Week 7 Activity: Aesthetic or Anaesthetic?

To represent is to aestheticise, that is, to transform. It involves a vast field of choices but it does not include not to transform, not to change or alter whatever is being represented’ (Levi Strauss, 2003: 9).
• Research and share on this forum, a particular body of work / exhibition / advertising campaign / coverage of a news event etc. which aims to convey a particular message. Ideally, this should be relevant to your own practice.
• Identify the message the work aims to promote and who you think its intended audience might be.
• Post to this forum a short critical outline of your own response to the relative success of this work in achieving its intent.
• Consider, highlight and respond to any key ideas raised by Sischy (1991) that you particularly agreed or disagreed with.
• Define and evaluate how these practitioners achieve this? (or not?)

“It is work that is sloppy with symbolism….it feels as if the artist’s work is being worshipped instead of examined.” (Sischy, 1991, p90).

In speaking about the intentions of photojournalists Sischy (1991, p91) notes how few have succeeded in calling people to action “Others have simply been naive-even deluded-about what they were doing. Still others are complicated mixtures of high aspirations and presumptions. It seems to me that Salgado is one of these.” I think I am one of the former with my project work.

Referring to Salgado’s quest for beauty and respect in his image composition Sischy (1991, p92) notes “And this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity toward the experience they reveal. To aestheticize tragedy is the fastest way to anaestheitize the feelings of those who are witnessing it. Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action.”.

In contrast Walker Evans photojournalism is “straight” and “naked” as noted by Lincoln Kirstein and quoted by Sischy (1991, p93). Perhaps like my in situ images, showing the subject as it is in its raw found state. Whereas my more creative compositions and manipulations in front of the camera and in the digital darkroom are possibly more in the style of Salgado. One example which illustrates this split approach is to be found in an image I took of a dead seagull. Either I could post this as is and perhaps upset some on instagram or I could make it into a creative image that retains the curious sight of the viewer for longer and is less likely to garner upset or angry comments from those who found the alternative distasteful. However as I do not know how it died and whether it was natural causes it may not be appropriate to post it on a site focussed on the damage to creatures from our waste.

Speaking of the challenges of using photographs to draw attention to suffering in the world Kimmelman noted:

“Photographers deal with this problem differently, but above all by struggling to make beautiful pictures: what causes any image to stick in the mind, aside from shock content, whose impact tends to be brief, are qualities like pictorial integrity and compositional originality, which are fancy terms for beauty. If your subject happens to be the dislocation of people and their suffering, then those people and that suffering become your compositional devices.” (Kimmelman, 2001).

I would suggest that both Salgado and Brandt have similarities in approach in that they take beautiful images, both with haunting qualities that remain in your consciousness, both in black and white, both to do with making the earth a better place to live on for all future generations. The differ, however, in how the images were composed and contextualised with Salgado’s images suggesting ‘this is how it was found’ and Brandt openly making available how he constructed his images and decided on the locations for them. He photographs animals whose habitats have been disappearing through the actions of mankind, transports and positions them in the transformed landscapes, to be taken as a final image for his collection Inherit the Dust.

My emotional responses to the images of both Salgado and Brandt differ when thinking about their impact in raising awareness which both photographers are reported to have intended with Genesis and Inherit the Dust. Maybe that has something to do with the plight of the subjects in the images: people (Salgado) versus animals (Brandt). Maybe is is to do with time, Salgado’s images come at a time when we are subjected to many images and films of people in very poor health in far off places and we may have become anaesthetised to such images.

Road to factory with Zebra, 2014 Nick Brandt

I think Brandt’s images are more powerful for me because they directly confront the changes that we have made to environments, many of which will have dreadful consequences for life on earth unless action is taken. While Brandt’s images are to be applauded for their compositional arrangements (e.g. such as the giraffes being juxtaposed against a background of cranes, the zebras being confronted by a train with stripes on the front and the hills lined up with those in the original images) there are interpretations possible that he might not have intended. Most, if not all, the images repeat the story of lives in poverty, possibly ad hoc/chaotic industrial and domestic building and an inability to manage waste. Thus Brandt seems to be delivering several messages which could place his venture at risk of overwhelming the viewers as there is so much to accomplish or because his ‘point’ or ‘purpose’ is missed and viewers are not tempted to ask why the work has been presented in this way.

In discussing environmental activism through photography has made me reflect not only on my work to raise awareness of debris in the sea and on beaches but also that of others who have made films about the waste problem we have across the world. Lay (2016) presents an easy to understand film about the Pacific Garbage Gyre and mentions Boyan Slat (2017) at the end as the person to clean up for us. For me this suggests that this is the only solution to the complex problem. While Slat and his Dutch company will be starting work on one gyre this year, there is much more to be done than collecting waste that has already been inappropriately discarded. Unless I have missed some information, The National Geographic 2016 film on the same topic also stops short suggesting that good farming practice is an answer to improving health and the environment. Both A Plastic Ocean and Plastic Ocean have more ‘punch’ in that they are at times shocking, films but also clearly present facts as well as potential solutions. The former being made by Plastic Oceans Foundation and endorsed by David Attenborough (Heaver, 2016). and the latter produced by the United Nations.

