Category Archives: Part 4 – Image and text

Project 3 – Fictional Texts

In Redheaded Peckerwood  (Patterson, 2011) Christian Patterson tells the story of two teenagers who went on a killing spree in Nebraska in 1956 including the family of one of them, Cyril Ann Fugate. It has inspired a film, Badlands (1973) and a Springsteen song – Nebraska.  The male, Starkweather, is said to have done all the actual killings and was sentenced to death. Fugate, now Clair, spent 17 years in prison, although claiming she was a victim, a hostage, rather than a willing accomplice. She is, at present, asking for a pardon.

Patterson has made an extensive photobook which includes places and images central to the story together with re-enactments and landscape photography. There are also images of items that belonged to the pair, together with maps and letters. The book is presented as a visual crime dossier. Much is left to the reader to interpret. The book and the individual images are available to see on Patterson’s website (Patterson, s.d.). It includes pictures and inset documents that are made to look like originals. The images are a mixture of black and white utilising various formats. Some are factual, a shotgun shell, a jackknife. Others show places, a road, one of the victim’s houses. The relevance of others is less clear, a painted sign – FRUIT CAKE – 98c, another one – Ask for ETHYL, I assume these are linked to Nebraska in the 1950’s.  The book reads as a mythical tale, a horror story, although it is a retelling of a real event, shown though images that build up and up to the final arrest. The interspersed images of fiery skies, bushes and trees that appear aflame increase the tension. The included texts, a confession, a poem (it doesn’t say who by), a list Confasius Says, increase the breadth of the work and the need to think about it. What are they saying? What does the book say about the story? What does it say about the world – both in 1956 and now?

Badger says ‘The result is not just a blurring of the boundaries between then and now, or between fiction and non-fiction, but a profound demonstration of photography’s ineffability — and also its power to resurrect a past event and make it relevant for a contemporary audience’ (Parr and Badger, 2004) . This is a better description than I can give. It is a book I would love to have.

Rubber Flapper by Michael Colvin (Colvin, 2015) is a story (fictional) about a family in the 1930’s. It was partly made in response to the cutting off access to the Alice Austin photographic archives to gender theorists, and as a voice for the LGBTQ+ community showing coping strategies. It shows constructed images, stained newspaper reports, and most telling, a letter from the (imaginary) society that holds the archives telling him to stop work. It could be real! Is it? The project talks about lack of power to tell your story which continues to be a frightening issue and is very topical in 2020. In the OCA article Colvin talks about hidden history and reminds us that all history is written by the victor, which, at this moment, in the Western world, is white, patriarchal and heterosexual and (I would add) neurotypical. He is talking about the hidden nature of the Gay population within photography – but this also applies to all minorities. He reminds us that ‘History is not facts. Facts are facts. History is storytelling from a particular point of view’.

The Fae Richards Photo Archive (Leonard and Dunye, 1996) by Leonard and Dunyeis an entirely fictional photo archive of a black film star Fae Richards. It shows her life though photographs and is entirely convincing, right though to the list of photos, with details made on an old typewriter, with blurring and a poor typeface. The images could have been taken from an archive although the are actually acted out. I particularly like 58, with Fae in Black Guns , as a gangster’s moll and 16/17 of Fae in the Garden State Park – 1933  in a typical shot with friends ( I have similar images in my mother’s archive – which would have been taken in the same place at the same time). While this book relies less on text, the list of images is crucial to making it seem real. Like Colvin’s work it is telling the story of a group of people that were widely overlooked – who knows the names of the film actresses of that era unless they were white?

All three of these pieces of work blur the lines between fiction and fact, reality and story. Patterson tells a real story in a way that could be fiction, and so makes it more real, Colvin and Leonard tell fictional stories as though they were facts.  The length and complexity of the works helps to make them real. Does it matter if a story is fiction if it tells the truth? And there – we are back to the argument about what is truth and how do you portray it.


Colvin, M. (2015) Rubber Flapper. At: (Accessed 01/07/2020).

