Reading Photographs: Project 2 – Reading Pictures

BMW Advertisement - The Guardian 31st May 2016

BMW Advertisement – The Guardian 31st May 2016

Rip out an advertising image from a newspaper supplement and circle and write on as many parts of the image as you can. Comment on what it is, what it says about the product and why you think it’s there.

C&N Coursebook, p101

It’s an advertisement for a car. It’s an advertisement for a car made by BMW. But it takes a bit more looking before you realise it’s for an Electric BMW car. And I think that is almost the whole point of the advert. There is also a massive flaw in the picture (for me at least) but I’ll get onto that later…

Everything about the photograph implies movement + fluidity:

  • The compostional instability created by placing the car centrally.
  • The blur that surrounds the car itself, sharp apart from the rapidly turning wheels (and therefore held steady and sharp in the frame –  as it motivates the camera’s movement from left to right – the picture is definitely about the car) in the centre of the photograph.
  • The interlocking diagonals creating two triangles at the top and bottom of the right hand side of the frame and in turn creating a single larger > that adds impetus to the cars right left motion.
  • The highlights spattering off the the sharp edges of the front of the car
  • The swooshes created by the barriers that stop cars flying out into the gulf beyond the hairpin bend.

The photograph says Whoosh! and the photograph says Zooom! There is a car, speeding up round and away along a twisty mountain road. The image is as zingy and fresh feeling (helped by the cool colour palette used) as your mouth after you’ve cleaned your teeth!

And then, the secondary purpose of all the blurred space can come into play as a background for text and for the logos and badges associated with the car.

You read the words “Born to Go Further”; your eye moves across the distance behind the car; you understand how far it has come already and begin to understand how far it may still go.

And then you read the smaller print sub-head: “The BMW Become Electric Event” and the penny drops – it’s an electric car! It’s an electric car with range (there is no city with charging facilities back there in the out-of-focus, traveled distance)! It’s an electric car capable of speed! It’s an electric car with an engine that delivers true power (and that speed is being delivered while the car surges uphill)!

And it could be you in the car surging uphill! The reflection rendering the windscreen opaque acts to the same end as sfumato  (the technique of blurring detail in renaissance portraiture, mentioned by Bate, p.83 in the section “The Blank Expression”) by allowing the viewer to project themself into the driving seat of the car…

There is probably something that could be said about the anthropomorphism encouraged by the design of the front of the car – the curve of the radiator grille and the two headlights function like the eyes and mouth of an eager face – but that is more to do with the design of the car and watching too many animated films than a function of the photograph itself.

So much for the studium. But then my eye drops to the number plate: M – small circle, like a lower case O – KE; reads as “Moke” and, in my head, a memory of there being a Mini Moke stirs…

I can’t remember whether the Mini Moke was sporty, like the Cooper, or something else. I look it up online. The wikipedia entry states: “The name comes from “Mini”—the car with which the Moke shares many parts—and “Moke”, which is an archaic dialect term for donkey. […]  It was subsequently offered […] as a low-cost, easily maintained utility vehicle.”

It goes on to say that the  “British-made Mokes were fitted with a low-end 848 cc engine […] they used the same suspension, gearbox and 10 inch wheels as the standard Mini Van.” Donkey, utiliity; low-end engine; Mini Van; not fast and sporty at all. Oh dear.

My personal connotation, drawn from the picture’s manifest content conjures up a nicely subjective punctum in reaction to the picture. Unfortunately for BMW this punctum ruptures the carefully constructed mesh of referents contained by the picture and – for this viewer at least – deflates its claims of power, speed and range while leaving me thinking of a donkey.

Ah well, I’m not in the market for a new car at the moment and – even if I was – I probably wouldn’t be able to afford a new BMW…



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