Category Archives: Part 3 – Mirrors and Windows

Part 4 – Research Point 1

The research point is to look at the Barthes essay Rhetoric of the Image and reflect on looking at his definitions of anchorage and relay, thinking about examples of these and considering how you could use them in your own work.

I will start by admitting that I find Barthes a complex read. This may be partly because he wrote in French and I am reading translations. It may be because his background is in philosophy and semiotics. I find I always have to have a dictionary to hand. I looked at the essay as a whole as the parts on anchorage and relay can only be understood in context.

All quotes are from the Rhetoric of the image – initially published in 1964, republished in Image Music Text in 1977 and obtained here from The Photography Reader (2019).

In the Rhetoric of the Image Barthes starts by saying that many people, especially linguists feel that images are weak communicators in comparison with language but other think that it is ‘ineffably rich’.

Barthes then looks at levels of messages in photographs. The first linguistic – and actual words such as a caption or labels within the image. These can have both denotational and connotational meanings. He then describes a clearly coded iconic message- the details of the image and what it shows (in this case the makings of soup) – the perceptual message or the denoted image.  The third level he describes as a ‘message without a code’, a literal message that we understand because of our previous knowledge – the cultural message or the connoted, symbolic image.

He notes that linking of text and image is common. Does the image duplicate information in the words or does the text add ‘fresh information’ to a picture? He sees us (in 1964) as a civilisation of writing and speech rather than of images and notes that there is a linguistic message (length variable and irrelevant) with every image – title, caption, dialogue, accompanying article.

All images are polysemous (have multiple meanings). The reader chooses. The linguistic message is one way of fixing the message, resolving the (terror of) uncertainty. The text helps to identity the scene – what is it?

Anchorage – tells you what of all the possible denotive meanings is the one that you are supposed to understand – to focus not simply my gaze but also my understanding.  It limits what you see.  It directs you to the meaning that is desired (especially in advertising). Anchorage is a control, a selective explanation (elucidation). It acts to repress (cut down) the meaning of the image to that wished by the creator or society.

 Relay (less common than anchorage) is often seen in cartoons/comics. ‘The text and image stand in a complimentary relationship’. The unity of the message becomes important rather than the individual items. He describes the information gained by the text as more ‘costly’ as it need more formal learning to acquire and the information from the image as ‘lazier’ and ‘quick’ allowing a hurried reader to avoid the necessity of verbal descriptions. He also notes that either text or image will usually be dominant.

Barthes then goes on to talk about the denoted image. He says that although a photograph, ‘by virtue of its absolutely analogue nature’ – is a message without a code – but also that everybody automatically understands more then the liberal image because of our cultural knowledge. However, a photograph is different from a drawing as any drawing chooses what to show, as opposed to a photograph which (once the frame has been decided) shows everything. The photograph records, evoking not only being-there but also having-been-there. There is always the evidence of this is how it was. It is different from any other form of image making (a mutation of a way of passing on information).

The connoted (symbolic image) is complex because there are as many possible interpretations as there are readers. The interpretation depends on prior knowledge, a ‘body of attitudes’. The language of the image consisted both utterances emitted by the creator and the utterances received from the viewer. Therefore, they may/will include surprises. The whole set of connotations from the image Barthes calls a rhetoric.

 He ends by noting that the meaning (of an image) is torn internally between culture and nature – but the whole thing combines to tell a story.

In summary:

Barthes defines anchorage as the controlling words that direct the reader to what the creator wishes him/her to see. Relay in text is something that sits alongside the image and gives additional value, is complimentary. Anchorage directs you; relay suggests possibilities.


  1. In the book Our Forbidden Land by Faye Godwin (Godwin, 1990) she uses a combination of both. The images are accompanied by a simple text such as ‘Stubble Burning, east Kent’ which, by itself, would allow you to look at the image and think ‘Oh. It must be winter’ or ‘That makes a lot of smoke’ – but she then accompanies the image with a passage of information about the context which makes it clear that she wants you to read it as an obnoxious and dangerous process.
  2. In The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin she uses simple factual titles such as ‘Christie and Sandy on the beach, Provincetown, Mass.1976’ which’ while grounding the image in reality, this happened, I was then then – allows you to make up your own story.
  3. In Tal Uf Tal Ab by Robert Frank there is even less information, the name of the person or a place. You are left with your own interpretation.
  4. In a copy of the magazine Breathe (picked at random off the floor) -the images (while often very attractive) are clearly secondary to the anchoring text, for instance, a long article entitled ‘Food for the soul’ (Yates, 2016) which is accompanied by luscious looking strawberries, cherries and raspberries. This is very similar in use to the advertisement Barthes describes in Image of the Rhetoric, although here you are being sold a lifestyle rather than a specific product.

How might this help me?

In much of the work I do I want the reader/viewer to develop their own ideas. To Think. To feel. To imagine. But, equally, I do want to give some direction – I take images of people with disabilities. I do not want the viewer to be negative. I want them to go into their world not look from outside with contempt. I think I need to consider the relay type text, maybe a simple caption, a single word – but with an essay (possibly too formal) at some point.

I am thinking about a piece of memory work – maybe the words need to be totally separate. Single words in a grid? Minimal size captions on the alternate page?


Frank, R. (2010) Tal Uf Tal Ab. Gottingen, Germany: Steidl.