A Plastic Ocean, Plastic Ocean Foundation, 2016
Plastic Ocean, United Nations, 2017









What have I learned with this brief sojourn into aesthetics and impact in relation to addressing environmental issues? I am agreeing with Sischy (1991, p92). Beautiful images depicting concerns and plights have a place and can go so far with raising awareness but greater impact may be achieved with showing ‘it’ as it is and adding a visual narrative such a the contrast of background and subject in Brandt’s images and the two Plastic Ocean films. The use of text and speech in these films is more effective than either gentle or abrasive music which either minimises the problems or confronts the viewer head on in a challenging and potentially alienating way.

In relation to my work I will need to think about impact, not just for the course but also for the cause. Taking Brandt’s idea I wonder what response I would get placing huge billboards of my images of rubbish found on beaches on the beaches…?


A Plastic Ocean Official Trailer. 2 February 2016. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zrn4-FfbXw. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Brandt, Nick. Inherit the Dust. Available at: http://www.nickbrandt.com. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Brandt, Nick. 2016. Dust to dust: Animals lost in an African apocalypse – in pictures. The Guardian (5th April 2016). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/apr/05/nick-brandt-inherit-the-dust-africa. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Heaver, Stuart. 27 November 2016. Plastic Ocean: it’s a must-watch for Attenborough. Available at: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/short-reads/article/2048924/plastic-ocean-its-must-watch-attenborough. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Jordan, Chris. (2017). Albatross. Available at : http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/albatross-trailer/#trailer. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Kimmelman, Michael. July 13 2001. Photography Review; Can Suffering bBe Too Beautiful? Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/13/arts/photography-review-can-suffering-be-too-beautiful.html. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Lay, Peter. 3 April 2016. Pacific Garbage Gyre. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6kw96LjTzY. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Levi Strauss, David. 2003. Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics. New York: Aperture.

National Geographic. 16 September 2016. How We Can Keep Plastics Out of Our Oceans. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQTUWK7CM-Y. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Plastic Oceans. Available at: http://plasticoceans.org/about-film/. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Sebastiao Salgado. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebastião_Salgado. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Sischy, Ingrid. 1991. Good Intentions. The New Yorker (9th September 1991).

Slat, Boyan. 14 May 2017. Boyan Slat: How we will rid the oceans of plastic (May 2017). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=du5d5PUrH0I. [accessed 17-03-2018].

United Nations. 24 May 2017. Plastic Ocean. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ju_2NuK5O-E. [accessed 17-03-2018].


Week 7 Forum: An agent for change?

‘So accustomed to being addressed by these images, we scarcely notice their impact’ (Berger, 1972: 130). Are we really so desensitised? If so, as Ritchin (2013: 74) asks, ‘How can we, in the best circumstance, strive to make images that might even help to diminish, or avoid, a conflict in the making?’

With your peers, you should now discuss the following questions:
• Can photography provoke change?
• How might it achieve this?
• Should we censor shocking subject material?
• What is the role of aesthetics?
• Are we desensitised today?
Illustrate your discussion with visual examples to justify your points.

Aberfan disaster 1966, photographer unknown

A colleague responded to this task remembering the disaster in Aberfan when a colliery spoil tip engulfed the school killing 116 children and 28adults on 21st October 1966. I too remember Aberfan and wondering what would it be like if it happened at my school with my younger siblings there with me and being horrified at the thought. I am always concerned about things being precarious and maybe slipping such as cliff edges and although these concerns may not have been a direct consequence of my upset that this had happened to children like me and my siblings and friends, I think it did raise my awareness of being mindful of potential dangers and taught me how fragile life can be.

Another event that is etched in my mind was the massacre of children and a teacher at Dunblane on 13 March 1996. Again at a school and involving children, but this time raising my concerns for my own children when they were out of my care at school. Unfortunately not only has gun crime involving children and young adults featured with regularity in our world news since then, survivors have had to live with chasing by the media and the publication of untruths at risk of damaging them and the memories of that event (Luft, 2009). I think we are becoming anaesthetised to such events because of their frequency and our seeming inability or unwillingness to take preventative courses of action even if this upsets the political gun cart.

Yesterday’s news included a moving speech by a young person at the school in Florida where his friends have been massacred recently, rallying other young people in the world to take control and sort it out as the adults do not seem to be able to. Families from Dunblane have reached out with support to them (Ochagavia, 2018). As long as there is a willingness and a strength in joining together we can come round from the anaesthetic to bring about change. In order to be awakened we do need to see and hear the truth about what happened in order to make the right decisions.

The walk out protests on Wednesday this week by schools and colleges across the USA are showing the world as well as their government that change must come in relation to gun laws. As well as professional news footage there is a plethora of amateur footage by students and families that is being used to show how powerful this lobby has become and that it cannot be ignored any longer (Yee and Blinder, 2018). With young people highly versed in modern day technology they have found a photographic and cinematic voice to show their concerns and state their demands.

