was stumped, but I started doing some research and found a few photographers who inspired me. While I have not done any dream interpretations, I have tried to apply a dreamlike-state to my images.

While doing some research I came across an article by a medical student, Stephanie Wang Zuo, about “the notion of the resistance of physical pain to language” and she referenced Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain which she had read as part of her course. What really intrigued me was the statement by Scarry (p. 80) that “physical pain is not just language-destroying, it also destroys the objects of consciousness”. If pain is that difficult to express in language, how much more so in pictures? I realized I had to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. What I did not expect were the feelings that this assignment would invoke in me. I feel very exposed, naked and uncomfortable as these images are very personal. Scarry (p. 87) definitely had a valid point when she said “pain and injury do throw you back on yourself”. The title of my project refers to the 30 staples that closed my surgical wound.


Reaching for pain relief
Fig 01
Can't sleep
Fig 2
The ticking of the clock is like the throbbing of my leg
Fig 3
A barrier to pain
Fig 4
Pounding pain
Fig 5
Self-inflicted pain
Fig 6
Pain Shield
Fig 7
Fig 8
Captured by pain
Fig 9
60 points of pain
Fig 10

Emily Dickinson encapsulates perfectly what I am trying to convey in a poem:

Pain has an element of Blank (650)

Pain—has an Element of Blank—
It cannot recollect
When it begun—or if there were
A time when it was not—

It has no Future—but itself—
Its Infinite contain
Its Past—enlightened to perceive
New Periods—of Pain.

Below are my contact sheets for this assignment.

Contact Sheet 1
Contact Sheet 1
Contact Sheet 2
Contact Sheet 2
Contact Sheet 3
Contact Sheet 3
Contact Sheet 4
Contact Sheet 4



Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)

My equipment used for this assignment were my 18-55 mm and 18-140 mm lenses together with my Nikons D3000, D7200 and Olympus TG630. My tripod and remote shutter release were also used extensively. I have tried to keep my series of images to a muted palate, the only splashes of colour being the items supplied by medical institutions. I experimented mainly with long exposure and multiple exposure. I found it quite difficult to be my own model during multiple exposure shots, less so with the long exposures. With the exception of Fig 10, all images were done in camera.

Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)

I felt as if I was working in the dark for the most part of this assignment. I had a few new features on my new Nikon D7200 that I used quite extensively and it involved a lot of trial and error to get the images I was after. I mainly used long exposure and multiple exposure features to create the set. I put some test images up for peer review on the OCA Facebook Level 1 group and received some constructive suggestions and positive feedback: “I suffer with chronic pain, I showed these images to my wife and she said that’s you in there too, can’t commend you enough for doing this as your assignment as its a really hard thing to visualise is pain” and “I found ‘Pain relief’ & ‘self-inflicted pain’ particularly poignant. For me the dreamlike quality works on a lot of levels – the potential side effects of medication, the psychological impact of constant pain, the search for relief. At least that’s what I would relate to my experience.” This was a huge relief for me as I had been afraid that my images would not speak to anyone.

Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)

I was advised to take more risks and this is by far the most riskiest project I have ever done. I experimented until I was close to tears. I found it quite nerve wracking to be in front of the camera in such a personal capacity. Some ideas that I had didn’t see the light of day as I just could not get them to work. I had very much wanted to present an image like those of Sarah Byrne, only in a darker manner. I really struggled with this technique and was not satisfied with the results I got. So I thought that I would shelve that technique and move on with the assignment. I think I have been inventive, while at the same time staying true to my story.

Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)

In preparation for my assignment I looked at the following photographers (my details remarks can be found on their pages):

  • Oscar Gustave Rejlander – I really liked his ghostly tableaux and would like to try something along those lines when I have an opportunity to shoot more than one person.
  • Grahame Weinbren – his composite images in his Nights video blending the old/new/fictional and real together.
  • Duane Michals – his sequences series triggered my humble efforts
  • Nassim Rouchiche – an Algerian photographer’s images that really resonated with me and helped to illustrate the invisibility that I was after.
  • Pedro Meyer – Meyer came to my attention during the exercise we did on Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project. I particularly like the way he presented his work in such a personal manner, providing the narration in his own voice using still images in a video format  extremely poignant.

Due to my knee surgery, I only managed to get to one exhibition where I hobbled around the gallery on crutches. My detailed notes are on the relevant exhibition page linked below.

I did some research into Postmodernism which I’m still trying to get to grips with. While doing research for part 2, I came across an interesting documentary about Giles Penfound on Storytelling with The Art of Photography, which deals with conflict photography.  I also took a look at the video clip recommended by Russell Squires about the painter Vermeer and his use of the camera obscura in making his paintings – Vermeer’s Camera and Tim’s Vermeer. I found this to be incredibly interesting and would love to see the full documentary on this fantastical experiment.

I managed to read Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author. I find that I am becoming more accustom to Barthes’ manner of writing and he is becoming easier to understand. I also tackled Catherine Belsey’s A Very Short Introduction to Poststructuralism. I understood some of it, but a lot of it went over my head. I think it would be handy for those of us who don’t come from an art background to have a short historical overview of all the ‘-ism’ or various art movement periods with bullet points on each one’s main characteristics.

In retrospect, I have enjoyed this assignment, even though I still harbour ambivalent feelings towards it.

Reference List

Dickinson, Emily. Poem 650 (Pain – Has an Element of Blank) [online] Available from: http://genius.com/Emily-dickinson-pain-has-an-element-of-blank-650-annotated [Accessed 26 September, 2015]

Geddes, Jennifer L. On Evil, Pain, and Beauty: A Conversation with Elaine Scarry. [online] The Hedgehog Review/Summer 00. Available from: http://www.iasc-culture.org/THR/archives/Evil/2.2IScarry.pdf [Accessed 16 August, 2015]

Zuo, Stephanie Wang (2014). Poem About Pain. [online]. The Medical Student Press Blog. Available from http://www.themspress.org/blog/poem-about-pain/ [Accessed 16 August, 2015]


Smith, Elizabeth Irene. The Body in Pain: An Interview with Elaine Scarry. Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 32.2, September 2006: 223-37, University of California, Santa Cruz


So I’ve been doing a bit of research on the internet to find a good explanation of postmodernism that is relatively straight forward to understand and I came across this handy video done for the Victoria and Albert Museum.

It was quite amusing that the first artist who was interviewed stated that although postmodernism had been explained to him many times, he still didn’t understand it and thought that it very probably meant bewilderment. That definitely rang a bell with me.

What resonated with me was one of the interviewees commented that art that was made during the modernism period was structured and the artist had a truth or story to convey with a specific meaning which the reader/audience was meant to discern. Contrary to that in postmodernism the artist makes the art (whatever form it is), he/she may have a specific meaning in mind, but it is up to the reader to put their own interpretation on it based on their cultural background and experiences. Do I hear echoes from Barthes’ The Death of the Author’ here? Indeed!

In postmodernism, there are no absolutes – really anything goes. Postmodernism is the counterweight to all the movements that preceded it or the umbrella term for rethinking those movements. It is a freedom of spirit and pluralism, a release from constraints. Pandora’s box is open and everything is out there – thanks to the advent of the internet.

Reference List

Postmodernism [webcast, online] Contr. Human. Dir. Federico Urdaneta, London, UK, 2011. 12 min 42 secs.  https://vimeo.com/29949854 (accessed 11 August, 2015)