Godwin, F. (1990) Our forbidden land. London: J. Cape.

Goldin, N. et al. (1986) The ballad of sexual dependency. New York, N.Y.: Aperture Foundation.

Wells, L. (2019) The photography reader: history and theory. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, Ny: Routledge.

Yates, J. (2016) ‘Food for the soul’ In: Breathe 2016 pp.74–75.


Much, if not all photography is a way of looking at memory. Your memory, your family’s memory, the collective memory. A memory of a person or the memory of a place. Photos taken today will become memories for the future. Photographs are one way of engaging with the past. Marianne Hirsh uses the phrase ‘points of memory’ (Hirsh, 2012) to describe this. This memory can be personal – but does not have to be. Remembering the past, before you were even born, is a way of paying homage to it. Hirsh calls that ‘postmemory’ and discusses it in her book Family Frames together with other forms of describing memory and how images can be read in the context of the family. See Marianne Hirsch – Family Frames for an extended review of the book.

Annette Kuhn in Family Secrets talks about the way photographs trigger memory, both personally – in a photograph of herself as a child and collectively – in the photograph of a burning London with St. Pauls set against the smoke.  See Annette Kuhn – Family secrets for an extended review of her book.

Keith Roberts’s work on the Hardman Portraiture Collection of images of mainly servicemen discusses how memory can be personal or collective (postmemory) and can also be direct (something you remember) or a family memory. This memory can be invoked by photographs, which Roberts’s notes can be both an act of recall and an act of mourning. It also references Boym’s work on nostalgia (Boym, 2016) which again can either be reflective (looking at personal and historical past – how the images impact on the families of the servicemen) or restorative (looking a national past – in this instance how the images evoke WWII and its effect on the national thought and memory).

A recent book Project Cleansweep by Dara McGrath (McGrath, 2010) also talks about memory, in this case how the land holds memories and how images can reveal them.  War Sand by Donald Weber (Weber and Frolicking, 2018) talks at length about the memories held by the beaches of the Normandy invasion in WWII. He uses a combination of present images, stories and microanalysis of sand samples to tell the story of the invasion and the lives lost.

Memories can also be highly personal. Lesley McIntyre, whose daughter was born with a muscular abnormality that impacted both on what she could do and how long her life was likely to be, started documenting her life in photographs from when she was born and continued until her untimely death age 14. The book – The Time of her Life is a poignant memorial to a life lived fully (McIntyre, 2004).

A quick look at my shelves warns me that this list of books about memories could become extremely extensive – enough that it reminded me of where I started thinking about memory – much, if not all photography is a way of looking at memory. Making worthwhile memories is critical, hard and important both for myself and my family.

Reference list:

Boym, S. (2016) The future of nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, A Member Of The Perseus Books Group, Dr.

Hirsch, M. and Harvard University Press (2016) Family frames : photography narrative and postmemory. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Harvard University Press, Dr.

Kuhn, A. (2002) Family secrets : acts of memory and imagination. London ; New York: Verso.

Mcgrath, D. (2020). Dara McGrath Project Cleansweep. Beyond the Post Military Landscape of the United Kingdom. Heidelberg, Neckar Kehrer Heidelberg.‌

Mcintyre, L. (2004) The time of her life. London: Jonathan Cape.

Roberts, K. (s.d.) ‘There Then : Here Now – Photographic Archival Intervention within the Edward Chambre Hardman Portraiture Collection 1923-1963’ At: (Accessed on 24 March 2020)

There Then, Here Now (s.d.) At: (Accessed on 24 March 2020)

Weber, D. and Frolick, L. (2018) War sand. (s.l.): Polygon.


Exercise 3.4 – The Gaze

The exercise is to produce a series of 5 portraits that show various types of ‘the gaze’ to tell a narrative.

I have discussed the theory behind ‘the gaze’ in The Gaze

I had two possible thoughts around this:

  1. To use some of images that I have been developing for assignment 3, which are pictures of people at a gaming club.
  2. To talk a completely separate set of images to illustrate the gaze.

I decided to do the latter, as not only would this avoid the risk of duplicating images in an exercise and an assignments, which although possible is not ideal, but this would also allow me to act as ‘the director’ and ask people to do exactly what I wanted.

I asked my husband and son to help with this and took a series of images of my husband modelling (his hobby) with my son helping out and watching the process. The activity needed to be done inside and therefore necessitated the use of flash. They were moderately cooperative – but got involved in what they were doing so didn’t always listed to my directions.

The main protagonist was the modeller, with the watcher playing a secondary role.

Final story:

The Direct Address

The Averted Gaze

The Spectator's Gaze

The Internal Gaze

The Bystander's Gaze

This was a fascinating exercise, initially reading all about the gaze and how that term is used in a wide variety of ways and then trying to actually catch people doing the specific thing I wanted.  It would have been simpler to use a series of already taken images and pick out examples of types of gaze, but I wanted to have the extra control and practice of acting as the director in a shoot. I felt this was moderately successful – but something I want to try again with different people and specifically with people I did not know so well.

Learning Points:

  • Be firm and clear with your directions
  • Family don’t always listen well
  • Be prepared to go back and reshoot the images

Contact Sheets:

The Gaze

“To gaze implies more than to look at – it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze.”  Schroeder. J, in Barbara B Stern, ​Representing Consumers: Voices, Views and Visions ​(1998) London: Routledge. Pg 208.

