Reading Images

13/10/2015 Contextual Studies

This morning was spent learning how to analyse images; how the audience could interpret them without further information and gain insight into the meaning and purpose. The intent of an image is usually defined by a caption or title that clarifies this however some photographers rely on the photograph alone to portray it’s purpose, or leave it open to interpretation.

Several images were shown to us with which we had to read into as much as possible before further investigating. However through comparing, some images proved harder to analyse as seen in the couple below.


annie lebovitz

First reading- Judging by the instrument it’s in America, quite an old instrument, from the marks on it and rope strapped on. Working class man, considering the freckles and overalls, spends some time in the sun. Guessing he’s older due to the skin texture. Taken in the country maybe, because of how empty the background is.

Annie Leibovitz. ‘Pete Seeger, Clearwater Revival. Croton-on-Hudson’

Story- Leibovitz captured this image as part of her ‘American Music’ series which covers nearly a century of music creativity between 1999 and 2001. Beginning in the Mississippi Delta she traveled to Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, California, Florida, New York City, and New Jersey photographing the icons of blues, bluegrass, country, jazz, rock, folk, hip-hop, punk rock and rap. Preferring to capture musicians within their daily lives and most complacent surroundings this image of Pete Seeger was taken at the Hudson River, where he inspired and founded Clearwater, America’s environmental flagship which has helped preserve and protect the river from pollution. Seeger is a folksinger as well as an activist. He was blacklisted in 1952 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities when he was a member of the popular folk group, the Weavers. He marched in the 1965 civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama, and protested the war in Vietnam. Around his shoulder is his long-neck banjo inscribed with the words, “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender.”

jacques-henri lartigue

First reading- European, ‘upper class’ woman judging by the clothing, long furs and big hat. Her posture is quite strong, proud and confident. Assume she’s wealthy due to this and having pets, which seem to be used to accessorize her look. I’d estimate early 1900s as there was still horse and carriages around yet a visible transformation into cars happening.

Jacques-Henri Lartigue ‘Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, Paris 1911’

Story- Jacques-Henri Lartigue was more of a keen observer of the more contemporary Parisian society, in particular their expression through forms of consumption and leisure. Due to this, this woman and her life is anonymous besides what we take from it. There is no written information, merely a documented every day life photograph. The rising spectacle of women’s fashion did not escape the attention of Lartigue, who in many of his images captured woman in high society, experimenting with new fashions and trends. 


Altaf Qadri

In the first image a woman is holding a portrait of someone and in the second picture there are several people displayed doing the same. The photos look worn and well used as if they’ve been kept for while and shown a lot. The action of showing a photo like this usually means that this person is absent or has passed. The two images being black and white keep them linked. Due to the portraits being the main focus you can’t really grasp an idea of time or location. Based on the clothes however, I’d say Asia possibly. The notice board in the right image bares similarity to ones they have for missing persons. For the main subject holding the portrait to be searching they must be close, maybe a relative or spouse. The photographer on the first image has kept the shadow on the woman’s face and brought the main focus onto the portrait by taking it in an upward angle, making it the focus of the story.

‘Mughli: The Lonely Mother’

Enforced disappearance is one of the most harrowing consequences of the armed conflict in Kashmir. During the last 20 years of conflict, The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an organisation of the relatives of people who have disappeared after custody, claims more than 10,000 people have been subject to enforced disappearance by state agencies and were mostly picked up by Indian troops. Of the disappeared persons, between 2000-2005 a majority were married males. Although men have been subject to disappearance largely, but woman have been adversely affected because of being related to them as daughters, mothers, sisters and wives. Mughli, who doesn’t remember her age, is among thousands of Kashmiri women whose young sons were subjected to enforced disappearances in Kashmir. Her only son, Nazir Ahmad Teli, a teacher by profession, had left for school in 1991. She never saw him again, she never did- and Mughli became one of the first members of the tragic club of several thousand women whose young sons or husbands have disappeared, majority of them after being picked up by police or Indian forces. Since then she has been to every single police station or any army camp to trace out her only son. This story of the return of a missing man seems to be just a dream of hope of a desperate mother who wants her missing son to return alive. Mughli breathed her last in the fall of 2009. For 19 years she has been craving to see her only son- to know about his fate. She was always full of hope.


Optical Illusion

Optical Illusion images can sometimes be hard to perceive depending on what each individual sees. Some are made to be surreal and some are made to be hidden. This lets a photo have one or more different meanings dependent on how someone was to read it. 

Erik Johansson

Johansson is a surrealist photographer who combines photographs and other materials through Photoshop to create realistic images of dreamlike scenes which wouldn’t be seen in real life. Some are made up of hundreds of images all thoughtfully placed together. That’s why when looking at them, they can take longer to understand. This type of photography, I find, more engaging than instant photos as you spend time thinking about how it was created and what is fabricated.


[GROUP PROJECT, IMAGE ONE]Trolley new orleans, robert frank

This image clearly defines its intent from the image alone. I’d say this image was taken in America due to the transport and ‘black people at the back of the bus’ divide. Because of the fashion and the black woman wearing glasses I’d predict this was mid 1900s, just before the Civil Rights Movement, which took place in the 1960s and Martin Luther King became one of the greatest orators and activists in American history. The photographer is clearly trying to show the reality of society, the separation of classes and apparent racial segregation. He positioned the image with the four painted windows (stripes) symmetrical which draws attention to the people seated between them.

Robert Frank ‘Trolley. New Orleans 1955 

Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.

-Robert Frank

History of the image

This image is from the book ‘The Americans’. Created over nine months, Frank had covered 10,00 miles, captured 767 rolls of film and had been arrested and put in jail twice (once because a second set of license plates was found in his trunk and once just because he looked foreign) 28,000 photographs were narrowed down to 1000 8×10 prints and then cut again to the 83 which were developed into the book.

He concentrated on making sequences of images, sequences that were non-narrative and non-chronological. They were sequences that he hoped would create impact and address larger ideas rather than just telling a story. He was considered to be a “poet with a camera” although his photographs were rarely published.

When Frank originally published the book people weren’t very happy and there was some very critical reviews. It portrayed America in a whole new light, and showed them what they were in denial to see.

Popular Photography said the images were “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness.” It was a completely different style than what people had seen before.

However as time went on and the Civil Rights Movement began his book developed popularity and became momentous within American and art history.


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