In relation to my work on my project Beauty and the Beach… I am finding through Instagram (@sarahnewtonphotography) that images I post of potentially distasteful finds on beaches (depending on your sensibilities) are not as well liked as more aesthetically pleasing images. In turn some more abstract presentations of rubbish are even more popular.

Dead Seagull Sarah Newton 2018 20 likes
Alien white plastic on the seashore Sarah Newton 2018 30 likes


Fishing lure and hooks Sarah Newton 2018 24 likes

What does this tell me? I am not sure as I do not know exactly who has been looking and liking or ignoring the images, but I am getting a sense of trend. People may access instagram for pleasure, to while away the time, to search for things of interest and perhaps do not want to be reminded of unpleasant things and thereby consciously avoid the call to action and feelings of guilt. Perhaps they are anaesthecised to such images as there are thousands available now  the awareness of the problem is reaching governments and legislative stages? Perhaps they think it is all going to be dealt with now those in power have to make decisions about our waste on land and in the sea? Maybe it is the labels that I give the images and not the images themselves that influences likes. I think I will continue to post a range of more unpleasant to abstract images as looking at the latter people may also note the former and take the concerns for the environment and ourselves on board almost subliminally.



Luft, Oliver. 16 March 2009. PCC targets Sunday Express over Dunblane allegations. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/mar/16/pcc-targets-sunday-express-over-dunblane-claims. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Ekaterina Ochagavia. 13 March 2018. A message from Dunblane to Florida school shooting survivors – video. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2018/mar/13/message-from-dunblane-to-parkland-florida-school-shooting-video. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Yee, Vivian and Blinder, Alan. 14 March 20218. National School Walkout: Thousands protest against Gun Violence Across the US. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/us/school-walkout.html. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Week 6 Activity: And when I am formulated sprawling on a pin

And I have known the eyes already, known them all,
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
And I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin?
T S Eliot (1915) The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Susan Sontag (1977: 155) accuses photography of being ‘acquisition’ and the ‘surrogate’ possession of the object. One that ‘means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge and therefore, like power’ (ibid: 4).

Post a short message that outlines your own ethical position regarding the inherent power relations involved in photographs.
• Outline the key ideas raised by Grundberg (1988) that you particularly agreed or disagreed with.
• Provide visual illustrations – including both negative and positive stereotypes.
• Evaluate how these practitioners do or do not achieve their goals.

Grunberg’s article was interesting to read. Grundberg presented the history of the publication and the journey it has taken from being “a dry, scholarly 19th century journal for geographers into a popular magazine” (Grundberg,1988). I do agree, though not having seen it myself, that the exhibition “Odyssey: The Art of Photography at National Geographic”, might have been better received (at least by Grundberg) had the images been curated to show the development of the magazine over time.

It is clear that the images are deliberately aesthetic and appealing in style and that this is the foundation on which it has expanded readership and made commercial gains over time. I have enjoyed growing up seeing the images of far flung places, peoples and creatures of the world and learning about events and dilemmas such as volcanic eruptions and near extinctions raising awareness for campaigns to save whatever it is from disappearing from earth. Indeed such images from this and other publications stimulated my interests in geography and anthropology, and my choosing to study the latter at college.

I do agree with Grundberg that constructed and staged images which do not portray the actuality of a scene or situation and therefore mislead the reader are to be deplored. I think there are degrees of misleading with an extreme being brainwashing the result of which is to totally convince others of a supposed “truth”. There is evidence that this continues to occur today. Our dynasties, empires, colonies and commonwealths of the world may change shape and size over time but there remains a core of patriotism and loyalty that drives the tenor of information fed back and recycled within that specific and unique culture. To that extent I think that all publications written and broadcast require careful consideration and reflection by the reader and viewer in order to be able to have an ‘own culture’ as well as ‘our world’ balanced understanding and respect for differences.

One example of many is to be found in the way in which Yosemeti National Park was portrayed in the 1920s and 1930s, with displays of might and power evident from the huge mountains and vistas within the images, little or no human or animal life included and widespread promotion as a place to visit being representative of white mans conquering power of this landscape. Ansel Adams made his name as a photographer with his images of Yosemite (e.g. Cain, 2017; Schama, 2018; Turnage, 2016). The indigenous populations having been cleared submissively to other locations. To that extent I agree with the statement made by Sontag (1977, p155) above and the following:

“The photographic exploration and duplication of the world fragments continuities and feeds the pieces into an interminable dossier, thereby providing possibilities of control that could not even be dreamed of under the earlier system of recording information: writing.” (Sontag, 1977, p156).

Together writing and photographs in National Geographic and other illustrated media about the world create significant power and influence over readers and viewers understanding and consequent opinions.

By coincidence with this course activity National Geographic has published its April 2018 edition focussed specifically on racism to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Susan Goldberg, Editor, said ”…It ignored non-white Americans and showed different groups as exotic or savage, propagating “every type of cliché”…”. (BBC News, 2018). She commissioned Associate Professor at the University of Virginia John Edwin Mason to examine past issues and concluded “National Geographic had served only to reinforce racist attitudes in a magazine with “tremendous authority”. He showed that until the 1970s the magazine ignored non-white Americans, only showing them as labourers or domestic staff.” (Mason, 2018, p….). Greenberg (2018) also commented on this work noting Mason’s finding that non-white people were exotic and savage. Thus Grundberg’s 1988 analysis 30 years ago of the racism and the image of white supremacy conveyed in the photographs has been vindicated. It will be interesting to see what changes are made to the specifications given to commissioned writers and photographers and what is published following the April 2018 edition.

