The end of this course seemed to come upon me at pace. My work is now all bundled up and sent off to the assessors. It seems I completed assignments 5 and 6 without posting in this journal, though it wasn’t because they were completed without reflection – far from it, but my reflections were in real time and included in my learning log.

M final reflections are on my blog at:

I have thoroughly enjoyed this course and in particular engaging with landscape in very different ways than I first imagined and my photographic practice and confidence has grown enormously. In terms of assignment 6, I wish I knew at the beginning what I know now as I finished assignment 6 knowing that it wasn’t finished; my ideas developed as my photographic practice did leaving me in a position of where I want to go rather than with finished quality images and prints. I am slightly nervous what my assessors will make of this but I have taken my Tutor’s advice and submitted where my practice is now taking me, so the images are only preliminary sketches in fact of how I will develop this project.

So now onto Documentary: fact or fiction!


When researching for assignment 5 today I was very taken with Joshua Cooper’s description of how he photographs with slow looking, and gazing rather than glancing, a gaze which is a piercing looking.

I was also particularly struck whilst researching at how Golding describes photograhing whilst walking through the landscape as a passage through a series of thoughts:

“I begin the day’s walk with an intention – conscious or otherwise – to explore beneath the surface. I stay a moment, experiencing the solid complexities, the impenetrability of the place where my journey begins. Once this has made its impression, there’s a surfacing, almost as if I’m breaking the surface of the water (or the dream that is conscious life) to gather breath – and perhaps light, or imagery – for the time beneath. Then I begin a descent into the unconscious self, gradually at first, then becoming more fully immersed. Illuminations shift, different possibilities becoming visible” (Brydon, 2016).

All of this helps me to feel better about having become so much slower in my photography recently and the concentration that getting the right picture takes. It also helps me to justify my work with a tripod in low light in the woods for assignment 6, as I am aware that it really slows me down. I am finding now that I concentrate much more before taking a picture; I might find the subject and space easily but may spend a long time moving the tripod around to get the vantage point/perspective that I want.

See research post:


Brydon, A. et al. (2016) A DAY’S JOURNEY INWARD | J.M. Golding – Inside the Outside. At: (Accessed on 4 November 2019)


I was surprised about the layers of meaning that photographing food can uncover, for instance how we live, values, traditions, as well as be used for abstraction, form, and aesthetics. I will look at food as a subject matter quite differently from now on and of course what I’ve learnt will transfer to other subject matters.


I went on a few exploratory shoots for assignment 5 before deciding that I want to walk and shoot in rural rather than industrial edgelands to give an organic feel to my Brexit landscapes. After more experimenting in rural edgelands I know that I’ll shoot mainly close ups with a shallow depth of field to achieve the intensity and ambiguity I want.

It is good for my assignment that Brexit is still at the forefront of the news and conversations in the UK, as when I go out walking it is very much on my mind. I’ve had a good week experimenting this week whilst shooting; it’s been mainly dry and sunny so I’ve been able to immerse myself in shooting.

Tonight I made it to a Google Hangout with some of my landscape colleagues (see separate post) as usual it was really useful seeing and commenting on their work and inviting critiques and ideas on my developing work in assignment 5.


I’ve had my feedback and finished assignment 4 and am looking forward to working on assignments 5 and 6. My initial idea for assignment 4 is to photograph edgelands landscape in a conceptual/abstract way as a response to my feelings about the effect Brexit is having on the country.

Whilst out running I had the thought that “dead ends” could be too restrictive and that I should keep my mind open and go out walking in “edgelands” and simply see what presents itself in terms of having Brexit on my mind, possibly, stagnation, unpleasant turns, dead ends, conflict, blockages…


It’s been a busy week. I booked but hesitated to go to a photography symposium on photography and place because of its location, but I am so glad that I spent the time travelling to it. I was able to meet and learn from many experts and the event both helped me to join up some previous learning and introduce me to new landscape photographers and new directions in landscape photography.

The next day I was taken by a friend to an exhibition at the V and A of Tim Walker’s “Wonderful things”. It’s not something I would have chosen to see but it was interesting to see his creative process, his imagination in practice in his photography, films and installations. I was particularly interested that included in the exhibition were examples of artefacts from the V and A that have influenced his work.


