Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979-Study Visit

Tate Britain-20th August 2016

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I’m not a great user of social media and as a result I tend to try and get to as many  study visits as time and resources permit as a way to counter the potential isolation of distance learning. I really like the interaction of these events an the opportunity to get a tutors take on a show. I have, since completing my first course with the OCA (C&N is my second module)  started to look at events beyond my normal areas of interest, to push my own boundaries and it was very much in this light that I signed up for Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979. I knew this show would take me out of my comfort zone and my motives for my journey with the OCA have very much been about doing things that can be hard and not taking a line of least resistance.

This show really tested my resolve in a number of ways but proved to be, from my perspective, a really valuable and enjoyable learning experience.

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The odds were stacked against me enjoying the event though and I need to set out why. Laura Cumming’s review of the show from the Guardian, circulated in advance of the event,

did little sell it as a worth while visit and her comments such as:

“But this is generally an art that isn’t too interested in appearances. Much of this show consists of texts in hideous typefaces, black-and-white photographs and photocopies. Art & Language, a terminally glum collective, cover the walls with their pensées on the US critic Clement Greenberg and their theories on the condition of art.”

didn’t exactly inspire a sense of a worthwhile use of time, not least the nearly 300 mile round trip involve in the visit.

The review in full really didn’t instill a sense of an interesting and well curated collection of work.

And with a summary statement like:

“Much of this show, it’s true, is excruciatingly dull.”

didn’t fill me with a sense of an engaging gallery of art work. To add to this I was really feeling quite poorly. I left my home in rural Norfolk feeling OK but as my train approached London I felt decidedly unusual and as I got off the tube at Pimlico I was feeling quite ill (apologies to other students if I seemed somewhat distant, I was putting on a brave face). I subsequently discovered that I had food poisoning from a meal the day before and while I kept up a stoic front  and made an effort around the gallery, my family had taken the better option and were all sick in bed at home from the same offending foodstuff!

So the odds were stacked against this being and engaging event. In spite of my malady and Cumming’s harsh and in my view inaccurate take on the show, I really got a lot from the study visit and really enjoyed the experience even if I misinterpreted some of the work. I use the term misinterpreted quite deliberately because I found some of the work visually beautiful, and by the end of the visit, I recognised this was not the artists intention. But, reflecting on the Barthes idea of the Death of the Author, I reserve the right to draw something g different from a work than the artists intent!.

I am also  very grateful to Robert Enoch for his excellent marshalling of the visit, I have attended another visit led by Robert and he creates and great balance between providing tutorial guidance, which offers insight and opportunities for reflection whilst  liberally firing off challenging questions to his charges! Like the previous visit led  by Robert that I attended he really adds value to the experience through his knowledge and through the excellent critical  questions he poses. I would not have reached the conclusions I did about this work and the artist that contributed to it with out his insightful and encouraging oversight of the visit.

So, the show? Well I have drafted  and redrafted my thoughts several times since the visit and I have also looked at some texts about conceptual art. I also spent some time reading excerpts of Art and Language, although some were hard to find, fragments spread accrues the internet, some of it was surpassingly accessible. May be I read the easy bits but the Art and Language approach of rich description as the essence of a work provided me with insights in to the ideas behind conceptual art. I  am still undecided how I feel about this as a school or movement in art but whether I like it or critique it, I want to understand it. The notion of discourse recreating or redrafting what we define as art I found intellectually challenging and stimulating. Given the dominance of art as a thing, a painting, photograph or culture, or art as ‘artefact’, i was intrigued at the idea of a concept or idea being the art. i am not sure this is the right interpretaionof Art and Language group, or indeed of conceptual art, but if nothing else, the visit has given me hours of thinking and pondering!

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There was so much to take in throughout the whole exhibition, I don’t feel I can do justice to it and as mentioned already, it was far more the thought processes this visit generated than any specific artist that is what i took from the event. That said there are some works I need to make reference to.