BBC News. 13 March 20128. National Geographic: ‘Our coverage was racist’. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-43384747. [accessed 14-03-2018].

Cain, Abigail. February 17 2017. The Story Behind the Photograph That Made Ansel Adams Famous. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-photograph-made-ansel-adams-famous. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Greenfield, Patrick. 13 March 2018. National Geographic: for decades, our coverage was racist: Historian says past editions reinforced notion that non-white people were exotic and savage. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/13/national-geographic-magazine-coverage-racist . [accessed 15-03-2018].

Grundberg, Andy. 1988. Photography view: A Quintessentially American View of the World. The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1988/09/18/arts/photography-view-a-quintessentially-american-view-of-the-world.html. [accessed 14-03-2018].

National Geographic. April 2018. The Race Issue. Special Issue: Black and White. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/. [accessed 15-03-2018].

National Geographic. April 2018. How National Geographic acknowledged its racist past. The famous periodical has been delving into its own back issues – and found it was guilty of presenting race hierarchically, as well as reinforcing colonialist attitudes. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/shortcuts/2018/mar/13/how-national-geographic-acknowledged-its-racist-past. [accessed 14-03-2018]

Greenfield, Patrick. 13 March 2018. National Geographic: for decades, our coverage was racist: Historian says past editions reinforced notion that non-white people were exotic and savage. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/13/national-geographic-magazine-coverage-racist . [accessed 15-03-2018].

Schama, Simon. 15 March 2018. Ansel Adams. Civilisations: Series 1, Picturing Paradise. BBC 2 Clip. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0612xf6. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Sontag, Susan. 1977. On Photography. London: Penguin Books.

Turnage, William. 2016. Ansel Adams, Photographer.This biography was published by Oxford University Press for its American National Biography. Available at: http://anseladams.com/ansel-adams-bio/. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Week 6 Forum: Are You Drowning Yet?


Susan Sontag (1977: 174) gave the following description of photography: ‘Photography does not just simply reproduce the real, it recycles it, a key procedure of a modern society. In the form of photographic images, things and events are put to new uses, assigned new meanings’.
• Reflect on the contexts which are open to disseminate photographs today, eg, print portfolio, book, magazine, Internet, zine and gallery.
• Provide specific examples to support your comments.
• Evaluate their success or failure.
• Outline how each context might ‘assign new meanings’ to the work.
• Identify and reflect on ways in which this might inform the optimal context for viewing your own practice.

The list of possibilities for presenting photographs is endless. In addition to galleries and printed reading materials the internet has many ways of communicating including via social media. Then there are consumer products and publicity on public transport of all kinds including, on occasion, colourful advertising logos and messages in sky trails.

The history of war posters provides examples of enduring messages that are well known today. Eric Field was commissioned in 1913 to design a poster to encourage signing up to the armed forces. This was published on 5th August 1914 the day after Britain declared war on the German Empire. Lord Kitchener in his capacity as Secretary of State for War was in charge of recruitment of soldiers to fight Germany. He noticed Field’s advert and a group of ‘ad men’ were pulled together to come up with recruitment publicity. Ultimately it was Alfred Leete an illustrator with the firm Caxton who adapted Field’s concept and designed (following several versions) the more familiar Lord Kitchener wants you poster.

Alfred Leete 1914
Eric Field 1913
Committee of ‘ad men’ 2014

Copied in recruitment advertisements by many countries Leete’s design is thought not to have been the most widely used or effective during the war. Rather the one designed by the committee of ‘ad men’ is considered to have been more effective. However it remains Leete’s design that has inspired a plethora of imitations for a multitude of purposes.

A somewhat similar story seems to have occurred with designs for posters during the second world war. They were intended to boost morale and one in particular was saved to issue in the event that Germany invaded the UK. This was the well known Keep Calm and Carry On poster designed by the Ministry of Information. As Germany did not invade, thousands of copies of this poster were pulped and any remaining copies are now considered collectors items (BBC News, 2010).

Ministry of Information 1939

The Keep Calm and Carry On official and licensed store (one of many selling associated products) has many products based on the original poster from posters to iPhone cases, soft furnishings and mugs. You keep the Keep Calm text but can tailor the rest of the wording and the colours in the poster to suit yourself. So although not used in the war it has become very popular since. It’s use in more recent years appears to have coincided with the increased recognition of mental ill health and the need for people to receive wellbeing, moral boosting and empowering messages in daily life. Interestingly this resounds full circle with the original intention of this and other posters!