The gaze is an important in the theory of photography. There are multiple ways of looking at what that actually means. A simple list that summarises it is:

  1. The photographer’s gaze
    1. What they are actually looking at and how they are looking, which might be though the lens of the camera – but could also be by looking at the image that they are planning (an example of this would be in the work of Gregory Crewdson).
  2. The viewer’s (spectator’s) gaze
    1. The male gaze is discussed in Berger’s Ways of Seeing (Berger, 1973) – ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’and usually implies power, ‘I own the image/object that is shown’. It was initially suggested in relation to film by Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (Mulvey, 1975).
    2. The female gaze – initially discussed by feminists in response to Mulvey’s work and now widely used but not clearly defined. Is it about all work by females? Or only about that work with a feminist slant? There is an interesting recent article by Murray Brown that says, ‘if anything, the female gaze is simply an awareness that women do not hold half the power’ (Murray Brown, 2019).
    3. The LGBTQ+ gaze also needs to be considered and has more recently been explored, for instance in the context of the work of Mapplethorpe and Goldin.
    4. The ‘colonial gaze’ – about attitudes to ‘others’ (not white, European or American).
    5. The academics gaze – analysing the context, sources and details
  3. The gaze of the person/people within the image
    1. Where they are looking and who they are looking at- an example of multiple gazes within an image is Jeff Wall’s photograph Picture for Women (1979).

      Picture for Women -© Jeff Wall
  4. The bystander’s gaze
    1. People looking at people looking! Good examples of these are in Martin Parr’s recent work on Versaille where he has photographed people taking images of themselves (Pégard, 2019).

For a more complicated consideration of the gaze  there is an essay by Lutz and Collins in ‘The photography reader’ (Wells, 2010, pp. 354-374) which starts by saying ‘the photograph……is not simply a captured view of the other, but rather a dynamic site at which many gazes or viewpoints intersect’.  The essay is written in the context of research on National Geographic images. They discuss seven different types of gaze which I shall summarise here:

  1. The photographer’s gaze which controls the subject matter, the structure, view and content, and which may be emotionally distant (alienated) from the subject
  2. The magazines gaze (they were talking in the context of the National Geographic), but there would be similar issues from any commissioned image – where a specific image is chosen, and the layout will give a desired ‘reading’ to the image
  3. The magazine reader’s gazes where ‘the reader….is invited to dream in the ideological space of the photograph’ (Tagg, 1988), anything that jars may put the reader off interpreting the image as the magazine would want. It is reliant on cultural models, gender and diversity of experience together with the context of reading (a quick skim or detailed look, alone or with other people)
  4. The non-Western subject’s gaze (or more generally the gaze of the subject in the image) divided further into:
    1. Confronting the camera, acknowledging the photographer and the reader ‘I see you looking at me, so you cannot steal that look’ (p.359), what it means is dependant on the expression (smiling, glaring etc.), a collaboration and an attempt at creating intimacy. They note that those who the West defines as weak are more likely to look directly at the camera than those defined as strong – is that editorial choice/political reasons?
    2. Looking at something else within the frame – gives information about the subject of the image
    3. Looking into the distance – may suggest things about the personality of the subject (dreamy, forward thinking)
    4. No gaze visible, too small, covered with a mask – ‘a boundary erected’
  5. A direct Western gaze – in the context of the National Geographic included Westerners in the image may allow the viewer/reader more identification with the image. The meaning will then partially depend on how the various people within the image interact – ‘the mutuality or non-mutuality of the gaze of the two parties’ (p.362). Is the gaze colonial? Is it patronising? These types of images are less frequent now – is that because of a changing view of Americans within the world – the other becoming more threatening and therefore safer behind the camera?
  6. The refracted gaze of the Other: to see themselves as others see them – ‘mirror and camera are tools of self reflection and surveillance’ (p.365), creating a double, looking for self-knowledge. The photo may actually increase alienation, see Sontag’s suggestion ‘the photographer is a supertourist, an extension of the anthropologist……the photographer is always trying to colonise new experiences……to fight against boredom’ (Sontag, 1978).
  7. The academic spectator’s gaze as a subtype of the reader’s gaze which here looks at a critique of the images and why they were made

They summarise by saying that ‘the multiplicity of looks is at the root of a photo’s ambiguity, each gaze potentially suggesting a different way of viewing the scene’ (p.171).

In the OCA handbook for IAP it states:

A key feature of the gaze is that its subject remains unaware of the present viewer. Academics and theorists have identified a number of different gazes:

  • the spectator’s gaze​ – the look of the viewer at a person in the image.
  • the internal gaze​ – the gaze of one depicted person at another within the same image.
  • the direct address​ – the gaze of a person depicted in the image looking out directly, as if at the viewer (through the camera lens).
  • the look of the camera​ – the way the camera itself appears to look at people depicted in the image (the gaze of the photographer).
  • the bystander’s gaze​ – the viewer being observed in the act of viewing.
  • the averted gaze​ – the subject in the image deliberately looking away from the lens.
  • the audience gaze​ – an image depicting the audience watching the subject within the image.
  • the editorial gaze ​– the whole ‘institutional’ process by which a proportion of the photographer’s gaze is chosen and emphasised.

