Thinking about ‘Narrative’

Wikipedia suggest we can define a  narrative as a:

‘story or any report of connected events, actual or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, or still or moving images.’

It is a term in every day use but I need to think more carefully about it application to the still image or to a set of still images

The picture below that I am using as the banner image for this blog does I think contain information that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. I made the image some years ago and have often pondered on the real story behind the image. The reason i raise this is that whilst the photographer has some control, the view also makes choices about what an image or set of images might be saying. I hope that through the study of this course I will learn more about how I can control how the viewer receives  and interprets the images I make. That ability seems to be at the centre of the notion of personal voice. I can see and interpret in the work of others but at this stage it remains elusive to me!


The reunion, Brighton 2001, John Adrian Orr


Erik Kessels- Dealing with the Flood


Copyright Erik Kessels

Dealing with the flood is a range of student reflections on a short but thought provoking blog entry by Gareth Dent about a piece of work made by Erik Kessells.

Kessell produced an installation cal;ed Photography in Abundance  when he down loaded and printed all the images that were uploaded to flickr on a single day.

The work  highlights in a physical form the sheer scale of images being shared with the world through just one channel (flickr) in a single day. Dent describes this as a flood and poses a challenging but engaging question around how doe we deal with the flood?

To be frank, before I even thought about answering the question my mind set off thinking about the water analogy. I am sitting at a desk flanked by two filing cabinets in which hang thousands of negatives, the fruits of my photographic exploring over years, I have boxes of prints and dare not even think about the hard drives full of TIFFs and JPEGs.

I am thinking about a torrent poring out of flickr on a daily basis while sitting at the centre of my own pool of images. How many ponds, pools lakes, seas and indeed oceans are out there in the privacyy of peoples homes.

What is the narrative to these images, what story, however personal do they tell to the owners?  Many of these images will never be seen by others but they exist none the less. In fact for the fleeting moments that an image appears on flickr and is seen by who ever is looking, it is inevitable consigned to the depths of the groups it is filed in forever.

So whilst I can see that millions of people are making images and millions can see them, we all to some extent just accept and live with and amongst the never ending flow.

Perhaps the real question is what in the flow influences us? Also how do we read the flow. I need to ponder on this for some more and then return to this blog entry.

Having thought about this a little more I thought the idea of the flood or flow needed further exploring. I found a very interesting article by David Campbell a media commentator that challenges the use of the flood metaphor and sheds some light on this date.

Campbell suggest that while there is a dirth of images it is inappropriate to compare it to a flood or sTsunami. He suggests that these are natural phenomena over which we have no control. We do have a choice in the consumption of images on the internet. we have to log, look at the people we flow and make  conscious attempt top see this work. We can also filter and be quite desiring about what we see.

So what does this all mean in terms of context and narrative? Well i think it says something about then two way process of engaging with an image? It does emphasis the context in which the image is seen part of the process of decoding it, but it also highlights that the viewer also makes choices about when and how they see an image and quite probably what meaning they assign to the image. This present an challenge for being clear about a narrative, particularly in a single image. i hope I can explore this idea further and return to this thought as the course progresses


Campbell, D. (2013) Abundant Photography-The misleading metaphor of the image flood. Found at : (accessed April 2013)

Dent, G. (2013) Dealing with the Flood found at: (accessed April 2013)

Joachim Schmidt- Surveying the repetitive


Copyright Joachim Schmitd

There is no doubt that the supply of images being created on a daily basis is overwhelming. Schmidt, who gathers found images, himself says in the interview with Sharon Boothroyd that more images go on Flickr in a day than he can manage and review. Schmidt is very specific  about the fact that he is not collecting but gathering images, he sees this as a different act to that of the collector. He cites the anthropological definition of the the term to define what he is doing is gathering for his own consumption.

Schmidt started gathering images in flea market and using them as the source for his own exploration and art. Through hard work and painstaking review, rather than eureka moments, he has in a way begun to classify images through his survey of this material. I perhaps use the term classify loosely for he has actually identified and distilled recurrent themes and patterns in the vast amount of photographs he has reviewed. Theses them and patterns lead to the conclusion that photographers whether professional , amateur or family event snapshot shooters continue to make essentially the same images.

He has published more than 90 books of found images in which he reveals the recurring images that we all seem to make.

I pondered for some time on this idea. I had in my Expressing Your Vision blog reflected on the reductive and ultimately dead end making contribution of the popular amateur photographic press and although this might sound cynical I have worked hard to exorcise my self of the years of influence of these publications. I have now long since stopped looking at the publications because they tend in my view to encourage one form of the repetition that that Schmidt has identified. Not only this but they also have a motivation , driven by advertising revenue, to sell us the latest thing that will assist in creating that excellent replica image that some else has already made. Further to this and thinking about Williamson’s writing around advertising, one might argue that rather than being the audience of the popular amateur photographic press, the amateur photographer is in fact the product, with adversities and manufactures being the real consumer!

That said there are many other reasons for the reputation that Schmidt describes, the cultural place of the family snapshot in our lives. The obligatory snap taken at beauty spots and places of interest. A professional photographer friend recently shared the back story to one of his images of an abandoned fishing boat on the shores of a Scottish Island. The image is dark and evocative. what you can’t see though is that he had to que for several hours to make the image because of the long line of image makers wanting to create  a version of the same image. There is an irony to the idea that an image of a lonely and desolate place was really , just out of shot, a veritable hive of activity!