In my own practice I am at times torn between observing and photographing animate and inanimate things when seen and constructing situations or scenes when taking and/or processing images. I wonder which approach will serve me best. I think the former is for my personal memories to be kept to myself or shared with a few close relatives and friends and the latter is where I feel I am being encouraged to go for at least six reasons. Firstly, the MA Photography course is spurring me onto openness through experimentation. Secondly, I want to see how far my abilities in the creative sphere can go. Thirdly, I want to becomes more technically competent both in the taking and processing of images. Fourthly, I am now aware of the thousands of others who post photographs on social media of a very similar nature and style to myself. Fifthly, I would like to be able to show my work more publicly and to do this need be able to put together a collection that is worthy of such airing. Sixthly, although I may be making a small contribution through Instagram to the campaigns to clean our rivers, seas and beaches I need to see if there is a more impactful way I could contribute.

I have already experimented with having products made adorned with my images of beach debris and/or seascapes. These include jute bags, flip flops, jig-saws, cushions and canvases for the wall. So far given as gifts, I do need to see if I can source more sustainable materials and diversify the product range before moving onto marketing. One opportunity may arise later this year with a suggestion that in the next module we will be encouraged to exhibit. My exhibition could include these products as well as framed images and possibly a pamphlet or small book. What I am not necessarily seeking nor likely to get is a name for myself as a photographer with my chosen project Beauty and the Beach… (there are so many images available in this area and I feel mine are not unique). However, as with the war photographers whose names do not appear on all the products from their original designs I would be pleased if some of my images were to be used in furtherance of ‘the cause’.

Sarah Newton 2018

“What makes something interesting is that it can be seen to be like, or analogous to, something else. There is an art and there are fashions of seeing things in order to make them interesting; and to supply this art, these fashions, there is a steady recycling of the artefacts and tastes of the past.” (Sontag, 1977, p175)

BBC News. (23 March 2010). Rare WWII propaganda posters fetch £15,000 at auction. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/sussex/8583618.stm. [accessed 11-03-2018].

Keep Calm and Carry On. The Only Official and Licensed Store. Available at: http://www.keepcalmandcarryon.com/history/. [accessed 11-03-2018].

Lord Kitchener Wants You. Available at: https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Lord_Kitchener_Wants_You. [accessed 11-03-2018].

Sontag, Susan. 1977. On Photography. London: Penguin Books.

Wikipedia. 2018. Keep Calm and Carry On. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On. [accessed 11-03-2018].

Week 5 Forum: Fascinating Looks

When I look at a still image, moving film or watch a theatrical production I appear to scan the whole scene and in parallel forensically see(k) the details. I notice continuity issues and items that should not be there or if they are there how they could be better placed in the image. I recall designing room interiors at school and for a time as a young adult stage managing, (conceiving and building sets, setting lighting and sound, making costumes, placing props etc.) so I guess I have always done this. Translated into my photography composition is important either when the image is taken or if there is not time when capturing a moment, then later when processing.

Going with Gestalt in looking at the whole as well as its parts I am always keen to see if the whole is other/greater (depending on your translation of the German). I think finding one or two images after taking a series that stand out for me represents the other/greater impact the whole has on these occasions.

From a different point of view my gaze has its downsides. I may be engrossed in looking at the physical detail, signs, i.e. the ‘signifiers’ that make up the whole, and as a consequence be slow to realise or miss the ‘signified’, the meaning of the whole.

Gestalt Theory of Visual Perception. Available at: http://www.users.totalise.co.uk/~kbroom/Lectures/gestalt.htm (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. [accessed 28-02-2018].

Hugh. December 21 2009. The Rhetoric of the Image-Roland Barthes (1964). Available at: https://tracesofthereal.com/2009/12/21/the-rhetoric-of-the-image-roland-barthes-1977/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. [accessed 28-02-2018].

Week 4: So Where is the Author now?

This week we looked at advertising, where this has been successful (Dominant), where there have been unintended interpretations of messages carried in the images and by text (Oppositional) and where the advert has both meanings/interpretations possible but has till met with some success (Negotiated). In doing this we were signposted to Katherine Frith and Hong Chen’s (2006, pp191-200) stages for reading adverts (surface, intended and cultural meanings).

Vorsprung Durch Technic translates as Progress Through Technology. Little did Sir John Hegarty know that in adopting his found by accident catch phrase he would not only have found a marketing slogan that has become a trademark for Audi but also one that would “transform the image of the entire country” (Rice-Oxley, 2012, 18 September).
For me this catch phrase accompanied by images of the Audi vehicles in still and video fomats says what it is and does on the tin. The surface meaning is clear. Attention to technological development produces great cars. This is clearly the pitch Audi chose to market with and the risk paid off. Having experienced driving an Audi I am impressed with the engineering and if money permitted would gladly chose one again. In terms of cultural impact there is now a well known stereotypical understanding of Germany and Germans as synonymous with and at the forefront of technological development and able to make well engineered, efficient, reliable products for both domestic and commercial use. The timing of this slogan came at a time post second world war when Germany needed to find a way of improving international relations. This innovative addition to Audi’s advertising has made a significant contribution in that direction.