Roelof Louw’s: Soul City, the remnants of the  Pyramid of Oranges confronted us as we entered the first gallery. Except it was no longer a pyramid, more a small and apparently random pile of oranges. Reading about it and discussing it with other students I had a eureka moment! I suddenly  got the principles, all be it t a rudimentary level of Conceptual art. Whether I like it or not is less important than feeling I understand it. On entering the  gallery I had discussed with two other students the fact the pyramid would only have been visible to the public in the moment the gallery first opened. As soon as the first visitors entered the gallery on the exhibitions opening day, the pyramid would have  ceased to be and although it was progressively depleted as people, encouraged by the artist, took oranges from the pile. To me the art work wasn’t the artefact of the pyramid, but rather the concept the artist created. Whether or not the pyramid of oranges was there was not actually significant. The process of taking and reduction was important though and that is what I  was observing or seeing

Keith Arnatt’s ‘Wall of Art as an Act of Retraction’ demonstrated  perhaps how conceptual artists use photography as a tool to say something beyond the artefact of the images. The 11 photographs in the sequence shows Arnatt eating his words , literally! The sequence is strangely mesmerising.

Art as an Act of Retraction 1971 Keith Arnatt 1930-2008 Transferred from Tate Archive 2010

Art as an Act of Retraction 1971

As is John Hilliards , ‘Camera Recording its own condition was for me a visually beautiful rectilinear montage that although aimed at provoking thought about time, light  and photography as a medium, I simply found it  aesthetically marvellous. There is a diagonal of correct exposure that runs across the work and the opposite cornes record perogressive under and over exposure. The work is both thought provoking and beautiful.

Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors) 1971 John Hilliard born 1945 Presented by Colin St John Wilson 1980

Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors) 1971

Ed Herring’s ‘Proposition’ was similarly strangely engaging, 400 postcards in a very 1960’s card index left me asking question about intent, but also what was contained out of site on the postcards? The work was the product of the artists giving out and collecting cards which he had asked people to keep in the possession for a week. I remain intrigued by what is contained on the cards.

Proposition 1970 Ed Herring 1945-2003 Purchased 2012

Proposition 1970 Ed Herring

Margaret Harrison’s “homeworkers’ also piqued my interest. I had a  visual but also conceptual engagement with the lot of the elements of “Homework’. Although simple graphically, the work proved thoughts about art and politics, particularly the politics of the weak and exploited. there was also a strong gender theme running through the work. I left feeling this work was far more about ideas than a visual artefact and although in no way linked in the exhibition , it was I my head very linked to the earlier work in the gallery and the Art and language group.

In a similar way I was drawn to the work of Conrad Atkinson and his insights into what we euphemistically call the ‘troubles’ in Ulster. The linear collection of images and words dominated by the colours of the Republic of Irelands tricolour flag underpinning evocative images and statement about ulster I thoroughly enjoyed and again found very thought provoking.

Northern Ireland 1968 - May Day 1975 1975-6 Conrad Atkinson born 1940 Purchased 2010

Northern Ireland 1968 – May Day 1975

I recocognise I have only scratch the surface of the experience of this show but the works I have referred to and indicative not of style or aesthetic, but of a series of interconnected ideas the exhibition provoked in me.


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This was a really worthwhile study visit, I had expected the content to be challenging and I hadn’t expected to like much of this show. The reality was quite different. I have come away from this experience with a genuine understanding of what conceptual art attempts to achieve and whilst I am uncertain if I understand it all, I have a desire to learn more about conceptual art and it’s influence in work that has come after what was displayed in the gallery.

Many thanks to Robert and fellow students for a very thought provoking day.



Project 3 Photographing the unseen- Exercise

Three Case Studies

All three of these projects are examples of personally driven work but they become universal when we can relate to the feelings they present by visiting our own personal histories.

  • Which of these projects resonates most with you, and why?
  • How do you feel about the loss of authorial control that comes when the viewer projects their own experiences and emotions onto the images you’ve created?

Before I reflect on which of the projects that resonated most with me I wanted to reflect on each of the works, all of which made me think about notions of text and image. All triggered some common thoughts and all three presented some individual and unique ideas.