Learning points

  • I wonder if there is a cultural determinant to the range of similar images, do different cultures photographic different version of the same thing?
  • How does the artist create something different?
  • What drives this human compulsion to record the same things
  • Is this process perhaps part of the process of cultural transmission?

Lots to ponder!


Judith Williamson ‘Advertising Articles’

Designed by Apple in California

images apple

Copyright Apple Corporation

Judith Williamson’s  article from the Source Photographic Review brings a familiar but much more analytical perspective to decoding advertising.

It is not surprising the position taken by the author and her comment on deity like of presence of Apple in the technology market is not new. Neither is the on going debate about the poor labour conditions of workers at Foxconn and other Chinese manufacturing plants who produce Apple products. The sharp contrast between the buy line;

‘Designed by Apple in California’ and the reality that this statement seems to be an attempt to counter the; ‘Made in China’ that is the reality for much technology hardware. The dichotomy between the claimed ease and benefits that Apple products bring to the lives of western consumers starkly contrasts with the conditions for workers in the far east is explored in the text.  Williams rightly in my view suggests the lot of chins worker making these products can be compared to the conditions of mill workers in England in the 19th century.

The use of a child in the advert, a child that might be far eastern also raises questions about what this narrative is saying. Along with this the near religious status that the combined words and image appear to be creating is also explored.

There is of course a particular  issue when talking about Apple and its questionable ethical position given that its products are often the choice of photographers, designers and other creatives. Indeed I sit  at my desk in rural Norfolk typing this blog entry on an Apple keyboard, looking at an Apple screen, all driven by an Apple desktop computer. 

What Williamson does in this article though  is break down in some considerable detail the links between the elements of the picture in the advert, that advertorial text and the real context in which the image exists. I was so engaged by the level and detail of analysis that while searching the internet for other articles by Williamson. I ordered a copy of her book about decoding adversing. Her capacity to track in minutiae every element of what is seen in an image and text is very strong and illuminating and something i am keen to explore further.

In her article about a Wedgwood advertisement that appeared in the Guardian Weekend magazine (date unknown) she deconstructs the advert image an picture elements unpicking notions of class, culture, heritage, consumerism and also makes contemporary new links. The comparison of the model to Rebeca Brooks, the editor embroiled in the News international phone tapping scandal brings an added political dimension to interpreting the adverts and indeed the photographers intention.


The image of a lavish table in an oppulant room, we assume in an up market house is described by Williamson as ‘Post Downton Posh’ and simultaneously manages to create a sense of the exclusive while actually seeking to make the product, Wedgwood chine more accessible. It strikes me that this is a central notion in adversing, managing competing and at times contradictory ideas

Key Learning Points

  • Image and text can exert control
  • Deconstructing every detail can assist in not only understanding motive and intent, but also as a photographer assist me in creating meaning
  • Advertising and semiotics are area I need to study in greater depth


Williamson, J. (date unknown) Wedgewood Source Photographic review found at: ( accessed April 2016)

Williamson, J (date unknown) Designed by Apple in California, Source Photographic Review found at:

Understanding Context-First blog post, making a start on the course!


high tide 2-5324


“The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood”

I am familiar with the word context and its various meaning , so I considered the notion within the confines of what it means about an image or set of images.

In its simplest sense I think we can say that what surrounds a photograph, to some extent , its physical location, has much to say about how we interpret the contents within the frame. The idea of what is in the frame, what the photographer chose to include (and not include) is influenced by where the image is seen. By location I mean, gallery wall, photobook, travel book, magazine, billboard hoarding. I could go on but the point i am making is that the there is a range of information to process, that leads top some understanding of the photographers intent.

That said as Barrett(1997) suggests in several articles, the External context of an image is central to the creation of meaning, he also comment that this is not always within the gift of the photographer, as an image may be appropriated by others for purposes other than the photographers intent.

Exploring the idea of context further I couldn’t help think of the Latin origins of the word itself. As a 50 something, it amuses me how much of all that Latin I was made to study, nearly 40 years ago, has come back to haunt me in the most positive of senses and I should perhaps regret the negativity I felt to it in my youth!

The word Context is a construction, probably in middle English from two Latin words, the first ‘con’ meaning to join or together and the word  ‘texere’ which means to weave. The terms ‘text’ and ‘textiles’ have a common origin in the Latin word texere.

I like the notion of context literally meaning:

‘weave together’

I am sure I will learn more as I work through the course material but I am particularly struck and mindful of Boothroyd’s (2015) statement in the opening page of the course:

‘It’s also  important to be alert to the messages contained in your own images so you don’t transmit unintended meaning or fail to recognise your own visual narrative.

This seems pretty important advice at this stage in the course and going forward


Barrett, T. (1997) Photographs and Contexts in Goldblatt,D. & Brown, L (Eds) (1997) Op CitBurgin, V. (1982) Thinking Photography, Macmillan London

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

Gwynne, N. (2014) Gwynne’s Latin, Ebury Press, London