Leonard, Z. and Dunye, C. (eds.) (1996) The Fae Richards photo archive. San Francisco: Artspace Books.

Parr, M. and Badger, G. (2004) The photobook: a history. London: Phaidon.

Patterson, C. (2011) Redheaded Peckerwood. London: Mack.

Patterson, C. (s.d.) CHRISTIAN PATTERSON | Redheaded Peckerwood (2005-2011). At: (Accessed 01/07/2020).

Exercise 4.5 – My Mother’s Memories

Find words that have been written or spoken by someone else. You can gather these words from a variety of means – interviews, journals, archives, eavesdropping. Your subject may be a friend, stranger, alive or dead. Select your five favourite examples and create five images that do justice to the essence of those words.

 I decided to use sentences from recordings we took of my mother describing her life not long before she died. She had never been forthcoming with information – so to get her to agree to allow us to tape her was a real achievement. We ended up with about 3 hours of story over 8 tapes. The first piece of work was to put these in order and transcribe them. I tried to use various types of software, but her voice is soft, and she has a slight accent, so this was not successful. Hand transcribing it was! Much of what she said was repetitive and didn’t follow any particular order, so I went though the transcription and found 5 sentences that came at specific points of her life – or told and important piece of her story.

I then thought about ways to add images. I didn’t want to be too didactic or illustrative but wanted to show images that had some link. I was helped by the earlier research I had done on text particularly David Favrod’s work where he uses the memories of his Japanese grandparents (see David Favrod) and also Aaron Schuman’s Slant (Schuman, 2019) where he uses elliptical pictures to illustrate the words he has collected (see Aaron Schuman – Slant). I have recently read Geoffrey Batchen’s Forget Me Not (Batchen, 2006) which talks about the use of portraits as memory/remembrance aides (seeGeoffrey Batchen – Forget Me Not). Although these are not portraits they act in a similar fashion.

I was limited in the images I could take because of the present lockdown (still ongoing in Scotland) so used images that were all taken locally, which is a long was from where she lived in America and the Germany.

I have decided to present the images in 2 ways:

  • An old-fashioned photograph album of the type she owned, with the images paired each sentence – finishing with a poem by Ursula Le Guin – Leaves from So Far So Good (Le Guin, 2018)
  • Either a video or a PowerPoint with her words cut out from the tape and running at the same time as the images.

The photograph album was a fairly simple exercise.

  • I used an old album that I had acquired at an antique fair.
  • The words were printed in a script text that is fairly similar to the very elaborate writing my mother always used. I am slightly concerned about the legibility of it – so this is something I need to think about.
  • The images were all home printed.
  • The most difficult thing has been photographing the album for presentation. I have tried several techniques with limited success as the album does not want to stay open.
  • To show the images and words more clearly, I have also saved them as single images – as they would be seen in the album – but on one page instead of two.

Images of album:



Back-up images (for clarity):

MotherfirstSchool daysFarminternedDraftLeavesFor the video I was helped by my son – who is far more technically minded than I am.

  • I found the specific words on the tapes and cut them out
  • They were then matched with the images
  • I thought about using a background music – a piano piece that she liked – but it made the words too unclear – although this is something that needs to be considered further.
  • The video needed an end point, so I recorded part of a different poem by Ursula Le Guin – Ancestry and added in an image of the sun though the leaves.

Both the album and the video only tell a very small portion of her life, and only use 5 of the multitude of possible audio clips (to match the 5 sentences called for in this exercise) – I think it would be worth extending, and possibly using a variety of images – some taken by me, and some from her very extensive archives. This is definitely a long-term project.