Peter Mansell offers the viewer and reader an insight into a very challenging world. One in which mere words or pictures may not tell a whole story. His images appear as vignettes offering at first glance a partial view of his world an all that he has to deal with, the device of making images of partial and incomplete object, the bed, the room created a sense of looking in on his world, one that must be very different to mine in so many ways. I cannot begin to imagine all that Peter has had to go through and it is hard not to feel sorry or someone in Peter’s circumstance. This is however a very superficial, analysis because what his images do is offer an insight into his world through some carefully chose signs and symbols that tell a bigger story. Looking at his work in more detail.

I felt very guilty that I had initially felt sorry for peter and although this is perhaps a cultural conditioning that is part of the British mores I have been exposed to. In essence though I found peters work vert thought provoking because there is an absence of people, presence and the implications of his injuries are implied and eluded to. It is as if in his dialogue with the view he doesn’t want to reveal all, but rather hint at things, leaving the viewer to ask questions and make assumptions based on the context of the work but also their own biography and the personal lens through which they view the work

Dewald Botha work is starkly different but there are parallels. The idea of place as a metaphor for a wider range of ideas and concepts is one that I have explored in my own work and practice and I have spent several years returning to the same places to make images that say something about time, place and culture. This work is much more elegant than mine and there is much I can learn from Botha, not least the very satisfying construction and assemble of the visual elements in his work. The asymmetric composition of the first image in the OCA course materials is to my eye stark yet beautiful and I immediately gain a sense of place beyond the elements in the image. The fact that the photographers journey around the ring road looking for calm and peace became a more personal exploration demonstrates the power of the medium to explore the personal through the things around us. This really resonates with me with regard to the personal work I just referred to. It dawned on me recently that my regular return to a location to make more images of the same place was not about that place and was much more about me! Again I found this work thought provoking and I have since further explored Botha work, particularly through his Flickr page.

Without doubt though of all of these strong projects it was Jodie Taylors- Memories of Childhood that mot resonated with me. Not for the use of 35mm (I am predominantly a film photographer0 but because there is something essentially nostalgic about the work. I looked in particular at her images of park benches. To me the images created memories of all those meetings and gathering of the past evoked by the now empty benches. The images of garages alluding again to places where children met. Like Mansell’s work the absence of figures in the images leaves the viewer open to interpret their own meaning, using personal experience to create one’s own personal nostalgia from the image. I also liked the purposefully non-descript nature of the locations and how they had been recorded. The absence of defining landmarks meant that the benches, passage ways and garage scenes could be anywhere, indeed they could have been my own landscapes of childhood. This work is powerful and evocative and I suspect can touch a memory or nerve in many.

With this work above other I could see that notion of the non-linear post-modern narrative, the work forma a structure or framework onto which the view can the author o the works meaning.

Again, to me the loss of authorship was strongest in this of the three case studies, in part that it is simple more universal’s in terms of accessibility when compared to the previous artist’s work. The beauty and simplicity in the mundane, that would have been so much part of the child hood of many creates the potential for a very open interpretation of this work.

I have taken some inspiration from all of these works and I find this case study approach particularly helpful in developing ideas for my own work


Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Botha, D. (2013) Ring Road  found at:

Exercise – Choose a poem that resonates with you

The aim of this exercise (and Assignment Two) is to encourage you to develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something rather than a record of it..

Choose a poem that resonates with you then interpret it through photographs. Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.

Start by reading the poem a few times (perhaps aloud) and making a note of the feelings and ideas it promotes, how you respond to it, what it means to you and the mental images it raises in your mind. Next, think about how you’re going to interpret this visually and note down your ideas in your learning log.

You may choose to develop this idea into creating a short series of images reflecting your personal response to the poem (or another poem). Write some reflective notes about how you would move the above exercise on.

The number of pictures you choose to produce for the exercises and assignments in this course, including this one, is up to you. Try to keep in mind the following tips for knowing when you have done enough/not done enough:

  • Are the images repeating themselves? Are there three versions of the same picture for example? Can you take two out?
  • Does each image give a different point of view or emphasise a point you want to make?
  • Do the images sit well together visually?
  • Have you given the viewer enough information? Would another picture help?

