Category Archives: Project 2:Narrative

Exercise : Mraz on Salgado

‘Sebastiao Salgado : Ways of seeing Latin America’ (2002) John Mraz

Read Mraz’s essay in full.

Research the work by Salgado to which Mraz refers.

Sebastiao Salgado b1944 Brazil

Prior to becoming a full-time photographer Salgado was a Paris educated economist who moved to London to work for the International Coffee Organisation . His work required him to make frequent trips to Africa and as he became more involved with photography he made the decision to move back to Paris to work as a freelance photographer covering news events. However “ during an extended stay in an Ethiopian refugee camp Salgado lost faith with news reporting as he witnessed , first hand , the way the numerous camera crews came and went in a matter of hours” (Dickie , 2009 , pg. 54). Making the decision to commit “to self-initiated in-depth documentary projects” (Dickie , 2009 , pg. 54) he joined photo agencies Sygma , Gamma , and finally the Magnum agency in 1979 . Leaving Magnum in 1994 he formed his own charitable agency Amazonas Images.

Working exclusively in black and white “Salgado rejects the use of colour film , calling it a distraction” . He “has been chastised for neglecting to record local struggles” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 426) however “his intention has always to disclose the sufferings of the dispossessed or those without resources” (Jeffrey , 1997 , pg. 397) . His work has featured in magazines , books and exhibitions and despite the sombre scenes his photographs are “elegant poems of composition and luminosity” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 426) .

Other Americas
Other Americas took seven years to complete between 1977-1984 . Salgado travelled across Brazil , Chile , Bolivia , Peru , Ecuador , Mexico , Guatemala , people united by culture not nationality . The inhabitants in their rural settings seem insular and isolated and Mraz notes that “all is sadness , misery and doom” additionally “the urban workers and their families that live and labour in the metropolises -and which today constitute the majority of the population – are absent” (Mraz , 2002 , pg.2 ) . Mraz finds the images mysterious and difficult to understand without any additional contextual information accompanying them, “the most immediate and important connotation is that these problems are natural to Latin Americans , rooted in their most traditional forms of being” (Mraz , 2002 , p.g 17) . Salgado understands the psyche of his fellow Latin Americans , their mystical beliefs , something I feel is evident in the images. However I find the images ambiguous and am unsure how to fully interpret them so can understand Mraz’s viewpoint but that does not prevent me from finding them poignant and strangely beautiful.

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Terra: Struggle of the Landless
Previously published images along with newer shots taken all between 1980-1996 form a narrative about the plight of the Brazilian poor.The photographs are presented with an introduction by writer Jose Saramango and accompanied by poems written by Brazilian composer Chico Buarque de Hollanda. Along with the “extensive captions published at the end of the book” (Mraz , 2002 , pg. 10) this body of work is not equivocal and Salgado’s intent is made perfectly clear. Salgado’s images “ revealed to the world this inferno of the twentieth century , the hopelessness, brutality and poverty in which people were forced to work to survive” (Stepan , 2005 , p.g 186). The images showing the workers at the Serra Pelada Goldmine reduce the men to hundreds of tiny figures toiling in columns , an almost unrecognisable mass of humanity “like souls trying to climb out of purgatory” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 426). Using religious iconography another image “calls up a memory of the Crucifixion” (Jeffrey,1997 pg. 397).

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A colossal project Salgado spent seven years photographing the mass migration of over 35 countries. During the past century huge numbers of people have become displaced due to war , massive population growth , environmental issues , and an ever increasing gap between the wealthy and poor. Salgado recognises their plight as they strive to find a better life and recognises “their dignity that nevertheless remains intact through all misfortune” (Stepan , 2005 , p.g 186). His photography gives the displaced a ‘voice’ with which to reach the outside world.

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References /Bibliography

Dickie Chris , (2009) . Photography The 50 most influential photographers in the world, A & C Black , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1997 ) .The Photo Book , Phaidon Press , London , UK

‘Sebastiao Salgado : Ways of seeing Latin America’ (2002) John Mraz .Third Text, Vol. 16, Issue 1, 2002, 15-30

Stepan Peter (ed) , (2005). Icons of Photography The 20th Century , Prestel , London , UK

Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK
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Part 2: Exercise Robert Frank

Research the body of work The Americans by Robert Frank.

Part 1.

Find five images in The Americans where symbols are used. Explain what they are and how they function in the images.

Robert Frank, b1924 Zurich , Switzerland.

Moving to the USA in 1947 Frank , as an outsider , “was uncomfortable with the American lifestyle and this would be reflected in his work” ( Dickie , p.g 108 2009) . Frank saw loneliness , racism , alienation  ‘ The American Dream’ a mere myth.

Obtaining a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1955 he travelled across the States taking over 28,00 photographs of the communities he visited .He recorded “the mythical America of The Flag , the Fourth of July , political parades , barber shops , ranches , coffee shops , interstate highways and the South” (Jeffrey , 1981, pg. 206). However the resulting images were “described variously as ‘sinister’ , ‘perverse’ anti ‘anti-American’ ” (Dickie , p.g 108 2009) . Unable to find an American publisher the book , consisting of 83 photographs , was initially published in 1958 as Les Americains in Paris then as The Americans in the US the following year.