Learning points:

  • It is difficult to pick out individual sentences that make sense and tell a story from a long audio history
  • Matching images and words is a skill that needs practiced
  • Photography of an album is tricky – and I still haven’t got it quite right
  • How to use movie software
  • That movie software is widescreen – and all my images are 4:3
  • How to upload to You-tube
  • How to upload to Vimeo

 Link for videos ( You-tube and Vimeo):


Contact sheets of possible images:



Batchen, G. (2006) Forget me not: photography & remembrance. New York; London: Princeton Architectural ; Hi Marketing

Le Guin, U. K. (2018) So far so good: final poems, 2014-2018. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Schuman, A. (2019) Slant. London: Mack.

Anna Fox

Anna Fox is a British photographer and a professor of photography at UCA, Farnham. She recently gave a talk on zoom to the OCA students. She has published several books including My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words (Fox, 1999). This is a small book that uses text to explain pictures – or pictures to illustrate text. They both have equal value. The text consists of words, aggressive, angry, violent, spoken by her father about the women in their family, more specifically her mother and the images are very quiet, simple images of the contents of the cupboards in the house. Sometime the two fit together – such as the words ‘She’s bloody rattling again’ set against a cupboard of glasses, other times less so. In a recent talk given by Fox to the OCA students she said that she collected the words surreptitiously, under the table – but simply went around the house taking the pictures. She did not attempt to illustrate the words but matched them together when they were all collected. She described the book as not simply about her mother and father but about the effect of couples living together in a patriarchal society and noted that whenever it is shown other people come out with similar stories about their families.

In another book Work Stations (Fox, 1988) Fox took a series of photographs of people in offices in London which are presented along with a line of text that she gathered from magazines and newspapers. She used the same technique in Basingstoke 1985-68 (Fox, s.d.), where the apparently banal images of Basingstoke life are matched with a series of texts culled from local papers. In both of these works sometimes the text matches the image (although with a slightly sideways match) in other the text seems to almost contradict the information in the photograph. In the same talk she said that she simply collected the texts but did not try and illustrate them – as, for her, that did not work. Fox is clear that image and texts when used in a piece of work should be seen as both parts of the work, not simply an image + a caption.  She used the work of Sophie Calle to illustrate this – where the words are crucial to the understanding and are often shown as more important (or at least more dominant) than the pictures. In another work Cockroach Diary (Fox, 2000) she made two separate books, one the diary – a copy of the diary she made which told the story of what was happening in a group of ‘dysfunctional’ people living together, and one a book of images of cockroaches – often scarcely visible (as they move so fast) and presented them together. In an exhibition of the work the pictures were shown on the walls, and the diary shown under them so you could read it all.  

In all of these works the text is important. Equal not subordinate. It needs careful thought from the very beginning of the project, it may actually precede the images and inspire them. It is not added as an afterthought, that will not work.

 In the lengthy and fascinating talk, she made several important points which I have attempted to summarise:

  • Women in photography have not often been represented enough which she and a group of other people are trying to balance in Fast Forward, which holds conferences, acts as a research project and has an online journal (Fast Forward: Women in Photography, s.d.) .
  • Women are not good at networking – possibly because focused on struggle to get seen and not enough energy left, men are better at this
  • She is inspired by fiction – fills the mind with ideas, which then become embedded and inform your work
  • Photography resembles reality – but it’s not real. Time and memory are important Are these things captured, recorded or posed in time?
  • Does it matter if the photo is ‘real’ or fictional – no but it does matter that you are honest about it if asked. Some authors embed found images in their work to make the story appear more real. Other photographers construct images from the ground up to tell a fictional story that may be more real than an actual image ever could be (Crewdson, Wells, possibly Capa).
  • All your work has a degree of fiction because you choose what to include and what to crop out – the story says as much about you as anything else.
  • She said the photographs that inspire her are the ones that surprise her.
  • You have to make yourself a good enough photographer to make the story the right way for the subjects – gives the people a voice. You need to know why you take them and use them – context is everything.

More of her work can be seen on her website:


Fast Forward: Women in Photography (s.d.) At: (Accessed  08/06/2020).

Fox (s.d.) Basingstoke 1985 – 86 – Anna Fox. At: (Accessed 08/06/2020).