Photography and Place: Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery Exeter (RAMM)

Symposium : collecting regions- photography and a sense of place 18.9.19

The remit of this symposium was to invite conversations on photography and photographic collections in the South West and wider UK in relation to aspects of place. Photographs relate to place in various ways including their documenting capacity and the direct inscription of the world on their surface. Therefore, photographs directly inform our imagination of a place. How do collections like this develop? In turn, a specific place can also inspire the work of photographers and photographic artists: the symposium included a focus on Dartmoor, in particular. (RAMM 2019)

Marie-Kathrin Blanck who has just finished V&A curators training programme working at RAMM and the V&A explained how she reviewed the Ramm photography collection as: Interdisciplinary, some fine art, books all relating to Exeter and the South West local history of the museum and how she formed a collections development policy to 2025: Place and portrait photography.

Richard Crangle freelance researcher shared how during his project “Home to a million thoughts” where he reviewed identified and digitised the RAMM lantern slide collection approximately 4700 images. Of the photographers and collectors who slides he worked with it was notable that these early photographers were often chemists as their skills aligned with developing photographs. I was particularly interested when he described how Alfred Rowden, a natural historian, whose 1200 slides gave a detailed record of the local landscape when but especially so when combined with contextual support e.g. notebooks of local rambles, and titles and dates and annotations on the slides. Having studied the “picturesque” in landscape photography it was good to see this in action as he shared some of the slides of Charles Wilcockson, a picturesque capturing of his tour of Devon; and his motivation for portraying it in this was as compared to his home town of Warrington Devon was exotic. This work was contrasted with the slides of the Bakers whose photography was more realistic and their motivation entirely different, to record places before they change.

The keynote speech was from writer, curator of exhibitions and professor Liz Wells entitled: Sense of Place, land landscape and region.

She reflected on what it means to talk about landscape in the context of the UK and shared the definition of photographer Marlene Creates  that landscape is not a geographical process but as an interest in place.

To illustrate this she cited a variety of work such as:

  • Anna Atkins a botanist and photographer who made cyanotype impressions.
  • Susan Derges: interested in the physical effects of movement light, Japanese aesthetics whose work is both documentary and aesthetic. She specializes in camera-less photography and creating visual metaphors to explore the relationship between the self and nature, what underlies the visible. I must explore her work before starting my assignment 5.
  • Garry Fabian Miller: walks and collects in the landscape before making his camera-less photographs in the dark room.
  • Jem Southam: Revisits place over time developing an intimate familiarity with place, exposing the differences between geological and human time. His picture titles are simply given to log time and place.
  • Chrystal Lebas: interested in the effects of the movement of natural light and shoots over time (2-6 hours) and like Southam is interested in change over time.  Her work Project: field studies-walking through landscapes and archives 2016 where she re-photographs Wells suggests shows change but questions does it show history, though she believes it does when images are combined with text can be complex abstracts of information.
  • James Ravillious: interested in land use which he depicts in his images of rural life in the west of England.
  • Walter Lewis: also interested in land use but for the future. Wells points out that his website committed photography, purposeful, he documents rural enterprise. Lewis describes himself as a wanderer and photographer, having looked at his work I will revisit it for my assignment 6, particularly “woodland conversations”.
  • Susan Collins: explores transitions networking and time, the imperceptibility of the slow movement of time and was commissioned by RAMM for the exhibition Whatever the weather.
  • Richard Long: Performance art installation. Whose work I have researched before.

Wells suggested that we might consider the benefits of intimacy over accuracy in landscape photography? She compared traditional landscape photography that are human centric with conceptual landscape photography which can be aural or tactual. Wells points out that in documentary photography contextualisation is crucial to construct a sense of place  and is interested in multi sensorial sense of place. She pointed out the triangle of making an image – showing an image – seeing an image. She quoted Deborah Bright’s Of Mother Nature and Malboro Men a cultural An Inquiry Into the Cultural Meanings of Landscape Photography, which I have just read, “every representation of landscape is also a record of human values and actions imposed on the land over time” (1989:126).