I consider myself lucky to live in a house where poetry is an important feature for my wife and my daughters lives. The challenge  I had however was selecting a poem to use for this exercise from the many that were available. I was also mindful of the need to choose something that would test the ideas being explored in this section of the course and that would allow for  a suitable exercise. For a variety of reasons that it would take too long to describe I eventually settled on a work by a less well known war poet that had a very personal link to my family. I was also pondering and planning the exercise in my head as the 100th anniversary of the Somme arrived.


The poem I used is found in a  small green book that is a treasured possession of my wife.

‘Verse and Prose in Peace and War’ by William Noel Hodgson is not a well known book and there is much that I could write about how only a handful of war poets work ended up in general circulation, but that is perhaps for a different course! That said it did influence how I set about making the images of the exercise, indeed the notion of the post Great War establishment harvesting a few  from the many became a central theme to the work of the exercise.

This small volume of poetry and prose was given to my wife by her mother, who had been given it by her mother. And given to her by her mother. Passed down through generations of daughters. Originally given to my wife’s great Grandmother by the father of the author as a christmas gift in December 1921. Of the many moving poems amongst its leaves I found this the most poignant:

Before Action

By all the glories of the day
And the cool evenings benison,
By that last sunset that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By Beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, lord

By all of all mans hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing
The laughter of unclouded years
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages store
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Must say good bye to all of this;-
By all delights that I shall miss
Help me to die , O Lord

The poem was written on June 29th 1916 as the author prepared for for the British army’s offensive in Northern France. William Noel Hodgson the author, fell two days later at the Somme,  one of the 19,240 to die on the first day of the battle. His writings along with his personal possession were returned to his father after his death and it was he who secured a publisher and the work was published posthumously.  

The poem has a strong reflective and melancholic narrative that is poignant and in the context of its creation, prophetic and bitterly sad.  To me it is emblematic of the lost youth in a distant but not forgotten war. The imagery of the poem at first glance appears to describe a landscape but also alludes to times passed and to someone facing certain death reflecting on their life, all be it a short one. I memorised this poem and carried it for sometime in my head before I picked up my camera to try and make any images. I also read  Zeepvat (2014) which offers a wider context on the work and the author. I felt I needed to know more about the Hodgson and the context of the work. I must confess to being left with a deep anger in discovering more about the fate of so many young men and the lack of value placed on their lives. I had to manage that anger as I made the work for the exercise.


The thoughts that came to my mind where the distance between the authors world and contemporary society, I thought about young people enjoying the pub on a summers evening (as I went to collect my daughter from such an event on several occasions).

‘And the cool evenings benison,
By that last sunset that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,’

I thought of the freedoms we enjoy that generations before did not, I thought of class deference and the misplaced sense of honour in the face of what  might now be regarded as war crimes. In the battle of the Somme generals used military strategy that was 150 years old and it might be said unfit for the first mechanised war. I thought of aftermath and the land and how time heals the land, although the scars might be found by looking just below the surface.

‘The laughter of unclouded years
And every sad and lovely thing;’

I thought about the countryside around my home and its similarly to that of some of the battlefields of France. Also Chloe debe Matthew’s work  ‘Shot at Dawn’ came to mind as did  the oblique and ‘Aftermath’  photograohy of Paul Seawright and Donovan Wylie.I spent some time looking at their works and reading the poem aloud. In particular Seawright’s haunting image of discarded shell casings in Afghanistan  and its homage to  Fenton’s 1855 work: ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death.

‘Must say good bye to all of this;-
By all delights that I shall miss’

Over time though I distilled my thoughts and ideas about the poem in the a short list of themes that would be the basis to begin making images.

