Tag Archives: Project 1: Photography art or science ?

Project 1: Exercise 2 ~ Photography, Artistic or Utilitarian?

For this exercise I had the choice to;

Flick through an old photo album – chose any photo’s that you consider to be ‘artistic’. Note what it is about these images that makes them appear more like artworks than others.


Go out and take some shots in your local neighbourhood. Take some that are purely utilitarian – to show some one elsewhere what your city centre looks like. Then take some that are more ‘arty’. What did you do differently? Show these to a family member or friend and ask them to comment. See if they also identify the ‘arty’ ones you took or if they see things differently.

I chose to do both parts of the exercise – glad for an excuse to wonder round Coventry with a camera…
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Project 1: Research point, John A.Walker’s essay ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’


John A.Walker’s essay ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’

Notes on essay:

The different contexts we see photographs in, do not change its denotation (its actual elements), the shifting context can alter our perception or understanding of the meaning (connotation) of the photograph.

Idea of a ‘third effect’ when a photograph enters into a ‘montage relationship’ with text, caption, or another image. A ‘third effect’ or different meaning can then be drawn from the juxtaposition of these things, which was not visible when viewing the photograph alone.

Need to consider the whole ‘life’ or cycle of a photograph not just it’s point of ‘birth’ or original moment of capture. He used the phrase ‘circulation/currency’ – coined by John Tagg. Circulation meaning the distribution of an image through various communication networks, social media, institutions etc. It has a particular meaning or use for each community it passes through – think Facebook blue/gold dress image. ‘currency’ referring to the idea that whilst an image circulates it has a ‘meaning, use or value for a particular community’. Can also have an ‘after life’ if reused or re-circulated or by re-appearing in art books, text books, publications.

Just as a display context alters of affects the meaning of the photograph does the photograph alter the meaning of the place it’s displayed in. His example is that by displaying a radical piece of art in  an ‘high brow art institute’, the institute itself has  de-radicalized the art piece. I can understand this theory but wonder where does he suggest the art be displayed as an alternative? And surely radical art needs to be placed in such a context in order to confront established norms?

The final notion of context explored is that of the ‘mental set’, he quotes a phrase by Ernst Gombrich, ‘the beholders stare’ which rather poetically sums this up. He continues to expand on this, saying each viewer approaches understanding the image with a mind already filled with memories, experiences, prejudices, social status etc. He counters this by also making clear the danger of falling into an ‘ideology of individualism’. That people do exist within societal structures, social classes or groups. Essentially mass media communication is effective because it draws upon that which we have in common, common desires, experiences or values. Again I have no cause to argue with these arguments!

One final point that he makes which is particularly apt today is that it ‘is problematic to judge the impact of a single image when we are exposed to a veritable flood tide of visual imagery daily’. If we bring our own experiences and upbringing with us when we ‘read’ a photograph, surely we must also bring a visual bank of memories/and imagery too. I wonder if as this ‘flood’ increases whether we will reach a point of over saturation. Then, as if nauseous from over eating  we will despise the next photo we see for reminding us our over consumption.


Project 1: Photography an art or science ~ Exercise 1

What in your view, makes photographs unique as an art form?

I think part of what makes photography unique is it’s capturing of the moment, or a moment. You can use cameras to capture and keep moments, the moment gets extended onto a physical or digital format in a printed or shared photo. Photography has the unique quality of evoking nostalgia, looking at old family photographs, even the act of trying to capture a moment feels nostalgic. Nostalgia isn’t purely unique to photography, but I think its effect is felt most strongly through photographs.

I think another factor that makes photography unique is the ability to capture things which the natural eye cannot see. For instance, if you extend the exposure time and take a photo of someone waving a sparkler you capture the movement of light or traces of it which without the photograph are invisible to the human eye. For the purpose of explaining my thought here’s an photograph which does just that:


Perhaps the most unique thing about photographs is their ability to exist in several places, a photograph can exist on film (a negative), as an actual physical printed photo, or as a digital image on a device. It can also be altered at several points in its creation, you can develop the film in different ways for different effects, you can digitally alter elements using software and you can print off images from the internet.

Does a photograph have to exist in hard copy? I guess my feelings about this depend on the use or context. I think we struggle to see an digital image or photograph as art, but once its an object in a gallery or that we can see up close we start to view it differently. I think the impact of the photo is somehow more fully realised once it’s printed as an object in its own right. But that’s not to say there’s no purpose to digital photographs.

My final thought is about the perspective a photograph gives, if directed well a camera and the subsequent photograph captured can give a window into someone’s unique view on life. Unlike a painting, a photograph can capture what a person’s eye takes interest in quite literally, although not completely.