Other contributors to the symposium:

Brendan Barry : photographer and camera maker spoke of his recent summer school and reviewing his camera making work subsequently was illuminating, I’d no idea you could make cameras out of butternut squashes and pineapples! He talked about photography as an immersive experience, and remaining in a place to absorb it then photograph, rather than looking for something to photograph. He suggested you ask yourself “What is the landscape provoking in me ?”

Jo Bradford: photographer artist green island studios. As a response to having 2 small children and not being able to carry her photographic equipment around she worked with an iPhone on “A love letter to Dartmoor in 365 photographs” (2015). This she posted on Instagram including some views from windows/doors. She tagged Dartmoor and her followers grew. I was interested that she made the decision not to include any location notes. She is now trail running and shooting, note to self! She has published a smart phone photography book.

Emma Down: Hidden Histories archivist who has worked on James Ravilious and James Deacon images for Continuity and change in north Devon in the Beaford archive – Archived 10, 000 images of photos and negatives 85,000 created as an archive originally.

Ravilious’s images are often used by photographers to impact in a certain way yet Ravillious aimed just to document. She suggests that he did skew the representations, as he often photographed extremes of weather and the traditional rather than the modern and in presenting them in black and white giving an aged feel. He photographed ways of life that would soon disappear, transformational photography. She described him as planned and organized, he over exposed and underdeveloped images like Adams and shared Adams love of the landscape. He used Leica camera like Cartier Bresson though subjects usually knew they were being taken, not so much the moment as Cartier Bresson but planned.

Deacon experimented more with style, photographed more teenagers which was his peer group.

Both of their views of north Devon that they were representing were influenced by their backgrounds and must bear this in mind even if billed as documentary.

Garry Fabian Miller : fine art Dartmoor based photographer who specialises in camera less photography making images in his darkroom by shining light through glass and paler shapes and recording on photographic paper. He is one of the most progressive figures in fine art photography. I was interested in his view that though his images are now abstract representations made in his darkroom he considers himself a landscape photographer as he is embedded in locality and place, this is his stimulus. He shared how within a locality there are spots that become relevant at different time of year/day because they become magic then. He described his belief that photography is the medium of exposure, an active thing in the world, it’s felt, it enters the brain through the eye and is felt in the brain, also beam of light on later with chemicals, so it’s how to expose images in his head and bring out in the darkroom – hence his “Chemical based photography”. He makes the point that art should be ambitious and matter worldwide and speak to people across cultures and therefore photographs that are intimate about a place can be relevant in another place. He is exhibiting in a show in Paris “The meaning of colour”. His work is representational, for instance a circle of red again yellow background, which he says represents berries on Hawthorne trees which is soaked up and reads as green. He has sites that he visits regularly several times a week.

I was also treated to an explanation by National museum of Wales Cardiff curator Bronwin Colqhoun of how she has developed their photographic collections from 2015. Before this time their photography was multidisciplinary photography and 2017 their pure photographic gallery opened. I will now have to revisit the museum, in their collection they have:

  • John Dillwyn Llewelyn collection (married to relative of Henry Fox Talbot).
  • David Hurn edited archive 1500 new prints of documentary photography his and others his “swaps collection” approximately 700 photos includes Sergio Larrain’s work.
  • Eugene Smith – three generations of Welsh Miners to which an additional layer of narrative was added.
  • Bruce Davidson – Welsh Miners Portfolio
  • Wolfgang Suschitzky – Photographs form time there
  • Martin Parr work as well as new exhibition Martin Parr in Wales opening Oct 24th
  • Clementine Schneidermann – it’s called Ffasiwn recent graduate of Newport
  • Lua Ribeira Noises in the blood now a nominee for magnum photos
  • Mihal Iwanowski “Go home polish” lives sin Cardiff – walked home documenting his walk home to Poland

They are trying to get a grant to obtain photography from photographers who had visited Wales such as Robert Frank.

My Learning points:

This was very useful conference, it not only focused on the work of photographers, but the work of curators and archivists, as well and subjects such as what is the remit and how to define a photography collection.