There is a comprehensive overview of the gaze and accompanying  issues available at: . In this Daniel Chandler adds in discussion about the direction and angle of the gaze, proximity and how this is varied by race and custom (as is length of time someone will look at you and how direct the gaze will be). He also discusses the eye of the camera, although mostly related to film and TV and notes ‘Looking at someone using a camera (or looking at images thus produced) is clearly different from looking at the same person directly. Indeed, the camera frequently enables us to look at people whom we would never otherwise see at all. In a very literal sense, the camera turns the depicted person into an object, distancing viewer and viewed’ (Chandler, 1988).

This short discussion of  different ways of considering the use of the word ‘gaze’ shows many alternative ways of interpreting it and its use within photography. While I was considering this, in the work-up for exercise 3.4 I came across a photo-essay on the BBC news site.

I do not usually follow the British royal family – but I thought that many of these images demonstrated the types of gazes listed above. In order:

  1. The spectator’s gaze
  2. The internal gaze
  3. The audience gaze
  4. The editorial gaze
  5. The look of the camera
  6. The bystander’s gaze
  7. The averted gaze
  8. The direct gaze
  9. The direct gaze
  10. The direct gaze
  11. The internal gaze
  12. The internal gaze

    Meghan and Harry © Samir Hussein/Wireimage
  13. The direct gaze and the averted gaze
  14. The direct gaze and the averted gaze
  15. The direct gaze

    Meghan and Harry © Paul Edwards/Reuters
  16. The bystander’s gaze
  17. The audience gaze
  18. The spectator’s gaze


Barbara B Stern, ​Representing Consumers: Voices, Views and Visions ​(1998) London: Routledge. Pg 208.

Berger, J. (1973). Ways of Seeing. New York, Viking Press.

Chandler, Daniel (1998): ‘Notes on “The Gaze”‘ [WWW document] [Accessed 12 March, 2020]

Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen, 16(3), pp.6–18.

Murray Brown, G. (2019). Can a man ever truly adopt the ‘female gaze’? [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Mar. 2020].

Pégard, C. (2019). Versailles, Visible invisible: Dove Allouche, Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Eric Poitevin, Viviane Sassen : [exposition, Versailles, Château de Versailles, Domaine du Trianon, 14 mai-20 octobre 2019]. Paris: Éditions Dilecta, Dl.

Sontag, S. (1978). Susan Sontag on photography. London, Great Britain: Allen Lane.

Tagg, J. (1988). The Burden of Representation : Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wells, L. (2010). The photography reader. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Ny: Routledge, pp.354–374.

Exercise 3.3

The exercise is to consider how marginalised or under-represented groups could be badly or unhelpful portrayed and how being an insider could help combat this.

Polly Braden - from Out of the Shadows
© Polly Braden – from Out of the Shadows

People who are marginalised include people with mental health difficulties, people with learning difficulties, people of races that are not the prevalent one in the area/country/context that the information is read in, drug users, the poor, the whole LGBTQ+ population, the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Palestinians in Israel and the Mexicans in the USA – and this list could continue. It is well recognised that information about these groups could help decrease marginalisation and there have been many attempts in popular culture to say that these groups should be included. There is a song by Dory Previn (Previn, 1971) which contains the words:

Give me your poor

Your tired your pimps

You carhops your cowboys

Your midgets your chimps

Give me your freaks

Your whores your harlots

Your flunkies your junkies

Give me your starlets


Give me your poor

Your maladjusted

Your sick and your beat

And your sad and your busted

Give me your has-beens

Give me your twisted

Your loners your losers

Give me your black-listed

And, of course, there is the sonnet by Emma Lazarus – “The New Colossus” (Lazarus, 1883) that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty which contains the words:

‘With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.’

Much of the time these groups of people are negatively shown simply by the poor choice of words that are used about them and therefore leading to assumptions being made by the majority of people that have no insight into the reality of the people involved or the life they live. A topic I know a reasonable amount about is autism. A quick internet search netted me an article about the myths of ASD such as autistic people can’t make friends, autistic people can’t show empathy, only boys are autistic and autistic children are naughty. Luckily this was an article saying that all these are wrong – but equally I have heard all of them expounded to me at length as incontrovertible truths usually along with the statement ‘but everybody knows that’.

Reasons for unhelpful portrayal include (in no particular order):

  • Oversimplification of the issues
  • Lack of understanding and research by the writer, speaker or photographer
  • Real bigotry, racism, homophobia and similar problems
  • Overuse of stereotypes in TV, film and novels – such as the psychotic person who kills someone or lies in storylines – this is particularly common in crime novels, which are widely read. This also occurs in sitcoms “She’s painted as ‘the other’ or ‘mad, bad and dangerous’” – although to a large extent this is being minimised by the involvement of organisations such as Mind (see – for more information on the work they do).
  • Over-glamourising of mental health problems such as a a focus on suicide or anorexia
  • Compassion fatigue – and overuse of violence -as described by Susan Sontag in ‘On Photography’ (Sontag, 1978) although she later changed her mind about how much this is true.
  • Showing negative aspects makes for more exciting (and often simpler) reading about a topic and is not always (or often) balanced by the positive (bad news sells)
  • Much information is written (photographed) by an outsider, a ‘normal’ ‘average’ person (often a white male) and is read by people of the same group.
  • People often write information to ‘raise awareness’ for a cause and therefore may well use the extremes (worst and best).
  • Deliberate misinformation -possibly the scariest reason of all
  • Sound bites, snippets of information reduced down to what fits in a Twitter message