  • Young people at leisure
  • The land at the end of the day
  • The land being worked, the aftermath of the harvest
  • Light, evening and dawn light
  • Harvesting and the reaper
  • Life going on

I pondered on a number of ideas and while doing this noticed that in the land around my house the farmers, having harvested the wheat in the fields  were now producing rectangular hay bales and stacking them high. Tall singular sentinels standing out in the landscape. This was really unusual in that for as long as I can remember hay has been collected and made into what had been up until now the ubiquitous circular bails.  I was struck by these tall monolith like towers that spread across the land. I spent some time walking about without taking a picture, this has become of feature of my approach, to think much more wisely about when to take the camera to my eye. I then formulated an idea around the harvest clearing things away and the solitary sentinels of hay looking out over the land.

After some experimental images I settled on the following short set in response to the poem. In choosing the final images I tried to take account of the bullet points in the brief, encouraging a careful reflection on the selection of this or any set.


c Poem 3-5804

c Poem 5-5799

c Poem 7-5818

c Poem 6-5813

c Poem 1-5848

c Poem 8-5843



Fenton, R. Valley of the Shadow Of Death (1855) found at: (Accessed August 2016)

Hodgson, W, (1915) Verse and prose in Peace and War. Smith and Elder. London

Matthews, C (2014) Shot at Dawn- Found at: (Accessed August 2016)

Wylie, D. (2011) Outposts  found at: (Accessed August 2016)

Seawright, P. (2002) Hidden found at: (Accessed August 2016)

Zeepvat, C. (2014) Before Action-William Noel Hodgson and the 9th Devons-A story of the Great War, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley

Image and Text-Research Point

Examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice include Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field (see interview in the Appendix to this course guide) where clashes of understanding or interpretation work together to create a perhaps incomplete but nonetheless enriching dialogue between artist and viewer.

Look these pieces up online. Investigate the rationale behind the pieces and see if you can find any critical responses to them. Write down your own responses in your learning log.

  • How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?
  • Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio.

I have in truth slowed up a little on the course recently, in part due to work pressures but also as I try to make sense of part two. This section of the course has taken me into new areas to consider and I want to get a better grasp of the whole are of the postmodern narrative.

Looking at  and reflecting on Sophie Calle’s work ‘take care of yourself’ shed some helpful light on the subject but also raised for me many questions. Being dumped by e-mail can not be a nice experience although Calle has turned this into an engaging and thought provoking piece of art. I looked at the individual components of the work as well as some images of the work as it was exhibited at the Paul Cooper gallery in New York. It was seeing the work set out on a wall that gave me some insight into this different way of working. Sending the e-mail letter to 107 women from very different walks of life and then photographing them reading it was a novel way to explore the themes the letter raises. In the photographs of the work on the walls of a gallery I had a real sense of the notion of ‘relay’ work is assembled into what at a  distance looked like the maquette for a book, but its order is unclear. The viewer is left to piece together the collections  of images and words. Central to the work, from my point of view, is the letter, blown up and highlighted in fluorescent pen, annotated along side the highlighting.


Copyright Sophie Calle

A sort of  guided deconstruction of the artists boyfriend’s ‘Dear John’ letter. I think there is a clear sense of the absence and presence of the author simultaneously. The real point though is that the viewer must make sense of the work and although the core theme is somewhat fixed, how a narrative is assembled is left to the viewer. Factor in the viewers own biography and I suspect there will be very differing messages and interpretations  drawn from the work.

Sophie Rickett’s work ‘Objects in the Field’ was very different to Calle’s work but equally engaging. Not least because i was familiar with the work of the Cambridge astronomer whose work was at the centre of Rickett’s project. Roderick Wiilsrtop was both a research astronomer and an optical engineer, perhaps part of the last group of astronomer engineers. Silstrop had previously designed and built multiple mirrored reflecting telescopes in order to achieve his scientific research goals. Ricketts uses many of his images, created on film ( a process now replaced in astronomy with CCDs) to create a different and i think diverging narrative. Willstrop work had a scientific and empirical dimension, but Rickett’s uses this almost biographically making reference to her own experience of going to the optician as a child. The final work again create a sense of relay with a mix of text, images and audio all adding up to a non linear narrative from which the view can make a wide range of interpretations.


Copyright Sophie Rickett’s

So how do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?

