Assignment 5 – Reflection

scan of a print proof, made during my development of the final picture (post-poem, pre-guardian dimensions)

1: Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Described simply, the work for this assignment takes two things – a picture based on a French advertisement and one of TFL’s poems on the underground – and combines them into a single whole, capable of multiple readings. I think the picture hangs together conceptually and aesthetically,  creating an image that is good to look at.

It would be stretching things to describe the picture as a diptych as one of the two panels is not in truth an image, containing only text. Rather, each panel adds meaning to and comments upon the other, held together by common compositional stylistic and colour relationships.

I think both the overall composition (with diagonals running out from the upper centre to the bottom outside corners to form a large triangle) and the mirrored composition of the two individual panes comprising the finished picture turn what could be two things into a single whole. Similarly, the colour palette (with the overall background purply-pink derived from the rogue Desiree that has escaped the string bag) further helping to unify the picture’s two halves. Similarly, the use of the same serif font (apart from the poet’s name which is in a sans serif type-face matching – like the red of the title – the lettering on the original Poems on the underground card) again acts to unify the two panels

Technically it could be better if the lighting scheme had included some form of fill from the left of the image – a simple reflector would probably have been enough to lift both the label of the cheese and the masthead of The Orcadian,  without eliminating the shadows from the strobe bursting off to the right .Also the still life/advert picture could be a bit less muted than it is, particularly in its printed version (onscreen the colour appears more saturated and overall there appears to be more contrast). I should probably have done more investigation into the reproduction of colour in 1960’s advertising and have tried in some way (get hold of full photoshop and play around with the CMYK colour space, rather than sticking with my copy of Elements’ RGB treatment) and have tried to achieve some of the heightened punchiness associated with the dye transfer process.


2: Quality of outcome

The connotative meanings identified by Bathes in the original advert –  culinary preparation, still life and plenty – are as present within the culture today as they were fifty years ago, and i think theycan be assumed to transfer automatically onto my image. The question is whether my extra meanings – advertising and the references to Barthes’ essay and the replacement of the original idea of Italianicity with Orcadianicity – are readable by others.

There are two levels to the question arising from the first of these additional meanings: does it signify “an advert” and does it – to those in the know, at any rate – signify the Panzani advert and therefore Barthes’ essay.

There are still adverts like  Panzani one – image with textual overlay – appearing in the press today. They may seem a bit unsophisticated and old fashioned, but they are definitely identifiable. This level of “advertiness” is simply evoked by the text superimposed on the photograph. The mimicry of the Panzani original should prompt people who know of it to make the association, and then the page guides and the inclusion of the areas of picture that would be cropped to fit them all imply a critical distancing from the image’s possible use as a “real” advertisement.

Maybe I should have tried including the collection of Barthes’ essays that includes Rhetoric of the Image (Image-Music-Text) opened up in front of the string bag in the still life, but I think it is likely this would have thrown off the composition more than it would have clarified the meaning.

As for “Orcadianicity”, I think there is enough (“mother’s food,”  the way “plantains, saltfish/sweet potatoes” effortlessly conjures up the idea of Nichols’ “West Indianness” and the overall narrative of the poem; the anchoring text and the particular brand of whiskey) to make links between the poem and the image and the image and the poem with me. Whether it would work as well for an audience of my fellow Orcadians is a different question.

I ran a quick facebook survey of people I was at school with to find out what foods they associated with growing up and while clapshot featured, haggis did not; poached, smoked fish made multiple appearances and so did ‘treat’ cafe-food like mince rolls and chipshop patties. It would appear that the idea of Orcadianicity I have conjured up is at best misleading, aimed more at outsiders who will pick up only on much broader ideas of Scottishness and then associate them with specifically Orcadian ones. But this in its own way this strengthens the link to Barthes’ essay – he notes that Panzani sounds Italian to French people but would not do the same for real Italians; Panzani were (and still are) a French firm selling ideas of an exotic other to the French; I am selling an identifiable exotic other to people who don’t know the original first hand…

And I do miss eating food that has been cooked by my mother, but she was not herself Orcadian, so perhaps – in turn – she was missing (and recreating) the food that she ate as a child in Lancashire, years before she made her migratory journey over the Pentland Firth with my – equally English –  father. But that’s another story and possibly somebody else’s (her) punctum.

I should also note here that the picture already includes a lot of material whose copyright is held by someone else (the poem) and could include more. The right hand side perhaps could incorporate the Poems on the Underground branding/logo, adding to the contextual pointers towards advertising and one of the relationships between the poem and the still life. I definitely should investigate how I would go about acquiring permission from Nichols (and her publisher?) to include the poem here, if this was going to be made public as something more than an academic exercise sited within an obviously educational discourse.

3: Demonstration of creativity

I have said elsewhere that I feel my photographic practice tends towards the more arid end of the the heart – head spectrum. This does not necessarily imply solemnity in my work (indeed, I strongly believe that humour is a vital underpinning to stuff like this) but does mean that it is not likely to include attempts to directly represent my emotions and feelings.

Viewed in this way, Orcadianicity becomes the second or third step in a series of pieces of work – the first being either my submission for Assignment 3, Life During Wartime –  playing with ideas of how I could construct an idea of myself that can be viewed as a coherent one by others or Assignment 2 which took an unpleasant incident – cutting off the tip of my finger while slicing vegetable – and used it as the basis for a series of pictures exploring ideas of time.

These all seem to be entering into the area of conceptual art while moving away from the more traditional work I was producing during The Art of Photography. This is in no way a bad thing, but there is also  danger that this could – if taken much further – move me into territory where I am merely being a bit of a smart arse, commenting on theoretical ideas and making clever-clever references to photographs produced long ago in the silver gelatin age.

At any rate, I need to take care here: all three of the C&N assignments that follow this trend are rooted in my experience; I need to make sure that any further continuation of it retains its links to the personal.


4: Context

While I think the picture works well, cramming a lot of diverse meaning into a single image, I’m less sure of whether any single person (including myself) could unpack them all, but the construction of the ones I’m aware of is – I think – well documented in the post that accompanies and supports the image. Similarly, the process I went through in determining what path I should take into the assignment is clear.

On a wider contextual level I think the decision not to reconstruct Kertész’ 1928 picture Meudon stems at least in part from my reaction to Geoffrey Crewdson’s work in the exercises leading up to the assignment. Bate (pp 138-140) makes a strong case for viewing much of contemporary photography as being an attempt to re-establish the hierarchies of subject matter (historical painting – landscape – portraiture – still life) that underpinned both academic painting in the nineteenth century and also the pictorialist strand of cultivating a painterly surface in early art photography. Off the artists looked at in the coursework here, I like Jeff Wall’s work a lot and also that of Cindy Sherman, but neither really inspires me to make work in that vein; Crewdson leaves me cold.

And, for the first time during this course, I have managed not only to do, but also to write up all the exercises and projects in a process that has not dragged on for considerably longer than I had planned. This is considerable progress and hopefully will continue during the next module, I intend to take with the OCA, Identity and Place.


  1. Barthes, R. (1964) ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’.  in Image-Music-Text (1977) trans. Heath, S. London: Fontana, 32-51
  2. Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. 1st Edition. London: Bloomsbury

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.