  • It provided me with new emerging photographers to watch and new to me established photographers to research.
  • I am inspired to find out more about camera less photographers as I have heard so many of these photographers talk of their work today and be talked about.
  • It was particularly interesting that James Ravillious who my tutor had suggested should research came up in several ways during the day. I hadn’t realized that Henri Cartier Bresson inspired him, most especially the qualities of humanity and honesty. One of his images of a person scything was compared to one of John Hinds and it was immediately obvious that the later was a picturesque rather than an honest one.
  • It has given me an insight into the perspective of archivists and curators of photography
  • It has helped me to reflect on how you can develop a collection of photography around place?
  • Returned me to discussions of the picturesque versus the realistic
  • Returned me to exploring both the intentions and impact of photography

Most of all it has stimulated my thinking about what is Place as one that can inspire photographic work.


RAMM (2019) Symposium: Collecting regions – Photography and a sense of place / Exeter: 18 September 2019 (s.d.) At: (Accessed on 21 September 2019)



Exercise 4.5: Proposal for the self-directed project

Write a project proposal for the self-directed project that you’ll submit as Assignment Five. Don’t write more than 500 words. The purpose of this document is to formulate and communicate your ideas to your tutor, for them to approve and provide comments, suggestions and any other feedback. (Alexander: 142, 2013)


Subject and motivation

I am photographing the landscape of a type of space called “Edgelands” in and around my home town in Hampshire. My motivation is to explore my personal response to the current political and economic climate in this country and represent this in landscape images. The particular issues I am responding to arise from our exit from the European Union, “Brexit”. My present personal emotional response to this is “Stagnation” which is also where I feel our economy is currently. Stagnation is what I intend my photographs to convey, expressed through landscape photographs.

This work will build on learning from other parts of this landscape photography course and I am adopting a wider view of landscape that has developed as I have progressed through the course. I learnt in part one to appreciate and look for beauty and also the sublime. I will be developing my research from part 2 on “Edgelands” as I believe that this landscape area will align closely with my intention. I am also building on my increased understanding of the influence of culture and politics on the representation of the landscape from part 3.


My research into equivalence, symbolism and abstraction in landscape photography during assignment 4 has lead me to the work of other contemporary photographers working in a conceptual or abstract way with the landscape, such as Simon Bray, Carl Chiarenza, Uta Barth and others that I have yet to discover. I will combine this with a further study of photographers from the era of and following on from Minor White, such as Edward and Brett Weston, Walter Chappell and Frederick Sommer. I will revisit the writing of Marius De Zayas and Robert Adams on interpretation of landscape through our life experiences, as well as the book Edgelands (Farley and Roberts, 2012) and will obviously expand on these starting points for research. From these influences I expect to photograph elements of the landscape that relay visually my emotional response to a situation.


I plan to photograph this subject by adopting the Derive role of enquiry, taking strolls through Edgeland areas photographing through pyschogeography whilst carrying my feeling of political and economic stagnation, being open to observing features in the landscape that I can capture to convey this to my audience. I intend to present these images in black and white to build on my first work in black and white in assignment 3 and because I think that this treatment will enhance my concept. At this stage I am open to the images being abstract or representational, I want to see what emerges. I am also undecided how I will present my work to an audience at this stage as I think I should work through the learning in Part 5 before committing myself, but I do know that my method must allow viewers space to form their own response to the images.


I anticipate the work being completed by the 18th October 2019.


Farley, P. and Roberts, M. (2012). Edgelands. London: Vintage.

Alexander, J. (2013) Photography 2: Landscape. Barnsley. Open College of the Arts

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Finally I’ve been able to post my work on part 4 and assignment 4.

Reflecting on this period, it’s unfortunate that I’ve not had as much time with my peers as usual – This is simply because both OCA Thames Valley Meetings and Landscape photography google hangouts were cancelled for various reasons during this time.

I am also aware that I’ve not yet captured on my blog all the reading and research that I’ve done during this time, probably as I spent so much time reading and researching for my critical review. In particular I will shortly add a review of an interesting book that I’ve read “Landmarks” by Robert Macfarlane and a landscape photographer whose work I’ve discovered, Helen Sear…more to come.


Feeling a little frustrated as I’ve worked hard and enjoyed writing my essay and have learnt a lot. I am keen to get my essay to my tutor but find that before I can I need to make my proposal for assignment 5 as the final part of part 4 coursework – I now need to take a little time out for some creative thinking, this wasn’t in my plan!