Well they certainly do not possess a linear narrative, indeed in the case of Calle she creates to potential for multiple personal narratives. Text an image are juxtaposed to create some thing fundamentally different. Butler (2002) says of the post modern narrative that there is

“a disruption of any temptation to settle for a familiar world”

This is very true of callers work and although more subtle true of Ricketts work. traditional linear story telling is not present, indeed the notion of the story is somewhat illusive. The viewer decides upon an interruption of the work.

I remain uncertain about this whole area of work but i have begun to make sense of the themes both of these artists explore. i also have a very clear view of barthes concept of relay which is particularly present i think in callers ork. i will need to return to this again to create a deeper personal understanding!


Butler, C. (2002) Postmodernism-A Very Short Introduction, OUP, Oxford

Chrisafis, A. (2007) He loves me not, The Guardian- found at: ( Accessed July 2016)

Knorr, K.

Rickett, S. (2014) Objects in the Field, The Photographers Gallery- Found at: s:// ( Accessed July2016)

Image and Text – Exercise

Cut out some pictures from a newspaper and write your own captions.

  • How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
  • How many meanings can you give to the same picture?
    Try the same exercise for both anchoring and relaying. Blog about it.

With so many images available to take from the media I decided to focus around a narrow, perhaps even singular theme to explore the concepts of Anchor and Relay.

Wanting to be topical I chose a number of images of presidential hopeful and now ‘GOP’ Presidential nominee; Donald Trump, love him or loathe him he is certainly not an unknown!

Some ideas about the idea of  Anchor

  • Anchor – In news stories the text that accompanies pictures is usually there to control meaning – to stop the image from being interpreted in a manner that isn’t in keeping with the political views of the newspaper, for example. In advertising this type of anchoring text is used to fix the meaning of the image into one clear and distinct message (i.e. why you should buy this product).

Trump- How can we trust this man with our nations future!

Trump- The only nominee not tainted by the contamination of the Washington machine


Trump- unfit for office , unqualified to lead, a disaster for our nation


Trump- the only candidate telling like it is, he can make America great again

I need to make it clear I am no fan of Donald Trump, but I hope the images and captions illustrate the concept of Anchor. An image is open to very wide interpretation as I have already discussed in this blog and in my EYV Blog here. Classic newsprint journals uses text, often in the form of a caption, although sometimes through headlines to shape the views interpretation and underrating of an image. The same image my have a different caption and different implied meaning in different parts of the press. Bias and influence are all part of the process of creating a narrative in the media. This might sound a touch cynical, but print and similarly, online news media ill in many cases have a political stance or position. Usually associated with the owners of the channel or press. to ensure they propagate their message caption are vital to shape a viewers interoperation of an image. the narrative is constructed within a political framework. I think my examples above, although simple illustrate this point, Key phrases and ideas provide a context in which to make sense of the an image. Indeed both of the images I used had very different actions in their sources.

Reflecting on the concept of Relay

  • Relay – In the second definition the text has equal status with the image. Image and text bounce off each other to create a fuller picture that allows for ambiguity and various interpretations. This is more in line with a postmodern view of narrative.


From state to state Trump is getting attention. Not all like his message , some just love it. Defining exactly who will vote for Trump is by no means easy. Some supporters are loud, but are there secret Trump supporters who will give him their vote but not admit to it in polite society? What ever the reality, the nation will know for certain in January 2017, until then we will just have to keep guessing!


In the text and image above I have tried to apply the idea of relay. the text is open ended, its doesn’t guide the reader to a particular viewpoint about either of the images. the images and text raise questions independently of each other and i think create some uncertainty ( may be not ambiguity, although the text attempts to). The reader is left to make their own mind up, the position of the author is nuetral and in the  text the author is doing what  Barthes (1967b) would describe as scripting.

I will return to these concepts but i can see within relay the idea o the postmodern, the author viewpoint and position are irrelevant and it is for the reader/viewer to make sense of what they are seeing, unfettered buy any intent by the author.


Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Barthes, R. (1967a) Rhetoric of the Image in Heath, S. (1977)  Image, Music, Text-Hill and Wang, New York

Barthes, R. (1967b) The Death of the Author. Found at: (Accessed June 2016)