The risk of multiple negative images in the media is well recognised. It is even included in a popular song by The Black Eyed Peas – ‘Where is the Love?’ (Black Eyed Peas, 2003)

What’s wrong with the world, mama

People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas

I think the whole world addicted to the drama

Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma


Wrong information always shown by the media

Negative images is the main criteria

Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria

Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinema

Yo’, whatever happened to the values of humanity

Whatever happened to the fairness and equality

Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity

Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity

But the problem is wider than just the proliferation of negative images. Incorrect positive images can be equally harmful. A suggestion that all people of colour are be as suave, intelligent and successful as Barak Obama might lead to the lack of any additional resources needed to support the group that fall at the opposite end of the educational spectrum in the USA!  There needs to be understanding that all groups that consist of more than one person are going to to have a range of problems, along with a range of positive aspects.

The most likely way to be able to spread accurate information is to know as much as possible about the situation and then to be able to describe it accurately and without bias. There are two ways of gaining that information. One is to research the situation as an outsider, being careful to take cognisance of all the viewpoints. An example of this would be if I decided to research the issues facing Jewish people in Fife. I am not a Jew and am therefore looking at it from the outside. I can never become a Jew. However, I could spend considerable time meeting with people, listening to their individual stories and trying to portray them accurately. The other way is to be an insider. In the above example, a Jewish person, even if they came from somewhere outside Fife, or even outside the United Kingdom would start from a place well ahead of me. They would understand the basic culture, know the religious rules and have a much greater chance of getting an accurate story.

However, there are ways of becoming an insider in a group. They involve time and patience and a willingness to listen and do careful research. Being an insider should combat most of the concerns listed above such as lack of understanding, overuse of stereotypes and over-glamorisation of the issues. Someone who is a member of the group, and therefore invested in their needs is less likely to give deliberate misinformation and more likely to show and accurate and balanced picture.

True Insiders (an invented term) are those that are living with the issues on a daily basis. They know and understand the situation from the ground up. These people can tell the story accurately and with emotion. They do, however, risk a bias of being over involved. The story is theirs. There is no neutrality. They story is told in depth and with heart-breaking detail.

© Nan Goldin – from the Ballad of Sexual Dependancy
  • Nan Goldin in the Ballad of Sexual Dependency tells about a group of people who are marginalised, a combination of drug users, people with AIDS and people who are involved with domestic violence. Goldin says, “Real memory, which these pictures trigger, is an invocation of the color, smell, sound, and physical presence, the density and flavor of life.” (Goldin, 1986). She is completely an insider.
  • Graham McIndoe in his exhibition Coming Clean and the associated book Chancers: Addiction, Prison, Recovery, Love talks about his drug addiction and its consequences to him and his family (Stellin and MacIndoe, 2016).
  • Sian Davey in Looking for Alice shows graphic (and endearing) images of what it is like to be the mother of a person with Down Syndrome, (Davey,2015) while Louis Quail in Big Brother describes the haunting life of someone with schizophrenia, the ups and downs, the disasters and the laughs (Quail, 2018).
  • Jim Mortram in Small Town Inertia shows people in his local community that struggle on a daily basis with debt, poor living situations and problems with mental health. He takes pictures of the people that are local to him while struggling himself as a Carer to his mother. The people are not quite as closely linked to him as the families of Davey and Quail – but he lives so closely within the community that he shows a real awareness of the difficulties involved (Mortram, 2017).
  • Timothy Archibald in Echolalia (Archibald and Levin, 2010) took a series of pictures of his autistic son to act as a a way of increasing his understanding and their joint communication. He says ‘Parents sent me snapshots of their kids that could have easily fit into the pages of my project: the notes, the body language, the in-door nudity, the hyper focus on an everyday object…parents around the world were snapping photographs of their autistic kid’s obsessions and behaviors. This was part of the process of trying to figure their kids out. It occurred to me then that I really had done nothing new with this project. I simply was doing what any parent would do, but I had an eye for good light and possibly a better camera’ (Smithson, 2013).

Involved observers are those who make a real personal investment of learning as much about the community as possible. They know the detail. They understand the issues. But they have a degree of neutrality. They are telling about others. They make an excellent case as there can be no assumption that they are biased. As they are more trusted by the community the story and images they obtain are more based in a real understanding, more truthful and more explanatory to others.

© Sara Davidmann – from Crossing the Line
  • Polly Braden, who, as far as I am aware, has no personal connection with autism or learning disabilities (I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong) has produced two books on this difficult topic Great Interactions (Braden, 2016) where things are mainly going well and the people are supported appropriately and Out of the Shadows (Williams and Braden, 2018) where much is not right. In spite of not being personally involved she has become emotionally involved and tells the stories from an inside viewpoint.
  • Sara Davidmann in Crossing the Line (Davidmann, 2003) tells the story of a cross-dressing community in London. She says ‘As I continued to work in the studio my role shifted. As these sessions were usually one to one more was required of me. I soon understood I had as much to give as take from the sessions’ (my italics). This sentence sums up much of what I’d important in becoming an involved observer and is crucial to telling the story with integrity.