Life seems to have been getting in the way of my essay writing; I have been reading researching and collecting material over the past few weeks and now I’ve now got a window of peaceful time will be able to give the writing of it some sustained time which is what I need.


I sent my essay for part 4 proposal to my tutor and she has approved it as a rough plan, which is great as really fancy doing some research into Minor White and his peer group of photographers – It will be quite a challenge as I find his and Steiglitz’s work interesting and aesthetically pleasing but I’m not sure that I understand the depth of it well.


More time in “my woods” this past couple of weeks. I’m really enjoying closely observing though not much is changing recently, however this is forcing me to look at things in a different way which is good.


I have had my video feedback with my tutor on my 3rd Assignment and was pleasantly surprised with my Tutor’s reaction to my work. This was mostly as it was my first ever assignment in black and white and I had always thought that Colour photography was my thing. I was pleased with the outcome and my Tutor was surprised that it was my first time with black and white and thought it effective, so I will definitely do more black and white work. I have some work to do now on finalising the images and more particularly in sequencing them



 Research into an area of landscape practice that particularly interests you and relates to your own photography in some way.

 I broke the key pointers/suggestions in the brief down to:

  • Something that inspires you and which you’ll enjoy exploring in some depth.
  • An aspect of landscape that has troubled you in some way, and you wish to challenge yourself further.
  • You may wish to discuss the work of a related group of practitioners, a movement or another theme within landscape practice.
  • Relate to your current practice or proposed future bodies of work. This will help you to contextualise your practical work.
  • More in-depth analysis on fewer topics is better than discussing many different topics briefly.
  • Include an in-depth evaluation of the work of key practitioners


I developed an interest in the work of Minor White and his contemporaries whilst researching for both assignment 3 and 6. I had only skimmed the surface of the concept of equivalents first developed by Stieglitz and particularly enjoyed the aesthetics of White, Edward Weston and Harry Callaghan’s landscape works. However I wanted to understand their work better.

My starting point was a discussion by Adams in his book, Beauty in Photography, about the work of Minor White. Whilst he valued certain of Minors works, he said “For things to be credible in photographs requires, I think, that there be an indication of the subject’s actual size. White, however, turned away from literal geography when he made landscapes that omit an indication of scale.” (Adams, 1990:93). Others like Szarkowski also discuss White’s his abstract photographs that can be hard to fathom. I developed an interest in more the more abstract landscape photographs since my photography of the railway bridge in assignment 3.

I narrowed my focus for the critical review down to the work of Minor White however thought that to concentrate just on his photographs with no indication of scale would be too limiting; though I was intrigued to discover how White opens up the act of looking by not always giving context and removing objects from their usual meaning. I wanted to use the opportunity to explore White’s in often abstract, mystical approach and the sequences that he developed so that photographs can be read in a spiritual way, to understand the way that he built on Stieglitz’s equivalence that photographs could have several meanings. I thought that this would be a challenge for me but also that it would be useful for me in the work that I am doing for assignment 6 and going forward.


An examination of the way that Minor White creates a language for photography rather than literal landscapes.

However I wasn’t sure:

  • How to frame the essay title/question – Should it be a statement I want to explore?
  • How to focus my essay so that it isn’t just a narrative about the work of Minor White? I guess I could bring in those who’ve influenced him like Stieglitz and Weston? But I didn’t want it to be a summary/recount of his work.

My tutor responded that I should start with a statement that I wish to explore, that gives me something to define and then argue against, before drawing a conclusion. She also suggested that to prevent it being a biography, I could bring in images to discuss.


It is one thing to write about seeing the world in a grain of sand, and an eternity in a flower, etc., and another thing to make a convincing picture of it” (Szarkowski, 1976:174). How does this apply to the work of Minor White?


I read widely online, in books, articles, and reviews and explored his work myself. Then formed a structure for my essay. I tried to keep referring back to my essay title whilst writing to maintain my focus.