In contrast Bloomingdales made a huge error in releasing an advert in a holiday catalogue, seemingly before market testing (or not tested with a representative sample of the population). Two models wearing clothes suggestive of smart young professionals were posed such that she looked out of the image away from him and was laughing and he looked with a serious, potentially intentional expression at her with the strap line ‘Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking’. The advert was immediately read as encouraging of date rape. Blomingdales could only issue an apology as there was not way to retract the advert from an already published and distributed catalogue. In this case the advertiser buried the intended meaning with an unintended encouragement message to men to use drugs in order to rape women. The advert is culture bound in so far as both models were caucasian and is targeted marketing by virtue of using young models dressed in expensive looking ‘western style’ clothes they might aspire to. Someone with very poor judgment, out of touch with the reality of current societal concerns, must have approved this advert. As a final point, not having seen the catalogue, I am left not knowing whether the advert was for holidays, clothes or eggnog.

Originally the Andrex toilet paper advert was due to be presented with a little girl running through her home trailing a roll behind her. The puppy was introduced instead as this was thought to be less encouraging of poor and wasteful behaviour. Having endured since 1972 the advert continues to feature Labrador puppies as a brand logo. I placed this advert as negotiated because I remember when it first came out there was some reaction to wastefulness and the encouragement to engage in such behaviours as children liked the puppy and emulated what it did. Since then the puppy and Andrex have become synonymous and accepted as advertising toilet roll just as the Dulux dog became associated with paints. Interestingly both animals are light coloured and typical pets in western societies. This suggests the products were aimed at people in advantaged societies who could afford toilet rolls and to decorate their homes. In both these cases there were intended meanings, to market toilet rolls and paint, unintended meanings to use playful techniques involving trained animals (to which there could be objections from animal cruelty organisations) in ways that could be picked up and repeated by children, and then ultimately a consolidated association of product and animal such that they are synonymous in people’s minds. The revival of the Dulux dog in 2011 had the unintended effect of also reviving interest in and breeding of the old English sheepdog which was becoming endangered as a species in part attributed to the rise in popularity of handbag size dogs (Alleyne, 2013).

What have I learned from this exercise? With some familiarity with advertising (e.g. Cigarini, 2014), I have been aware of these possibilities. However I have not often thought about them in relation to my photography. I am aware that some of my images are more likeable and are received with the responses I anticipated when sharing them where as others are not as well liked as evidenced on social media. I am also aware that I filter out images that might have unintended consequences. For example, when photographing an event or street scene and finding images of children in them when I had not permission to include them or when the image might suggest something is acceptable when it is not (e.g. creative presentation of distasteful debris on beaches). However feedback from peers, tutors and others around me shows that I am not always correct in my anticipatory deselection of such ‘beautiful and intruiging’ debris images, and that my messages may still be effective through unexpected routes of presentation (Barker,2017).

Andrex. Available at: https://www.andrex.co.uk/75th-anniversary/. [accessed 02-03-2018].

Alleyne, Richard.18 Feb 2013. Power of TV – Revival of Dulux Dog adverts inspire revival in breed. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9877002/Power-of-TV-Revival-of-Dulux-Dog-adverts-inspire-revival-in-breed.html. [accessed 04-03-2018].

Barker, Mandy. 2017. Beyond Drifting. Imperfectly Known Animals. Recent and Unique Species Discovered in the Cove of Cork. United Kingdom: Overlapse.

Cigarini, Johnny. 2014. Confessions of a Kings Road Cowboy: Memoirs of a terrible name-dropper. Leicestershire: Matador.

Frith, Katherine T. & Cheng, Hong. 2006. Symbolic Meanings of Advertisements in China. In Hong Chen and Kara Chan (Eds.), Advertising and Chinese Society: Impacts and Issues. Copenhagen Business School Press: Copenhagen.

Gajanan, Mahita. 11 Nov 2015. Bloomingdale’s apologizes for apparent date rape joke in holiday catalog ad. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/nov/11/bloomingdales-apologizes-holiday-ad-date-rape-joke. [accessed 28-02-2018].

Rice-Oxley, Mark. 2012. Vorsprung durch Technik – ad slogan that changed how we saw Germany. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/18/vorsprung-durch-technik-advertising-germany. [accessed 28-02-2018].

Sweney, Mark. 2010. Audi wins seven-year battle over ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ trademark. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/jan/22/audi-vorsprung-durch-technik-trademark. [accessed 28-02-2018].

Week 3 Activity: False Indexes

Activity: “Linda Hutcheon (2003: 117) thinks that contemporary photography ‘exploits and challenges both the objective and the subjective, the technological and the creative’.
Post a response, including visual examples, discussing:
• How you balance the ‘objective and the subjective’.
• The relationship between the ‘technological’ and the ‘creative’:
◦ Is it a dichotomy or a continuum?
◦ How does viewing context influence this relationship?
◦ Whether this is important to you.”

Referring to Wall’s (Horne, 2012) description of photographers as hunters or farmers, with the former tracking and capturing prey and the latter creating images, I think I am both (Horne, 2012; O’Hagan, 2015). Not in the sense of both hunter and farmer at the same time but in the variety of genres of photography that I chose to be part of. For example, capturing wildlife, land and seascapes and items found on beaches, seizing the moment can be a paramount driver. They are unplanned, almost instantaneous and my rapid response is to catch something using a metaphorical weapon (but without harm) as it may never be seen again (at least not by me).

