Assignment 4 – ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

• If you choose a well-known photograph, take time to research its context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc. Add all this information into your essay to enable you to draw a conclusion from your own interpretation of the facts.

• If you choose to use a found photograph, a picture from your own collection, or perhaps one from an old family archive, use it as an opportunity to find out something new. Avoid telling us about that particular holiday or memory – look directly to the photograph for the information. It may be interesting to compare and contrast your memory with the information you’re now seeing anew from ‘reading’ the picture so intensely.

I feel this assignment should be relatively straight-forward, choose a photograph, describe the signs and signifiers, write about denotation, connotation, punctum and studium add a conclusion and submit it to my tutor. Simple! What I have discovered is that it is not so simple, for me at any rate, and that the decision of which photograph to choose is more difficult than I thought it would be.

My wife and I were recently going though some cupboards trying to git rid of stuff that we no longer needed and we came across a box of photographs. She wanted to throw them out but I have kept them, I think because I was hoping that I would find a great image to use for this exercise, however that was not the case. So having disgarded that idea I now need to find an image that I want to write about and this has high-lighted my lack of knowledge about contemporary photographers which I need to address.

The obvious route to go down would be to look at an image from on of the ‘greats’ that whose work we have looked at on the course; Diane Arbus, Eugene Smith, Cartier-Bresson etc. This would have the advantage that it would be possible to find an image of theirs that has been written about extensively and so it would be easier to find references and quotes that I could use, however, this feels like a bit of a cop out. Instead I have decided to try and find photographers who are less well known but whose work appeals to me. In addition I feel that I want to look at the work of photographers from Britain, Europe, or further East; as so much of the writing on photography seems to be from a US perspective and I would like to try and see if nationality changes the way that people photograph the world.

One of the photographers I have come across is John Myers, an English photographer and painter whose black and white images taken of everday scenes in the 1970s struck a chord with me.

House and garden, Chawn Hill, Stourbridge 1979 © John Myers

I like the images he made, I think because they capture a time that I can remember and which seems so much less complicated than today. This simplicity is evident in his images, the use of black and white to simplifying them, the absence of people in most of the images and a focus on shapes and geometry within his photographs. Because of this simpicity I am not sure if the images lend themselves to this assignment and I wonder also if I should choose an image that has been written about more widely as it might be easier to research. For now, John Myers’ work is something to think about but I need to keep looking for other photographers/images.

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