Information about marginalised people is often poorly portrayed because of lack of real understanding and personal/social bias leading to over-simplification, repeating of inaccuracies that are widely accepted and attempting to glamourise the situation to make for a good ‘sound bite’. An insider (or a involved observer) can combat this by giving accurate and nuanced information, that tells a story in a way that people will understand, therefore benefiting the community. Their involvement allows them access to information that a stranger would either not obtain or that they might misinterpret. An involved photographer is more likely to be able to put the people at ease and therefore obtain more meaningful photographs.


Archibald, T. and Levin, A. (2010). Echolilia: sometimes I wonder. San Francisco: Echo Press.

Black Eyed Peas (2003). Where is the Love? Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].

Braden, P. (2016). Great Interactions: life with learning disabilities and autism. Stockport, England: Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Davidmann, S. (2003). Crossing the Line. Stockport: Dawi Lewis.

Goldin, N., Heiferman, M., Holborn, M. and Fletcher, S. (1986). The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. New York, N.Y.: Aperture Foundation.

Lazarus, E. (1883). The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus – Poems | Academy of American Poets. [online] Available at:

Mortram, J. (2017). Small Town Inertia. Liverpool: Bluecoat Press.

Previn, D. (1971). Mary C Brown and the Hollywood Sign. [Vinyl] Nik Venet. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].

Quail, L. (2018). Big Brother. Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Siân Davey (2015). Looking for Alice. Great Britain: Trolley Ltd.

Smithson, A. (2013). Timothy Archibald: ECHOLILIA and Stereoscopy Photographs. [online] LENSCRATCH. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].

Sontag, S. (1978). Susan Sontag On Photography. London, Great Britain: Allen Lane.

Stellin, S. and MacIndoe, G. (2016). Chancers: addiction, prison, recovery, love: one couple’s memoir. New York: Ballantine Books.

Williams, S. and Braden, P. (2018). Out of the Shadows. Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing

Exercise 3.2

Me, Myself and I

This exercise is similar to some I have done previously. When I started IAP I thought about identity (including my own) at some length, What is Identity? and Theories of Identity In CAN I also thought about identity and ended up making a series of images about the chairs in my house where I sit My Spaces.

Listing aspects of your own personality is difficult. Identity and personality are not the same, although personality is part of your identity. Identity can be broken down into several aspects:

  1. Who you are to other people:
    1. mother
    2. daughter (still relevant although both my parents are dead)
    3. wife
    4. ex-wife
    5. friend
    6. doctor
    7. Person who goes to your café regularly
  2. What your interests are:
    1. Photography
    2. Reading
    3. Knitting
    4. Music
    5. Collecting (mainly bears)
    6. Gardening
    7. Historical places (castles, houses)
    8. Travelling
  3. Where you live (and how that defines you)
    1. My room
    2. My house
    3. Dunfermline
    4. Fife
    5. Scotland
    6. United Kingdom
    7. Europe
  4. Race, ethnicity and religion
    1. Caucasian
    2. Scottish
    3. Unreligious but interested in all
  5. Gender (in the widest sense)
    1. Cis-Female

None of these really explain my personality – but all go towards making it up. I am also:

  1. Kind (usually)
  2. Patient (usually) – but have a real temper when things go wrong
  3. Intelligent – academic
  4. Understanding of other people’s emotions
  5. Hard-working
  6. Diligent
  7. Odd sense of humour (some people say I don’t have one)
  8. Obsessional
  9. Organised
  10. Introvert
  11. Shy
  12. A loner
  13. Caring
  14. Not feminine

Someone else could descibe their personality in exactly the same way – but without having any similarities in the list of ‘identity criteria’ I have listed above.

Out of interest I took several online personality tests. Obviously, the results of these are only as good as the information that you put in! And on how truthful you are! And on how well you know yourself to begin with!

Oddly enough they all came out with similar results. The first is based on the standard Myers-Briggs’ 16 categories of personalities which is very well researched, and if I am honest does describe me well.


The second is a more visual test – looking at pictures rather than asking questions – but again was fairly accurate.

So – how can you take pictures that describe your personality?

It is (relatively) easy to show some of the aspects – but almost impossible to show others. One of the ways to show your personality is to show the things you are interested in, as this will give an idea of what makes you ‘tick’. Another way would be to take pictures of people you are engaged with and ask than to give a short (one sentence, or preferably one word) description of you as a person. In a wider sense you could look at the community you are involved in, where you live, what you do, what’s around you and show that. But – how do you show kindness, or patience, or diligence?

I decided to start by thinking about the things I am interested in that make up part of my identity, and therefore contribute to my personality. I could have just taken a series of images without including myself – a pile of books, my piano and so on but decided to try to take pictures of me involved in these activities. I settled on taking pictures of my hands doing things. This was harder to do than to say.  Hands actually tell you a lot about the person.

