Category Archives: Part 4

Project 2 Reading pictures – Research Point Diane Arbus

Visit for a blog about Jeff Wall’s, Insomnia (1994), interpreted using some of the tools discussed above.

I read through the blog on the OCA site by Sharon which helped to give a clear example of de-constructing an image with good explanations of denotation and connotation. It was also funny as I referenced that photograph by Jeff Wall in my second assignment! Linking this back to the coursework I would summarise denotation as the meat and bones, the  facts. The connotation I could summarise as the personal taste. A bad analogy as I’m a vegetarian but I think you get the point? Maybe cheese would be a better analogy?

Denotation = the facts

Connotation = mine or the authors subjective interpretation of the above (the facts)

Read and reflect upon the chapter on Diane Arbus in Singular Images: Essays on
Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth (2005, London: Tate Publishing). This is out of print but you may be able to find it in your local university library: some of the chapters are available as pdfs online. You’ll find the Arbus chapter on the student website.

See below.

If you haven’t yet read any of Judith Williamson’s ‘Advertising’ articles (see Introduction), now would be a good time to do so.


Yes, I have already read these at the start of the unit.

Diane Arbus  'A Young Brooklyn Family going for a Sunday Outing NYC' 1966

**Diane Arbus ‘A Young Brooklyn Family going for a Sunday Outing NYC’ 1966

Having read through the chapter on Diane Arbus in ‘Singular Images: Essays on
Remarkable Photographs’ by Sophie Howarth and with reflection on this section of the unit I can see how the essay by Liz Jobey works to de-construct the image using questioning, facts, historical placement and context, denotation and subjective connotation.

To crudely and briefly breakdown the essay I would say the following:

  • Jobey starts by setting the scene in her essay by posing some questions
  • Going on to describe what she sees (denotation) within the image
  • Before applying some interpretation (connotation) to what she is seeing,
  • Then back to denotation again.
  • The essay then turns to placing the photograph within its historical, social and political context in America.
  • Before pulling information from multiple sources to provide background and an objective viewpoint referencing Susan Sontag and John Szarkowski
  • Then bringing together the concluding thoughts in the last para.

There were a couple of points where I felt a personal subjective point of view was coming across in the essay as if her point of view was absolute but overall I felt the essay was very well balanced with information and points of view pulled from a variety of sources. It was very helpful to read the essay.

When I first saw the image by Diane Arbus the immediate thing that struck me was that the father (Richard Dauria) is the only one in the photograph directly looking at me (the observer/the spectator); the mother Marylin, and the children Richard Jnr and baby Dawn are all looking in totally different directions. So my eye is drawn like an arrow straight to the target of the fathers eye and his face. His hair is a scruffy wave a bit like my own when it gets a bit longer. Then I notice is hands, he has the hands of a working man, I observe his coat is slightly frayed and half of his collar is up. From his hands I am then drawn into the father son connection, then back to the sense of protection in the fathers face. The child Richard Jnr, to me, seems happy in the moment, safe in the security of his father.

It is only after this initial engagement that I am then drawn to the mother Marylin, which I find interesting compositionally as I would traditionally read right to left, it feels off, edgy and untraditional but I like it.  I notice the mother has really, really big hair (!) a style of the 1960’s along with the fur jacket. She is good looking. She seems fed up or not interested in the photographer, she has a 1000 yard stare.  I see she is holding the baby Dawn. Looking at the image you could draw a line straight down the centre of the image and they could be two completely different images within their own right, if you cover up one half of the image vertically you can see this. I have very little sense of place except for the title of the image (perhaps the exact reason for the title?).

This was a worthwhile exercise to carry out prior to the written assignment for part four. I have also taken the time to re-read Camera Lucida again by Roland Barthes along with the relevant chapter in Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange.

I have also enjoyed discovering the work of Diane Arbus, I like her unconventional and slightly rebellious style. I think some times the composition could be better but she had a real way for capturing the off guarded essence of people.  I do agree in a way with some of the points highlighted in the essay by Susan Sontag about whether the people captured in the images are shown in their best light. Did Diane Arbus use the ‘freak’ avenue as a way to further progress her own career, are these accurate labels to associate with the people she photographed? Maybe she just shined a light, gave a voice to the forgotten elements of society and its for society to decide what to do with that information? Is it really the role of the photographer/artist to come up with all of the conclusions? I think I may be battling the answer to that one for a couple of years!



Project 2 Reading pictures

Rip out an advertising image from a newspaper supplement and circle and write on
as many parts of the image as you can. Comment on what it is, what it says about
the product and why you think it’s there. You could use this as the basis for your
assignment if you feel it’s taking you somewhere interesting. Or you could adopt this method for your assignment preparation.

Come back to this exercise when you’ve reached the end of Part Four and see if you
can add anything to your analysis.

I selected this image by Cuprinol taken from the back of S Magazine from the Sunday Express June 18, 2017:


Cuprinol Advert taken from the back of S Magazine from the Sunday Express June 18, 2017

Below is the image with some of my observations:


Cuprinol Advert taken from the back of S Magazine from the Sunday Express June 18, 2017. With my observations

I chose an advert for Cuprinol shed/fence paint that a lot of us use here in the UK. The image originally caught my eye because of the image of the blue tit bird in the top right of the image. At first glance I didn’t even realise it was an advert, let alone an advert for fence paint, I guess this could be called the hook that draws you into to keep looking at the image. My eyes then moved down the image to see the summer house below set in a nice sunny garden. I then noticed how the colours of the bird and shed matched; blue, white and yellow.