Regardless of an introduction by Jack Kerouac it was not initially “well received because of  Frank’s unconventional technique” ( Dickie , 2009 , pg. 108 ). His images , which were sometimes cropped , depicted “ a soul-damaged population , fluctuating between violence , ignorance , and despair ”(Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 344) . Furthermore the high contrast  prints were frequently “ gritty , tilted , and blurred ”  (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 344). Throughout the series traditional symbols of American culture, cowboys, flags , diners , automobiles , jukeboxes ,  are re-defined depicting Frank’s “ bleak alienated vision” (Badger , 2007 , pg. 121) .

However the sequenced images were innovative and  “despite initially poor sales , Kerouac’s involvement helped the book reach a wide audience and it went on to inspire later generations of photographers” ( Dickie , 2009 , pg. 108) . The book consists of four sections , “each part starting with a photograph featuring a flag” (Short, 2011, pg. 126) .



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Two women watch a parade as it passes by but both are partial hidden from view. The Stars and Stripes of the American flag dissects the frame diagonally along the top hiding the face of one of the on-lookers. The other woman is in shadows , her face barely visible. I should imagine they are in apartments that overlook the street , perhaps high up. The American national flag is one of its most immediately recognised symbols of patriotism , but the women are cut off from society physically and metaphorically  by the framing of the image. The American flag effectively excludes the woman hidden behind it who remains faceless , isolated,  and unknown .



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The image shows a public trolley bus occupied by American citizens taken at a time of racial segregation and hierarchy. The African-Americans , made to sit at the back of the bus , were denied the freedom enjoyed by the white population. The front passenger , a woman ,  and the young boy behind her look rather supercilious , whilst the gentleman at the back has a wistful expression, each alone with their own thoughts as they stare towards the observer. Equality was not a right for all US inhabitants and Frank’s image highlights the inherent racism of the time.



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A man shelters under what appears to be the American flag , an old car is dumped in the overgrown and neglected backyard.The image is paradoxically chaotic and static at the same time , this man is going nowhere: he is trapped in a wilderness with no means of escape. The broken-down car and drooping flag signify the hopelessness Frank witnessed on his travels across the States.



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A huge outdoor screen allows movie-goers the freedom to watch movies alone , without the effort of  leaving their vehicle . The car becomes a symbol of isolation , each inhabitant remote and insular.



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Seated in an American diner the male customers have rather brusque expressions as they await their food and drink. Rather than a communal occasion with family and friends the diner is seen as a place of solitariness and division.

Part 2.
Read the introduction to the Americans by Jack Kerouac.
Find symbolic references that you can identify in Robert Frank’s
photographs-not necessarily the five images chosen for the first part of this

Anybody doesnt like these pitchers dont like potry, see? Anybody dont like potry
go home see Television shots of big hatted cowboys being tolerated by horses”
Jack Kerouac 1959.

Coffins , cemeteries , jukeboxes , cars , highways ,
cowboys , elevators , are all referenced by Kerouac in the introduction. The
prose both describes and alludes to the metaphorical
meaning of Frank’s work.

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“The loneliest picture ever made , the urinals women never see , the shoeshine going on in sad eternity” Jack Kerouac

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The sweet little white baby in the black nurse’s arms both of them bemused in Heaven , a picture that should have been blown up and hung in the street of Little Rock showing love under the sky and in the womb of the universe the Mother” Jack Kerouac.

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After seeing these pictures you end up finally not knowing if a jukebox is sadder than a coffin” Jack Kerouac.

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Little ole elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of demons” Jack Kerouac.

References / Bibliography
Badger , Gerry , ( 2007) . The Genius of Photography  How photography has changed our lives , Quadrille , London , UK.
Dickie Chris , (2009) . Photography The 50 most influential photographers in the world, A & C Black , London , UK
Jeffrey Ian , (1981) . Photography A Concise History , Thames & Hudson , London , UK
Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK
Short , M. (2011) Creative Photography:Context and Narrative. Lausanne : Ava Publishing.
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Research Point : Semiotics

The study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.

Do your own research into semiotics and how it can be applied to the reading of photographic images. Start by reading Chapters 4 (Narrative) and 5 (Signs and Symbols) in Short , M. (2011) Creative Photography:Context and Narrative. Lausanne : Ava Publishing.

Signs can be words , images , sounds and smells , signs signify and represent something.  

A photograph is a sign and narrative techniques can contribute to the overall meaning , its meaning is not fixed and can have multiple interpretations. Cultural and personal experiences will influence how an image is interpreted.