 During the critical review I have:

  • Explored a particular area of landscape photographic practice and contextualised it.
  • I concentrated on a small area of landscape photographic practice.
  • I used research skills across a breadth of sources.
  • I analysed the sources of information and took account of their bias and interests.
  • I revisited and checked my understanding of Harvard referencing.
  • Regularly referred back to my opening question to keep my writing on track and relevant.
  • I believe I have avoided being too narrative and have taken an analytical route.
  • I have really progressed my knowledge of the practice of the modernist landscape photographers which I now intend to build on in assignment 5 and use to develop further my work on assignment 6.
  • I learnt much about the ideas of art and photographic critics of the era.
  • It has opened my eyes to yet another way of looking and working photographically beyond the aesthetic, in fact to the more conceptual that I was learning about in other OCA courses such as Identity and place.

Areas of challenge:

  • Staying within the word count. I could have continued expanding my research but had to set boundaries as I had far more material than I was able to use but this enable me to get a good understanding of the subject.
  • Having the confidence to voice my own opinions along with those who are well versed in the work of Minor White and this period of artistic practise.
  • Understanding areas of semantics and photography as a language.
  • Learning about symbolism in visual arts.


 Adams, R. (2009). Beauty in photography. New York, NY: Aperture.

 Szarkowski, J. (1976). Looking at photographs. New York: Museum Of Modern Art.

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Minor White 1908-1976

  • Born Minneapolis. Studied Botany at University, then worked as a photographer and taught photography until drafted in 1942.
  • After his discharge from the army in 1945 he studied Art history and aesthetics and spent time in New York he met Alfred Steiglitz, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams and with them formed Aperture magazine. He also met Beaumont and Nancy Newhall curators of the Museum of Modern Art.
  • Began by photographing rural landscapes in a meticulous way like Ansel Adams but already included symbolic references.

white cross

  • Zen philosophy and mysticism permeated his work and he became known for images of landscapes, architecture and men.
  • 1946 he was and invited to teach by Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts, made still life photographs in the style of Edward Weston. He began to investigate “equivalency” where the image stands for something other than the subject matter developing this with sequencing..
  • 1947 Photographed landscapes in California and visits Point Lobos that Weston’s photographs of intimate landscapes and was inspired by:



Point Lobos State Park, California November 20, 1946 (Princeton University Art Museum s.d.)

  • Studied Eastern and Western religions and made sequence of images Sound of one hand a way of communicating ecstasy. Developed a mystical approach to photography, often creating deep abstract images that enabled the reading of photographs as a means of self-enlightenment.
  • Visited Capitol Reef National Monument, Utah:


Highway Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah Biography | Princeton University Art Museum (s.d.)


Rye Beach, New Hampshire December 25, 1966

  • 1952 was part of the group that founded the photographic journal Aperture which he then edited for 23 years.
  • 1953 he moved to Rochester to work with Nancy Beaumont Newhall and teach in he read extensively around comparative religions and the orient as well as giving meditative sessions to his students. Editor of Aperture a journal for fine art photography for 20 years.
  • From 1968 White stops traveling in the west and takes shot trips in the east to Maine Vermont and Nova Scotia.


Vicinity of Lincoln Gap Road, Vermont July 1968


Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia September 1969

  • Published a number of books including, Sequence 6 (1951), Mirrors Manifestations (1969), and Octave of Prayer (1972).
  • Later in life his work became less depictive and naturalistic and moved towards more reductive abstract images.
  • His last sequence of work were sequence 1969 and 1970 retitled the Totemic sequence and are eastern landscape imagery.
  • Late in life when aware of his own mortality took this image of a decaying boat which is a metaphor for reaching the end of life.

white boat.JPG


Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999.

Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit (Getty Center Exhibitions) (s.d.) At: (Accessed on 23 August 2019)

Point Lobos State Park, California (x1980-552) | Princeton University Art Museum (s.d.) At: (Accessed on 23 August 2019)

Princeton University Art Museum (s.d.) [Online] At: (Accessed on 23 August 2019)

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Part 4: Landscape and identity

Exercise 4.5: Signifier – Signified

Find an advert from a magazine, newspaper or the internet, which has some clearly Identifiable signs. Using the example above to help you, list the signs. What are the signifiers? What is signified? Read Barthes’ essay to help clarify your understanding of these principles. You might find Barthes hard going at first, but please persevere. The way in which meaning is constructed in an image is directly relevant to photographic practice. (Alexander:137, 2013)

Roland Barthes (1915–80) was the father of semiotics in the world of photography. Semiotics is the study of signs and language and through this Barthes provided us with terms and tools that can be helpful in interpreting photographs.