The image is creating a lifestyle, the toys in the garden, the relaxing chair, garden gnome, the nicely looked after garden. If you buy this product your life could be easier, you could relax on that comfy chair and enjoy your garden. It wasn’t until after I had viewed the image that I saw the pot of Cuprinol paint at the bottom left of the advert, then I saw the writing next to the pot of paint, I then related the words back to the image itself. So the advert has worked by drawing me from the top of the image all the way down to the bottom of the image to sell me the product. It uses a high viewpoint, as if viewed through the eyes of a bird, either that or its a giant mutant blue tit!

The advert and the image says that this product will ‘protect your garden wood’ so you can kick back and enjoy your garden for the next ‘6 years’. I did think the whole 6 years claim of the the advert was interesting, why 6 years? It seems like an odd number and quite precise, why not 5 years or 10 years? I wonder if the competitors provide 5 years of protection so they felt the need to say it protects for 6 years, a selling point. I wonder how the claim lives up to the reality of the product.

Overall I think its quite a convincing advert.


  • Cuprinol advert taken from the back of S Magazine from the Sunday Express June 18, 2017. Image reused for educational purposes. 

Project 1 The language of photography

Before you read any further, look carefully at Erwitt’s image and write some notes
about how the subject matter is placed within the frame. How has Erwitt structured
this image? What do you think the image is ‘saying’? How does the structure
contribute to this meaning?

Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974. Copyright Elliott Erwitt

**Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974. Copyright Elliott Erwitt

The subject matter is placed centrally within the frame of the image with a low viewpoint, suggesting the photographer was either crouched at the height of the little dog or that the original image was larger and has been cropped. There are 3 subjects within the frame but we only see the face of the small dog, which gives visual weight to this particular subject; its importance is more significant. 3 is kind of a magic number in photography, a so called ‘rule of odds’; 1, 3, 5, 7. It is more visually pleasing to the eye.

All of the subjects are placed in the bottom third of the image with the small dog sitting perfectly on the bottom right hand side following the ‘rule of thirds’ or earlier known as ‘the golden section’. So if you were to draw the rule of thirds over the image, the image would sit snugly into the three distinct sections. The visual weight of the image is in the central third of the image.

On first glance at the image I assumed it was 2 people and a little dog but on closer inspection you I noticed it was a dog and I assumed that the 2nd larger dog may be on 2 legs. My final thought is that the larger dog is only partly in the frame with the front legs in the image and the rear legs off to the left of the image, as you are looking at it.

The image did make me laugh the first time I saw it, what’s with the little hat on the dog as well?! Its funny and a bit daft! I was then drawn to the significance of this little dog as the main character within the frame. We can’t see the face or body of the owner (assumed through the lead on the dog leading out of the frame) or the other larger dog. If they had been included within the frame the smaller dog would not have played the staring role in this image but as it stand it does. It is essentially, physically,  the smallest subject but the framing and composition of the image makes it the most important part.

John Berger makes some interesting observations about our fascination with looking at animals in his book ‘Ways of Looking‘ which I feel are relevant:

‘With their parallel lives, animals offer man a companionship which is different from any offered by human exchange. Different because it is a companionship offered to the loneliness of man as a species.’  (Chapter 1 ‘Why look at animals?’ from Ways of Looking’)

On viewing the picture of the dog we would like to assume what the dog is thinking, ‘did she really drag me out of the house wearing this ridiculous hat?’ but we can only assume to know. The owner has almost tried to humanise the dog by dressing it up in clothing but it’s essentially an animal and we can’t ever know what its thinking.


**Featured image: Elliot Erwitt New York 1974


Can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication?

In the course book we are asked ‘Can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication? Blog about them.’

Off the top of my head I couldn’t think of any examples where photography isn’t used as a means of expression or communication, this feels like fundamental elements of picture making.

A poorly thought out photograph doesn’t express or communicate effectively what it intended, it may communicate something else entirely.  The photograph may also be affected by how I interpret or read the image as an individual. I have experienced already through my studies how the same image can have a different impact on different people. John Berger touches on the role of the observer in photography and art in his book ‘About Looking’ and the impact of different upbringings etc. on how you view the world.

I guess I could argue to some extent that the photograph on my driving licence or my ID for work is not really an expression, yet it is a means of communicating my identity, visual information about my face but this all has guidelines stipulated by the government or my place of work. A photograph used as a document, for example medical/scientific photography used in a Hospital, evidence for a court case or CCTV imagery.  Stephen Bull touches on this in his book Photography in chapter 6 ‘The Photograph as Document’:

‘Whereas the range of profile pictures on social networking sites have no official guidelines for them and vary widely in their style, the look of such government-controlled photographs is strictly regulated and demands that the front of the subjects head and face are fully revealed to the camera.’ 

When I bought my new camera last year I took countless shots trying to work out how to use the bloody thing. These were neither a means of expression or communication but a way for me to work out how it worked, similar to when I first picked up a camera I took loads of test shots, I still take test shots. I recently got a Polaroid camera, I’m still working on getting it right, my first 8 photographs were test shots. So technical experimentation in photography could be classed as neither expression or communication, similar to the processes the pioneers of photography must have gone through i.e. Henry Fox Talbot or Louis Daguerre.


  • Berger, J, 2009. About Looking. UK ed.. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
  • Bull, S, 2010. Photography (Routledge Introductions to Media and Communications). Routledge.