Fox, A. (1988) Work Stations: office life in London. London: Camerawork.

Fox, A. (1999) My Mother’s Cupboards and my Father’s Words: a short story in words and pictures. London: Shoreditch Biennale.

Fox, A. (2000) Cockroach diary 1996-1999. London: Shorditch Biennale.

Aaron Schuman – Slant

Aaron Schuman’s book Slant (Schuman, 2019) came about from looking at police reports in the local newspaper in a small American town. They varied from the banal: ‘10.13p.m. – A boy peeping into a window at The Boulders fled before the police got there. The woman who lives at the apartment was given advice on how to pull down her shades so no one could look into her home’ to the odd: ‘1.47p.m. – Police were notified by a downtown resident concerned with a neighbour who allegedly is keeping a ”green monkey” as a pet’ to the downright weird: ‘9.51 p.m. – a woman called the police to respond to her North Amherst home after her son placed urine on a hot plate in the shed as part of an experiment in alchemy. The actions of her son are allegedly a violation of a court agreement’. Many of the reports focus on strangers and show phobic leanings (anti- feminism, anti-foreigners, strange accents or sounds, odd things in the sky). They are rarely of anything important and one wonders why the police were ever involved.

© Aaron Schuman

Schuman spent some time trying to think of ways to illustrate these odd statements and eventually came across the work of Emily Dickinson and her use of ‘slant rhyming’ – which is  where the rhymes do not really match, they are close and give an inharmonious sense of sound. She also wrote a poem called ‘Slant’ which starts “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant – Success in Circuit lies”.  Working from this Schuman took a series of photographs in the area that are partially paired with the words, that tell stories, that might be the truth – or might not. The images themselves, black and white and often beautiful also often have something slightly askew, a small boy burning something – but what. A notice for a Bible Study Group – that says Happy Resurrection.  Schuman says he chose black and white for these images as it echoed the “black and white” tone of the police reports.

© Aaron Schuman

© Aaron Schuman

In an interview in the BJP, Schuman says, ‘Slant is about telling the story gradually……it’s the idea that the truth is malleable, ever-changing and diffused in a way……I like the slow burn…..there’s something here, but you’re going to have to find out’ (Pantell, 2019) .

He was also inspired by the book Time in New England by Paul Strand and Nancy Newhall where Newhall searched for texts that reflected New England and the texts and the images were put together to make a complete story (Strand and Newhall, 1980) .

The book is fascinating and shows yet another way of integrating text and images. In this case they hold equal value, but the images do not directly link to the text and the text does not explain the images. Together they tell a story of a place in America, a rather scary place. A beautiful place – but one which clearly has some unusual people residing there.

To see more images, look on his website:

There is a fascinating (and very long) interview on ASX that is well worth reading which explains his thought process in detail (Feuerhelm, 2019).


Feuerhelm, B. (2019) Aaron Schuman: Slant Interview. At: (Accessed 02/06/2020).

Pantell, C. (2019) ‘Parallel Lines’ In: British Journal of Photograohy (7885) pp.68–77.

Schuman, A. (2019) Slant. London: Mack.

Strand, P. and Newhall, N. W. (1980) Time in New England. Millerton, N.Y.: [New York]: Aperture ; distributed by Harper & Row.


Sharon Boothroyd/Young

Sharon Boothroyd is a feminist photographic artist from London.  She has done several series of work that use a combination of words and images. The words are not always explicit or shown but inform the photography.

If you get married again, will you still love me?  – is based on the questions asked by children of their absent/separated fathers. The images are stylised and manufactured, not taken of the actual families – however this allows her to be explicit with the emotions involved without risking harm to the original children. They show the common and frequent problems that occur in these situations. The images (at least on her website) are not titled, and the question/conversation is not shown but it is obvious that these children, ranging in age from babies to teenagers are unhappy. Some are sulking, some looking away. In spite of being staged it gives an intimate and real view into the lives of many children.