I have studied Barthes previously and in particular his Rhetoric of the image (1977) previously, particularly in my Identity and place course:

I looked then at how Barthes analysed the same advertising text and how it’s signs conveys different messages.

Barthes identifies 3 different types of messages:

  1. The linguistic message: The text -denoted (captions and labels) and connoted (inferred).
  2. The literal message: Denoted – this is an obvious and uncoded message.
  3. The symbolic message: Connoted by signifiers and the signified.

The denotation of an image helps to define the coded messages within an image, although the reading of an image is dependent on the viewer’s cultural background. The signifiers are the connotators; Barthes calls the connotators a rhetoric and says “it is precisely the syntagm of the denoted message which naturalises the system of the connotated message (Barthes, 1977, p51).


(Alexander:137, 2013)

For Barthes the photograph is a sign that is made up of a signifier and a signified

Signs, signifier, signified: SIGN = SIGNIFIER + SIGNIFIED

In semiotic terms:

  • SIGNIFIER = the actual picture, its formal and conceptual elements
  • SIGNIFIED = what we think of when we see the picture. This could be very straightforward, for example a picture of a dog signifying ‘dogness’. Or it could be metaphorical or conceptual, for example a crown signifying royalty or the union flag signifying Britishness.
  • SIGN = the overall effect of a photograph


We can interpret a photograph on two different levels:

  • Denotation is an objective approach in line with ‘translation’ – looking at the elements present in the image. What’s there?
  • Connotation is more in line with ‘interpretation’ and is to some extent subjective. What do the elements mean (or connote)?

Punctum and studium

Studium is the term Barthes uses to the photograph’s cultural, political or social meaning.

The punctum is an element within the picture that disrupts the rest of the narrative. It punctures the meaning and takes it off on a different tangent.


Barthes talks about the rich tapestry of meaning. – summed up by his term ‘intertextuality’. Each person comes with their own background, education and experiences and all of these things contribute to how they interpret life and events. When interpreting photographs it’s also good to draw on other readings, pictures, paintings and experiences you’ve had in order to bring the photograph to life even more.

Barthes suggests that the linguistic message has 2 functions:

  1. Anchorage: This is where images can be ascribed various meanings and the text is used to focus the viewer on a particular meaning. Barthes defines anchorage as directional titles that pin down their meaning.
  2. Relay: Here the text and image work together and the text adds meaning. He defines relay as when the image and text combine together to give meaning.


Alexander, J. (2013) Photography 2: Landscape. Barnsley. Open College of the Arts

Barthes, Roland (1977). Rhetoric of the image, music text. London: Fontana Press.

Exercise 4.5: Signifier – Signified

Find an advert from a magazine, newspaper or the internet, which has some clearly identifiable signs. Using the example above to help you, list the signs. What are the signifiers? What is signified?

In this image the signifiers (Its formal and conceptual elements) are: the teapot, the tea, the teacup, the strong man, the steam and inviting warm tea.

The signified (what we think of when we see the picture) are: Strength, health, improved sleep.

These combine to make the sign or overall effect that Tea is good for you and will help you sleep.

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Exercise 4.4:

Read Deborah Bright’s essay ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’

As well as writing widely on photography, Bright is also an established practitioner. This text was written in 1985, and some of the things Bright argues for have been achieved. The text provides a contextual insight (particularly in relation to American photography) and an interesting sense of the climate from which much critical practice has emerged. Read the essay, noting key points of interest and your personal reflections in your learning log. (Alexander: 133, 2013)

Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’: An inquiry into the cultural meanings of landscape Photography

Key points of interest:

  • Images of landscape shouldn’t just be an antidote to politics or for aesthetic pleasure, as they are also a “selected and constructed text” bearing the imprint of its cultural pedigree; a record of human values and actions imposed on the land which the photographer plays a large part in constructing.
  • Need to look beyond formal and technical intentions to the cultural meaning of landscapes, whose interests they are conceived in, why they are made and consumed, as well as why landscape photography is so identified with a male eye.
  • Bright highlights the historical mechanical representations of tourist landscapes for their spectacular, expression of freedom and art.
  • She discusses the new topographic photographer’s landscapes as despite generally being thought to be devoid of style actually containing meaning and information from identities and histories of their photographers
  • Apparently Robert Adams suggests that the art market generates a feedback loop to the photographer who then defines their practice by their terms.
  • Bright also points out the dominance of male photographers in landscape photography.
  • She asks and list some examples of what can landscapes tell us about how we construct our sense of world and its relations: romantic nostalgia, energy as natural, human exploitation of energy as necessary, fiascos of development of atomic energy, zoning, the workplace, security, neighbourhood, domestic and retail spaces.
  • Bright suggests that women might take back landscape photography as a response to its male preserve. She cites photographers such as Linda Conner and Gretchen Garner who have created women centred approaches with intimate and emotional relations rather than the male predator relationships with the environment “men choose to act upon nature and bend it to their will while women simply are nature and cannot separate themselves from it”.
  • Bright concludes that we must be more conscious of the ideological assumptions that structure our approaches to interpreting landscape photography. She also suggests that photographers should be wary of the art market repackaging their work as “autonomous aesthetic objects”. She argues that landscape photography shouldn’t be narrow and ideologically neutral but used to question assumptions about nature and culture, “it is a historical artefact that can be viewed as a record of the material facts of our social reality and what we have chosen to make of them”.


Alexander, J. (2013) Photography 2: Landscape. Barnsley. Open College of the Arts

Bright-Marlboro.pdf (s.d.) At:

Learning points:

  • To consider carefully beyond the formal and technical intentions of to the cultural and political messages within a landscape image constructed by the photographer.
  • Consider why these images are made, whose interests were in mind when constructed.
  • Be aware that art landscape photographers may have had their practice defined by the market rather than themselves.
  • Reflect on whether my response to the landscape is women centred (intimate and emotional).
  • Ensure I question any assumptions about images and am aware of imbedded messages within them left by the photographer whether implicit or explicit.

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Exercise 4.3: A subjective voice

Write an entry in your learning log (around 300 words) reflecting on any current and previous circumstances and experiences that you think may influence, or may have influenced, your view of the landscape. Describe how you think these factors might inform your ideas about landscape photography or related themes. If you’re stuck, consider the following:

  • Did where you grew up / spent time whilst growing up influence your view of the landscape?
  • What sorts of engagement have you had with the landscape? Leisure? Work? Negative or traumatic experiences?
  • Are there any social or political issues that particularly concern you in relation to the landscape? (Alexander:127,2013)

My response:

In my childhood my exposure to the landscape was all for leisure and pleasure; the typical visits to beaches and the countryside led me to the traditional picturesque viewpoint when I began to photograph as a teenager.

My father was a keen amateur camera club photographer, and when we were on holiday when spent good periods of time in picturesque spots waiting for him to compose and capture shots; surprisingly I enjoyed this and began to learn to really look.

In my twenties and whilst at University I was exposed to some more gritty brooding landscapes in the midlands and north of England, but would capture these in a traditional way.

As an adult I travelled abroad for business and leisure, this increased and diversified my view of landscape photography. I saw points of differences and sought them more and more. My work with textiles in India 20-30 years ago fed my interest in the colours that abound there and the way that they assault the senses. This has influenced me until recently to work in colour and exploit strong colours and interesting clashes and combinations in my landscape photography.

My really personal relationship with the landscape really began 18 years ago when I began visiting Pembrokeshire and I felt Hiraeth for the first time, and a mourning when I am away from it. The landscape here is my soul food and since starting my photography degree I have increasingly looked in detail at the landscape as well as felt it. My father’s photography developed and he shared his fascination with macro in nature for instance with fungi and this gave me another perspective to add to my own.

My experience of landscape has all been positive to date, although my way of looking at the landscape has changed through my life, as has my feeling about various aspects of it. This has definitely fed through to my photography as I have moved from traditional viewpoints, to more abstract ones and recently through the influence of my OCA studies to conceptual and more personal representations of landscapes. I can’t say that I’ve been influenced by political views of landscapes to date but cultural and historical factors do feed into my work.

I look forward to embracing influences as they occur into my representations of the landscape.


Alexander, J. (2013) Photography 2: Landscape. Barnsley. Open College of the Arts

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