  1. I bite my nails – therefore I am anxious
  2. I wear a wedding ring
  3. I have a Fitbit – so I try to exercise – or at least pretend that I do
  4. They are wrinkled – therefore older
  5. White and freckled – therefore Caucasian


  • I enlisted the help of my son as a stand in to enable me to set up the images and get the focus correct
  • The images were taken indoors- so I used a tripod and flash
  • I looked for neutral backgrounds
  • I considered using a cable release myself – but that altered the hand position so ended up with my assistant actually pressing the release


What do these tell me about my personality?

  • I have a range of interests
  • Most of these interests are solitary (at least the ones I have shown)
  • I tend to be anxious
  • I don’t like showing my face in photos (shy, introverted)
  • Patient (knitting needs patience)

How could this be taken further?

To explain a personality, you need a wide variety of images. To develop a body of work about your own personality is difficult as in many ways everything you take expresses how you are, as you would not take that subject if you were not interested/involved. If I was developing this further, I would move towards doing two pieces of work:

  1. The images of people who I am involved with together with the single word/sentence about what they think of me
  2. Images of me taken by the same people, with them choosing the setting

Those images could then be paired, looking out and looking in.

Cindy Sherman

© Cindy Sherman – Untitled Film Stills

Sherman was born in America in 1954, so she is slightly older than I am. Her early experiences may well have been similar, although transmuted via an American, rather than British, perspective, you played on the street, you dressed up and pretended to be people, if you were a girl there were very tight gender specific jobs and roles. It took guts and extreme talent to move beyond them.  Sherman was the youngest of five children, and no one else in her family was interested in art. She went to art college with very little formal knowledge about art and expecting to have to become a teacher. She initially started her career as a painter, but rapidly abandoned this and took up photography, initially concentrating exclusively on pictures of herself dressed up as various roles.  However, Sherman does not describe these works as self-portraiture, but as using herself as ‘a vehicle for a commentary on a variety of issues in the modern world’ (Sherman, 2019). She portrays archetypes, a series of fabricated, fictional characters that are familiar to us because of our familiarity with TV and film people, mediated via the popular press (and more latterly social media). All of these early images are called Untitled, with a series name and often a number – further distancing them from any assumption that they are showing a specific person. A portrait almost always has the name of a person, or, at minimum, a description that personalises them. In later images Sherman used dolls and prosthetic body parts posed in highly charged sexual positions and clearly designed to shock the viewer. Recently she has returned to using herself as the subject, both in a further series of created characters and as a series of distorted images that are freely available to view on her Instagram site.

© Cindy Sherman – Instagram

In a recent article Sherman, when talking about her own work and about selfies (and why her images are the reverses of selfies) says ‘It feels magical, I don’t know what it is I’m looking for until I put the makeup on, and then somehow it’s revealed. I’m disappearing in the world, rather than trying to reveal anything. It’s about obliterating, erasing myself and becoming something else’ (Blasberg, 2019).

Sherman is both a prolific artist and an influential one. Almost every article discussing post-modernism in photography references her. Grunberg describes her work as ‘Perfectly poststructuralist portraits, for they admit to the ultimate unknowableness of the “I”. They challenge the essential assumption of a discrete, identifiable, recognizable author (Grunberg, 2010, p.9). Her work is included in the list of 7 most expensive prints sold (Untitled 96) which is one of the Centrefold series that was originally commissioned for Artforum but never run as the then editor was concerned that they might be misunderstood. I wonder if the editor had really considered any of Sherman’s images as this comment could be applied to most (if not all) of them.

There is a fascinating (and long) discussion on the OCA website about Sherman, discussing her self-portraits – are they narcissistic or not? her background  growing up in white, TV obsessed America – and the impact that had on her initial reactions to gender and make-believe that goes on to discus why we like, or don’t like her images and wether an initial ‘gut reaction’ has any validity as a starting point for analysis of an image (The Open College of the Arts, 2011).

I have seen a small number of Sherman’s prints in galleries

  • An early Madonna in the Sometimes I Disappear exhibition in Edinburgh – discussed in Sometimes I Disappear
  • Cindy Sherman – Early Works at the Stills Gallery, Edinburgh. This showed some of her very earliest self-portraits – Untitled (Murder Mystery People) together with some images form the untitled Film Stills collection and a very early film Dolls Clothes. Prior to this exhibition most of the images I Had seen were in books. I was surprised at how small the images were. This initially disappointed me, however it had the effect that I had to go in close to look at them in detail, and this drew me into the stories, possibly more so than a large image would have.

I find myself bemused by some of her work, revolted by other pieces (as I am fairly sure she meant people to be) and increasingly interested in it the more I examine it. Very little of it is ‘easy’. Some may be attractive to look at, but the closer you look at it the less obvious it becomes. Three years ago, I would have confidently stated that I did not like her work. My view is now different.


Blasberg, D. (2019). Why Cindy Sherman Thinks Selfies Are a Cry for Help. [online] WSJ. Available at:

Grundberg, A. (2010). Crisis of the Real: writings on photography. New York: Aperture Foundation, p.9. (2018). cindy sherman. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].

Sherman, C. (2019). Biography – Cindy Sherman – Photographer, Model, Director, Actor, Avant-Garde Images, Doll Parts and Prosthetics, Movies. [online] Available at:

Stills. (2019). Cindy Sherman: Early Works, 1975—80 – Stills. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Feb. 2020].

The Open College of the Arts. (2011). Cindy Sherman: Master of Disguise | The Open College of the Arts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Feb. 2020].