They all say please is a series of images based on prayers that Boothroyd found in online prayer forums. In this case the images are accompanied by a shortened version of the prayer that sparked the image. In many images people are shown, alone and lonely. In others there is an empty space that should be filled with happy people, for instance, an empty cinema with a blank red screen accompanies the words Please do not let a romance grow between them.  Even the bright and cheerful images, when read alongside the words become unbearably sad. It makes me wonder whether people ever pray (or at least post prayers) when they are happy. I had a quick look and the overwhelming theme seemed to be asking for healing, for oneself, for others or for the world. Not unexpected in the present time.

In Disrupted Vision Boothroyd again uses words. Here she took photos of strangers with a Polaroid camera and asked the people to comment on them. The responses are written on the Polaroid, I think by Boothroyd herself.  This has the effect of making the image ambiguous, who’s viewpoint should we believe? The photographer or the subject?

The Subtext of a Dream combines images, water at its most  beautiful, simple and enigmatic (at least the ones I have seen) with words reappropriated from stories by a  variety of authors to make a fantasy story about a fictional woman, Madame Beaumaris. It is a story about someone who may or may not be having real events happening to her. Or are they fantastic hysterical imaginings? They are certainly erotic. In an interview she says ‘it’s simply human nature to tell stories (from an Ursula Le Guin essay). To understand ourselves and our histories. I think that’s why I do it too – to seek understanding’ (Paterson, 2018).

I found her work fascinating and the use she makes of text to inform her images makes me want to do the same. The words are not always there – but they have clearly influenced the carefully considered images. I wish I could see more of them. I wish I could read the whole of The Subtext of a Dream.

To see her images, check her website:


Paterson (2018) Artists at the RCA: Meet Sharon Boothroyd. At: (Accessed 29/05/2020).

David Favrod

David Favrod is a Swiss-Japanese artist that now lives in Spain. A combination of cultures that has shaped his photographic practice. He uses a mixture of styles; photography, drawing and video. Much of his work is influenced by manga/anime. He says, ‘I don’t restrain myself with only photography……my question is just “How can I tell this story?” …. I need to push the boundaries to find the right/best way for what I want to show/express’. He also notes that ‘memories are fictions …  easily malleable (Newman, 2015).

Hikari (meaning light in Japanese) is a work based on memory – but not his own, but that of his Japanese grandparents, told to him on one occasion – so a memory of memories told. It is overlaid with his own feelings of growing up as a mixed-race child. In an interview with Sharon Boothroyd (Boothroyd, 2014) he explains his working process (thinking of the idea, drawing sketches, looking at the balance of different images then constructing them).  He also uses sound – or the visual representation of sound – added to the images. He does not explain his images in detail and hopes that each viewer will bring their own memories to them. For Hikari he tells a story that is part fact, part fiction using found images and objects collaged together with drawings and photographs leading to ambiguous images re-creating fragments that might be memories or dreams.

In another series Gaijin (Japanese for foreigner) he blends Japanese symbols with portraits and Swiss mountains. This project was made in response to his feeling of rejection having been declined dual Japanese nationality.

When looking at his work online I found it difficult to differentiate what comes from which series. They are often shown together and have a similar feel, Favrod himself notes that his series are often linked, and he flows from making one into making the next – which probably explains my dilemma. His website  (Favrod, s.d.) shows many of his images but, even there, they are just titled and dated, not separated out. Many of the images are beautiful low key scenes such as Une averse, an image of a snow covered mountain (it could be in Japan or Switzerland) part covered with diagonal black and white stripes. Others clearly reference Japan – Pour Sadako – a river with coloured paper cranes instead of reeds and leaves. Did he make them and position them before taking the image or is it a collage? Either way it is evocative. Some are portraits – La pluie noire –shows a girl covered with mud and surrounded by Japanese characters. Is this referencing the bombing in Japan? Is it a more personal memory? or both? It is ineffably sad.