Narrative techniques– points to consider.
1. A photographic narrative can be presented as a sequential or a non-linear set of images.
2. Can be fictional
3. A narrative can be presented as a stand alone image or as a body of work.
4. Consider how the images will be seen. A set of single images that provide a narrative and work on their own could , if visually consistent , “take on greater relevance when presented together” (Short, 2011, pg. 102).
5. Observe, think , study , consider context / light / composition / camera settings. Even weather conditions can be symbolic. A black and white silver gelatin image by Mauricio Valenzuela caught my eye last year at the International Centre of Photography, New York. The city , shrouded in fog , made metaphorical use of the weather to imply how the dictatorship of Pinochet permeated Chilean society.

Reading a photograph.
Denotation:What the image factually shows, it literal meaning. Look at all the elements within the frame-consider the facts—then start to deduce.
Connotation: What it tells us , implies and infers, may suggest a meaning, the underlying meaning.
Text can say a lot , it offers and also suggests information , but the meaning may be read in differing ways.
Choice of font can be important and is also a sign.
Analyse the context and ideology of any signs and symbols.

Semiotic Models 

The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure defines a sign as consisting of 2 parts and must include both to be considered a sign.
The 2 part model (dyadic) consists of:
The Signifier——the form it takes
The Signified —-the concept it represents / the abstract meaning / the idea

The philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce defines a sign as consisting of 3 parts.
The 3 part model (triadic) model consists of:
The Representamen—the form it takes
The Interpretant—the sense made of the sign
The Object—which the sign refers to

Roland Barthes
The Studium—the general interest in a photograph , what it shows.
The Punctum—something within the image that transfixes , a personal response , an “ element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow , and pierces me” ( Barthes ,2000 , p.g 26 ) .

Symbols represent something else , used as a signifier they differ from the signified, such as national flags and road signs. They are learnt , may be specific to a particular culture , even change over time.
I understand these symbols .

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But not these.
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Both the signifier and signified are similar and recognisable , for example cartoons or portraits.
I took the photo of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen Gold Marilyn Monroe ( see below ) with my iPhone last year whilst at the MoMA , New York. After Monroe’s death Warhol “based many works on the same photograph of her “(Schoenholz , B. Heliczer , C . McFadden , S. 2013p.g 211).” As the surround for a face , the golden field in Gold Marilyn Monroe —recalls the religious icons of Christian art history” (Schoenholz , B. Heliczer , C . McFadden , S. 2013p.g 211). Marilyn was usually perceived as a sex symbol yet Warhol’s working method “reveals her public image as a carefully structured illusion” ( Schoenholz , B. Heliczer , C . McFadden , S. 2013 p.g 211)
Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 13.55.38Gold Marilyn Monroe ,1962. Andy Warhol.
An indexical signifier is not random and can be explicitly linked to the signified.
This link can be implied or seen , for example footprints indicating footsteps, smoke indicating fire. Indexicality is especially important in photography because a photograph is believed to contain “notions of truth and reality that arise simply because of the chosen medium itself , regardless of its function and intention” (Short, 2011, pg. 124).
Bibliography / References


Barthes ,R. (2000) Camera Lucinda Reflections on Photography. London:Vintage

Schoenholz , B. Heliczer , C . McFadden , S. (ed). (2013) MomA Highlights 350 Works from The Museum of Modern Art . Third revised ed , New York: The Museum of Modern Art

Short , M. (2011) Creative Photography:Context and Narrative. Lausanne : Ava Publishing.
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Exercise (part 2:  Martin Shields  photograph of two young footballers ) 

Download from the OCA student site the tear sheet of the newspaper in which the Shields photograph was originally published.

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Read the accompanying text and answer the following:

Does the text relate to your initial deconstruction of the image? If so , how?
Does the text change your perception of the image? If so, how?

Glasgow council tenants voted for the transfer of council homes to a housing association , with the promise of new homes and a regeneration of the derelict areas.  The vote was close with 42% voting to  remain with the local authority.

I find it strange that the image accompanies an article about the sale of council housing to a housing association , voted for by the council tenants. Nothing to do with football , friendship or otherwise , not something I would have guessed by simply looking at the photograph.

I noted that the area was run down and derelict , but this is the only visual clue I picked up on.

The text enhances my understanding but I am not too sure just what the two young footballers represent.


Analyse Martin Shield’s photograph of two young footballers . What are the denotations and connotations of this image?

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Connotation: What it tells us , implies and infers, may suggest a meaning . Cultural and personal experience will influence how an image is interpreted.

Denotation:What the image factually shows.


Two boys aged about 10 or 11.

Each in a different football kit and both carrying a football. I have no idea what team they support , if I had some knowledge of football I would be able to possibly tell from the image the area this is.

I should imagine they are on their way to a game as they still look very clean!

A run-down neighbourhood with what looks like some derelict buildings in the background.

The whole area looks very neglected.

No other adults or children visible.

They have opposing kit on they must be really good friends or even brothers perhaps.

I wonder where they will play football , the area certainly does not look like there is dedicated pitch for them to play on. I imagine them playing with make-shift goalposts in a derelict area.

Where have they come from and how safe are they in this area.