Splash down! Sarah Newton 2018

However, some others of these images could be accused of being both hunter and farmer in the sense that I see a land or seascape or a pieces of beach debris and take time to decide how to compose the image taking context and lighting into account.

Metal plate and spike on the seashore Sarah Newton 2018

My farmer inclinations are resonant in images I have constructed more recently in pursuit of course activities and project creations. In addition, I include here, revisiting places I have been to and imaged before with developed ideas about what else I wish to take and how I want to take and process the results.

Fishing Lure Sarah Newton 2018

To better understand how I think about the dimensions of subjectivity/objectivity and technology/creativity I created a visual representation relating the two dimensions, which I see as continuum (Hutcheon, 2003,117). Although entirely subjective I placed the main photographic genres within this diagram to see where each in my opinion would lie. Interestingly a diagonal emerged running from mid objective/technology to mid subjective/creative. Others may place the genres differently of course. In relating this to my work I would place hunter tendencies in the former quadrant and farmer in the latter quadrant, with images that have tinges of both approaches towards the centre.

Conceptual Map for the Evaluation of Photographic Images no. 2. Sarah Newton 2018     


I do have reservations about pigeon holing particular photographic practices as resonant with hunters or farmers. Placing oneself and others into categories or boxes may unnecessarily limit development that may ultimately be greater in impact (visually and/or commercially) than would be achievable by being known and perpetuating this understanding as coming from one place. If there is a need to classify (as seems to be part of the human condition to do so in making sense of our world) then I would add many more labels in a multi-layered complex network of interconnected activity.

As an exercise I have found this useful for decision making in relation to my project ‘Beauty and the Beach…’ as well as my photography more generally. I can see that the two dimensions referred to by Hutcheon (subjective/objective and technology/creativity) placed in the 2×2 diagram and interrelating with the concepts Wall proposed of hunter and farmer, provide a contextual framework from which I can move into further experimentation in the quest for a focus, style or niche in relation to my project.

Horne, Rebecca. 2012. Holly Andres, ‘Farmer’ of Photographs’ . The Wall Street Journal. (3rd February 2012). Available at: https://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2012/02/03/holly-andres-farmer-of-photographs/. [accessed 10-03-2018].

Hutcheon, Linda. 2003. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

O’Hagan, Sean. 2015. Jeff Wall: I’m haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/nov/03/jeff-wall-photography-marian-goodman-gallery-show. [accessed 10-03-2018].

Informing Contexts Week 2: A Question of Authenticity

This week we were asked to reflect on Barthes (1980:89) statement, the impact of viewing context on authenticity and representation and the relationship, if any, with our own practice.

“…in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation”. (Barthes, 1980,89)

My definitions:
Taken and made/processed by a specific person, in a particular location, of a scene and/or object/subject at or over a measurable period of time, using materials that are certified to be what their description says. There is a qualitative component to authenticity in respect of truthfulness and a quantitative component in respect of perceived value/worth, both being interrelated at times.
A depiction/visual description of a scene/object/subject that can be recognised by one or more others in some way. The term representative suggests something is an illustration or version of the type of the original and not necessarily the original itself. There is a qualitative component to representation in respect of recognisability and a quantitative component in respect of the amount of impact experienced by individual viewers.

There are degrees of authenticity and representation. For example, what is produced may partially authentic if one or more of the features is not as claimed/certified. Levels of representation may include a layer where some but not all features of the resultant product/image are recognisable.

The context for viewing the product/image can significantly influence interpretation and response. For example, invited to a gallery for the opening of an exhibition by an acclaimed artist the attendees may well expect genuine/authentic items that achieve exactly what the exhibition claims to do and for this to pay high prices.

In taking images for my project I am photographing what I find on beaches in situ, without touching or changing anything. I shoot from several angles and at times different camera settings as if forensically collecting original/authentic ‘evidence’ of where and in what state I found the object. This presumably is akin to the ‘evidential force’ and ‘testimony’ Barthes (1980,89) referred to. I then leave it, or move it to a different location to take more images, take it to a rubbish bin or take it home with the intention of doing something with it at a later time. Why do I do this? It seemed important when I set out to provide this ‘evidence’ of what can be found. With increased interest in the topic of waste I have noted on social media less interest in this ‘evidence’/authenticity of subject and location and more in the representation of the problem. Examples include huge bags of rubbish collected on beach cleans, sculptures made with the debris and collections mounted and framed illustrating specific types such as bottle tops.

I realise that I have been ‘describing’ through photographing the authentic and have also made representations which could be challenged as not authentic and perhaps untruthful (by experimenting with context, tools (bubbles and crystal ball) as well as digital processing). However a photograph can never be seen to be exactly as the image taken by the photographer and is dependent on “…a spectator to give the picture its signified meaning.” (Bate, 2016, 33). So perhaps it does not matter.