Une averse – © David Favrod

Pour Sadako – © David Favrod

Pluie noire © David Favrod


Boothroyd, Sharon, S. (2014) David Favrod. At: (Accessed 28/05/2020).

Favrod, D. (s.d.) DAVID FAVROD. At: (Accessed 28/05/2020).

Newman, C. (2015) Looking Back and Forward Interviews #6: David Favrod. At: (Accessed 28/05/2020).

Exercise 4.4

Image 1:

© Kasia Delgado/i

The back view of an attractive female nude (wearing a sun hat)

  • Take advantage of the sunny weather
  • “I looked out my window and saw this” by Disgusted from Fife
  • “Wow, what at sight” by Elated from Fife
  • An unusual warm day in Scotland

Staring over the edge of my garden I look for what I can see. I might have been in France. I might have been on a cruise. Instead, I am sunbathing here. What? You think I am a wanton woman? Are you jealous of my freedom? Do you envy my courage?

This comes from a piece in a newspaper advocating Naturism – ‘clothes seem pointless’.  I have taken the naturist viewpoint I have turned it into a reverie by the female. This could now be the first few sentences of a story – I am wondering what happens next rather than thinking nice idea – but its too cold in Scotland.

Photo and article from ‘I’ by Kasia Delgado (Delgado, 2020).

Image 2:

A picture of a pretty girl of nursery age (I am not going to copy this for obvious reasons), at a table, smiling and holding her hand up.

  • “Me, me, I want to go first”
  • “Can I tell my story?”
  • …… loves nursery and is so excited to go back
  • …… is loving lockdown and home teaching

This is my child. She is wonderful and excited and enjoys life. Love her so much even though she is hard work. She never stops moving or talking, even in her sleep. I wonder if there is something wrong. Maybe she has ADHD.

The picture comes from a piece in the Dunfermline Press on 07/05/20 that is saying that the council has not offered any nursery places for the child. The parent is complaining about the system and says nothing about the child (McRoberts, 2020).

Image 3:

© Gemma Ryder/Dunfermline Press

A large pile of burnt rubbish, including what looks like a washing machine.

  • Major fire at office – disaster strikes new firm
  • Cover-up by fire
  • Airplane hits local conurbation – multiple deaths.

What a disaster, the local storage unit for the Charity has been set on fire by vandals. All the goods are destroyed. Urgent appeal for new goods is now underway.

The picture comes from the Dunfermline Press  and  is talking about fly tipping in an article by Gemma Ryder (Ryder, 2020).


This is an interesting exercise, although basically a repeat of one done in Context and Narrative at Image and Text. I found myself being more imaginative with my response this time around. I wanted to write stories, an imagined response to the picture. Much of the news at present is about Covid-19 – so I tried to avoid those articles and look for others. It shows clearly how an image can be interpreted in a multiplicity of ways, positive and negative, fact and fiction. So, to make things clear – do you write an essay – or do you leave it all up to the viewers imagination, or give just enough clues to get them thinking? Open or closed?


Delgado, K. (2020) ‘Why more of us are daring to bare all under lockdown’ In: i 13/05/2020

McRoberts, A. (2020) ‘‘Unacceptable’: Mum not offered any nursery places for child’ In: Dunfermline Press 07/05/2020 p.20.

Ryder, G. (2020) ‘When will recycling centres reopen?’ In: Dunfermline Press 07/05/2020 p.35.

Exercise 4.3

The brief was to create. A storyboard of about 10 images without text then add the text and see how it changes.

I am not good at drawing; I can do pastels to some extent – but have never tried anything like this a before. I started by making my storyboard as suggested. A very simple story of a young girl waking up , looking out the window, following her heart then it changes , it becomes a nightmare, she fall and drowns, the parents are distraught, the is laid out on her bed for viewing.

Scan_20200526Scan_20200526 (2)

With text: changed to a dream, starts the same – but dives deliberately, swims and gets home. It was all a dream.