Hans Eijkelboom

Hans Eijkelboom is a Dutch photographer who has done several series of images about people.

© Han Eijkelboom – With My Family

In With My Family (1978) he posed as the father with a mother and their children in their living room. The rooms are busy and reminiscent of the June Street images of Parr and Meadows, although of course, the twist here is that the ‘father’ is not the real father (and possibly the families are rather higher in the social scale). However they look totally relaxed and could easily be mistaken for a ‘real’ family. I wonder who took the images as there is no sign of a cable release– was it an assistant, or could it, in a further twist, have been the actual father.  More recently, Trish Morrissey (discussed in Masquerades) has done a similar set of images for her series Front (2005) where she became the ‘mother’ in photographs of families on the beach. In these images she took it further as she borrowed items of clothing from the actual mother before posing. On her website she says, ‘Ideas around the mythological creature the ‘shape shifter’ and the cuckoo are evoked.’ (Morressey, 2017). Both of the series raise the question about the reality of images, and what is truth. Does it matter that the apparently happy family group is a constructed one? What does that say about the identity of families? How can an outsider know? One assumes that groups of people on the beach or in the house are related if they are shown in a family album – but they may not be. The further on in time from the image the less certain one becomes. I have images in my family archives of similar (although less professionally posed groups) where no one now alive is sure who all the people are.

© Trish Morressy – Sylvia Westbrook

Eijkelboom has carried on working with identity. His more recent work People of the 21st Century, collected into a series of Photo Notes shows people he has photographed on the street. He then collages groups of people who are wearing very similar outfits. Does this show loss of the individual? But everyone is subtly different, their personal slant on what is the current fashion. Although this is in some ways a retake of Sander’s People of the 20th Century there is no overt attempt to categorise the people by their place in life or their class, although assumptions might be made by the grouping and the clothes. In An interview Eijkelboom says, “That’s a very strange development in society. That wasn’t the intention at the start of the project, but in the end you could say the book is about a fight, a war within society: more and more, big companies have their grip on people, in producing the clothes and so on. But in the book you see the possibilities to give it your own personal touch. When you now go to the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam, everybody has their own individual message on their T-shirt. But on the other hand, they all look the same, because they are all people with a message on their T-shirt. You can already see a little bit of change, making the power of the big companies weaker, I think.” (Petridis, 2014).

© Hans Eijkelboom


Morressey, T. (2017). Trish Morrissey. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Jan. 2020].

Petridis, A. (2014). Same but different: Hans Eijkelboom’s tribal street photography. [online] the Guardian. Available at:


Philip J Brittan

© Philip J Brittan – From Ghosts Are Real

Philip J Brittan has used photography to help to manage very personal emotions and memories. His latest book Ghosts Are Real was made after a difficult time of his life, when his mother had died, and the family has ‘fractured’. He took long night walks as ‘a kind of haven’ and based the images on feelings and emotions that came from these walks. The images are varied, many are colourful, some show obvious images, a tree, a tower block – while others show sudden flashes of colour that when examined carefully turn into a scene of trees, or birds or possibly a person.  They are gloriously abstract. Brittan says, ‘Looking back, it seems clear to me that Ghosts Are Real is about the bruised relationship between the world and the self, with love providing my own protective shield, present everywhere, agile and invulnerable’ (Brittan, 2019).

© Philip J Brittan – From Ghosts Are Real

The phrase ‘the bruised relationship between the world and the self’ says all there is needed about autobiographical work. If you can use any form of media to show this, you have made a worthwhile piece. You may have used direct images like those some of those by Elina Brotherus, they may be more complicated, just alluding to your story like the work of Teichmann, or in Brittan’s case totally abstract – but if they can express your story the exact nature of the work is irrelevant.


Brittan, P.J. (2019). Ghosts Are Real. PJB Editions.

Esther Teichmann

© Esther Teichmann

Esther Teichmann uses mixed media, including photographs, painting, poetry, music and sculpture to tell stories. Jessica Brier says ‘Esther Teichmann calls for a new way to look at photographs, not as mirrors of, or windows into the world, but as portals between the personal and universal, reality and the supernatural and photography and other mediums. Through the layering of memory, desire, fear, fiction and fantasy, Teichmann uses and extends the photographic medium as a passage between realms of experience and artistic creation. Her work exploits the tension between photography’s relationship to reality and a sense of otherworldly power. For Teichmann, this complex, even troubled relationship with the medium yields a passionate foray into others’ (Brier, 2014). Brier’s article talks about an alternate view of photographs, not as either windows or mirrors but as portals or wormholes that can transport us from place to place.  She discusses Teichmann’s use of photography as a way of retelling myths that shed some light on her personal emotions, seen though a haze of fantasy and suggestion.

Teichmann images are colourful and soft, with a strong Pre-Raphaelite feeling. They are mysterious and float in a world of her imagining. Her work is personal but could relate to anyone. She uses it to explain all the areas that impact on human life. Teichmann is using photography to talk about things that are not easily visualised – imaginary things and places, how your memories of childhood relate to the past, the present and the future. Where you are and where you were – all in one image.

© Esther Teichmann


Brier, J. (2014). Esther Teichmann: The Photograph as a Portal. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Dec. 2019].

Teichmann, E. (2019). [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Dec. 2019].