However, on reflection of course it does. Viewers want to know that something did exist and many will also be aware that staging/setting up a scene, cropping  and digitally enhancing images to serve the purpose of the message or storyline is possible an accommodate this knowledge in their responses. Their initial reactions on ‘seeing’ will most likely be to the photographer’s representation and not to the authentic image dependent on the coordinated snap of the internal workings of the camera used. Their questioning and challenging of authenticity will come second if indeed their wider knowledge and experience of the world leads them to do so.


Barthes, Roland & Howard, Richard. 2000. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage.

Bate, David. 2016. Photography (2nd Ed.). London: Bloomsbury.

Informing Contexts Week 1 Activity: Photography, Photographies

This week we were asked to consider what a photograph is through studying the viewpoints of Szarkowski, Shore and Squires with the two former being more traditionalist and the latter encouraging experimental approaches. I have found it challenging to place my own opinion in the contexts of theirs. When I think I am relating well to the classification systems proposed by Szarkowski (the thing, detail, frame, time, vantage point) and Shore (physical, depictive (flatness, frame, time, focus), mental) as I like structure and definition I reflect on my images and recent experimentation which, although not as extreme as some of Squires exhibition examples, veer towards a freeing up from traditional and perhaps more comfortable containment.

So in answer to where my views lie and where does my style of image taking fit I think it would be right to say that I am traditionalist in feeling safer abiding by conventions but have a yearning to be more experimental in order to see what creativity is waiting to emerge and how far I can go with this ‘breaking out’.

Sarah Newton 2017
Sarah Newton 2017

Two plastic bags one ‘as taken’ and one digitally processed. The former shows the problem with littering but seems boring and is like thousands of other seen in recent times The latter could be considered more artistic and might be preferable as a wall hanging or fabric design but does not give out messages such as ‘take your litter home’ or ‘ban single use plastics’ in the same way or to the same extent.

When I first looked at this activity I turned it around to first examine what my views of a photograph are and how the three aforementioned authors fitted into my conceptual system rather than seeing how my work fits into theirs. Some hours later I now have a working grid (my liking of structure and neat containment) and have placed their view into my squares! Several points have emerged:
1. Szarkowski and Shore are primarily focussed on the photographer’s intention to take the perspective of recipient/viewer when taking photographs to be viewed whereas Squires appears to place emphasis on the photographers inclinations and intentions and need to express themselves whether or not this accords with engaging viewers.
2. Szarkowski and Shore seem to focus on two senses, vision and emotion. In my conceptualisation I include all the senses as important in a photograph. An image can invoke experiences relation to seeing, hearing, taste, touch and feeling/emotion. Some experiences may be bound by the capability of our imaginations and will have been shaped by genetics and lived experiences, hence minimal or no effect for some viewers and intense experiences for others in relation to the same stimulus. Sensual experiences are for me also heightened according the way in which the image is presented. For example, in Unseen Amsterdam 2017 I was drawn to and intrigued by forest landscapes stretched over shaped blocks of wood (Sylvie Bonnot, 2017), the puzzling wooden images of Theis Wendt (2017) and the sculptured landscape portrayals of Michel Le Belhomme (2017).

Sylvie Bonnot 2017
Theis Wendt 2017
Michel Le Belhomme 2017

3. Squires promotes the potential inclusion of more senses (sounds and touch as well as vision and emotion) as well as evidencing the position of the photographer showing something of their memory/lived experiences, their drive to give pleasure, to challenge the status quo, to tell a truth, improve skills/creativity, freeze a moment of personal/potential shared significance and secure and actualise commercial gain.
4. Light and colour, particularly in relation to actualising and enhancing the sensory experience when viewing an image/creation are important to me. Squires opinions are perhaps most likely to accord with mine in this respect.
Shore postulates about the ways in which technological advancements have enabled frozen and stilled moments in time, this being more in accord with Squires frozen moments than Szarkowski’s visual climax.
5. Time is the feature that binds all three viewpoints and mine. Placed on a time-line there is development synchronous with technological advances and social evolution. For me this is akin to developments in the art world where traditional ways of painting and sculpting diversified over time. The ‘old’ ways are still relevant and not negated by the more extreme or recent productions and I think this is true for the continuing experimentation, growth and diversification in photography.

This is a reflective work in progress and I can ‘see’ that I will have these various and overlapping translations of what is a photograph in mind as well as continuing to have urges to with increasing confidence challenge conventions when out and about taking images.

Bonnot, Sylvie. 2017. Mues. Available at: http://www.gupmagazine.com/portfolios/sylvie-bonnot/mues. [accessed 11-02-2018].

Le Belhomme, Michel. 2017. Les deux labyrinthes series, 2014-17. Available at: https://unseenamsterdam.com/photographers/michel-le-belhomme. [accessed 11-02-2017].

Shore, Stephen. 1998. The Nature of Photographs. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Squires, Carol (ed.). 2014. What is a Photograph? New York, International Centre of Photography.

Szarkowski, John. 1966. The Photographers Eye. New York, Museum of Modern Art.

Wendt, Theis. 2017. Cinnnamon. Available at: http://cxysjx.cn.www.unseenamsterdam.com/photographers/theis-wendt. [accessed 11-02-2017].