Scan_20200526 (3)Scan_20200526 (4)

A very simple addition of a few words turned a very basic nightmare into a sweet dream! I gave a blank set to my son and he instantly interpreted it as the disaster scenario and added words to confrim that. He said the clue that made him read it as a disaster was the cross on the wall.

Exercise 4.2

Brief: Choose a day that you can be out and about. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in real life. Think about some specific examples.

 This was possibly a more limited and limiting experience than it was meant to be. Because of Covid there was only a small number of places that I could wander to, and much of the information was about this!

I start the day with the usual unwelcome pop-up to my tablet What Covid news have you missed overnight – I have put it in bold because that is how it hits you, nothing else is apparently important. A similar message comes several times because I keep forgetting to turn of news alerts from several different sources. My early morning reading is similarly contaminated. The pictures show either disasters or warnings with the occasional feel good story thrown in. On the particular day I went for a walk there was:

  • ‘PM quizzed over unexplained care home deaths’ – with an image of the PM in Westminster leaning forward looking (to my eye anyway) very aggressive.
  • Chancellor says UK facing a significant recession – set against an image (presumably stock) of a builder in a worksite. I am not sure how these link together – possibly look how great we were?


So, I went for a walk, this was limited but I was still surprised to see how much text was about in the environment. I suspect I usually simply ignore it. They could be divided into several categories

  • Instructions such as Please keep this gate CLOSED AT ALL TIMES. NO SMOKING ON SCHOOL GROUNDS – accompanied by the no smoking sign and the council logo. The typeface is bold. It is very clear that this is an absolute instruction, no choice given.  Sometimes this was coded as a request ‘PLEASE BE A RESPONSIBLE DOG OWNER’ – together with an attractive picture of one of the local peacocks.
  • Information – I walked though the park and there were a number of signs telling you what you could expect to see, with the layout of the area and particularly interesting thing to look out for, together with other signs telling you the history of the area, what happened in WWII, the links to Andrew Carnegie and Malcolm Canmore (an early King of Scotland).
  • Simple signs – HEAVY DUTY PLASTIC WASTE ONLY on a skip.
  • Warning signs – PC T.V. IN OPERATION – this one was linked with a slightly humorous drawing of a guard in a room making up signs to tell you not to feed the peacocks.
  • Memorial – names on park benches, sometimes with a short phrase such as Forever Loved.
  • Titles – I passed one for a pub/club that is called Life, careful examination the sign has people doing gymnastics on the letters. I assume the implication is that when you attend their club you will feel uplifted and fit – or maybe it is that you will be swinging from the ceiling?
  • Advertising – IT’S THE NATIONS FAVOURITE over a bacon roll, WRESTLING SHOWDOWN – on a tatty poster on a window. Neither of these attracted me at all – however I can imagine that they would attract plenty of other people. The colours are bright, the pictures eye catching. Also the simpler We are still open (M&S).
  • Mysterious – on the way home my eye was caught by the sheer number of steel access plate inlaid into the road – all of which had varying combinations of words, numbers and names.

Much of the text used was capital letters with very strong contrasts with the background. The more it was seen to be a command the ‘SHOUTIER’ the text. There were few pictures as such, several were accompanied by symbols such as ‘no smoking’. In practice most of the text (+images/signs) I saw gave little room for personal interpretation. They were informative and often directive. In most of them it is clear that the creator wanted to give you information or instructions. Their choice – not yours.

The only ones that gave me any room for a personal interpretation were

  • The sign on the cash machines – Free Cash Withdrawals – and I suspect this is just my sense of humour, not a deliberate ploy by the bank.
  • The sign for the British Heart Foundation – a typical heart shape (connoting love), with a trace of an ECG (connoting death)on a bright red (blood red) background – when I think about it is a very clever logo – just enough to make you aware and think “Oh. Maybe I am at risk too. Maybe I should donate”.
  • The memorial signs on the park benches which always make me want to imagine the lives of the people commemorated. Who were they? What were they like? Do their family visit the benches and sit there and remember.

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.