Assignment 4: “A picture is worth a thousand words” – Reflection

Although there was no photographic submission required for this assignment, I have nonetheless attempted to use the assessment breakdown as a starting point for my reflections here!

1: Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I think the layout of my short essay – both in the form of the document submitted to Gary and also in the html/blog version you can read online  – here –  looks good. I remember that back in the eighties there being some research that suggested that a typed essay got five to ten percent better marks than a hand-written one. If a thing looks right, it’s on the way to being right!

Similarly spell-checking, decent grammar and a proper use of punctuation help it seem like a proper piece of critical/academic writing. I have also made a conscious effort to follow the Harvard Referencing style guide available from the OCA.

In terms of vocabulary, I have tried to avoid jargon, and to adopt a relatively conversational tone.  I hope that this does not undercut the overall impact of my argument, although  I must confess that I have possibly overused contractions (“isn’t” wasn’t” etc) more in an effort to reduce my word count as much as to create a conversational tone in response to the assignment brief’s request that I “use the facts as a means to draw your own conclusions about what the picture means to [me].”

I also may have overused parentheses indicated by dashes. They make the prose read more like the way I think or speak. I am aware that this is not necessarily a good thing! And likewise, I have started lots of sentences with conjunctions (‘And’ and ‘But’ etc). As in the previous sentence, this is a try at creating a decent rhythm to the way that the sentences flow. Generally, despite the above caveats, I think I use language well.


2: Quality of outcome

It is incredible how short a thousand words actually is! I have struggled to contain my essay within the limits of the brief and feel that there is so much from my original essay plan that I have not been able to include. If there had been space enough, it would have been good to go into the three witches in Macbeth, or the way the picture makes me feel like one of the mortals in Polanski’s Dance of the Vampires as they (and the vampires) realise that they are the only people with reflections as they try to sneak through the mirrored dance hall…

However, I think I have created a nice, short narrative tracing my experience (and possibly allowing the reader to identify with the ‘I’ at the centre of it) from first looking closely at the picture through to the point where I had found out a lot more about it and had had the chance to think about what it all meant (effectively moving from close-up to a wider, more objective position); I hope it also shows something of the way that Cartier-Bresson’s relationship with photography moved from fun, to work and then reached a point where his name invested his pictures with “value” as units of exchange in the art market.

3: Demonstration of creativity

I think I have brought a good amount of personal connotative material (drawn from film, literature, art and photography) to my reading of the picture. I was also determined to use a picture I had seen exhibited during the time I have been working on the course as my subject for the essay and to make that context part of the story that’s told in it.

I think I am quite good at looking at pictures and working out  how they were made and what was used to make them. I hope I will be able to draw on this for the picture I will construct for the next assignment.

4: Context

I did a lot of research for this short essay and – just as I had to miss out a number of things that were present in the essay plan – it would have been good to have been able to expand a bit on some of the ideas I was able to fit in a bit more.

For example, an examination of the way the Spanish Civil War may have impacted on both the subjects of the picture and Cartier-Bresson himself. With his growing engagement with left-wing thought through the thirties and through turning to journalism as a way of making a living, Cartier-Bresson would have taken very different pictures in Spain only a few years later while his experiences during the second world war (where he experienced defeat, occupation and then finally liberation)  possibly influenced his settling on moments of perfection snatched from chaos as the basis of what he was trying to do. That said, this is t biographical speculation rather than something drawn from the picture itself, so missing it out has probably improved the essay as well as cutting down my tendency to over-write generally in the posts on this blog.

I could also have written more about surrealism. Or indeed about Barthes, the punctum and the studium…

As I said in the post leading up to the finished essay  Barrett (2006) provided good advice on how to describe photographs and what you see in them. It would have been good to do more with fitting the photograph into a particular genre of photograph based on both her categorisation of photographs and on the ideas of art photography genres explored in Bate (2009).

Alongside writing this I made a good start on working through Williams (2015) and have tried to apply her ideas of concise, clear writing and her method of engaging with the artwork you are writing about and providing answers to such questions as What is it? What might it mean? and So what? (p.63).

As a result of this, I will attempt to write differently about pictures I see in exhibitions, as well as about the exhibitions themselves. I’ll start, I think with some short pieces on some of the pictures shown as part of The Radical Eye at Tate Modern…



  • Barrett, T (2006) Criticizing photographs. Fourth Edition. New York. McGraw Hill
  • Bate, D (2009) Photography: the key concepts. London. Bloomsbury Academic
  • Williams, G (2014) How to write about contemporary art. London. Thames & Hudson



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