Just a quick note to myself, on some important points I picked up while reading Terry Barrett’s essay ‘Photographs and Context’  (Accessed 16/05/2017)

The apparent meaning of a photograph can vary, depending on context.

The format the photograph is presented in, such as the type of magazine, book, or location, such as a gallery or museum, are factors. Text that is reproduced with an image, be it a caption, essay, or editorial all affect how an image is perceived. The same image can be made to take on entirely the opposite meaning, depending on the context it is presented in.

Images can be reused in different ways, so something intended to shock or create sympathy… or something created purely as visual evidence, can all have their meanings completely altered, by presenting them in a different context, such as an art gallery.

This can diminish their original purpose, so that a photo intended to convey the suffering of poverty, reduces it to an aesthetically impressive image on a coffee table.

There is also the effect of altering the important or relevant aspect of a photo away from what the image is of, and onto who made the image. This can be a positive, in bringing talented photographers to the attention of the viewing world. It can, though, also be a negative, in that photographs of important events become listed under the name of the photographer, and as such, may not be seen by those looking for the subject matter itself.


Things to consider when interpreting a photograph:

Internal Context – Title, date and photographer.

External Context – Where and how the photograph is presented.

Original Context – What is actually in the photograph itself.


Remember that a photograph was taken with an intention. The viewer is not simply looking at an image of the world as it is… or was. It is being viewed as the photographer chose to present it, and to correctly interpret an image, it is necessary to consider the intention of the photographer.

Photographs can present ‘a’ truth of what a scene looked like at a given time, but they can also lie, (or rather, be used to lie) about what was actually happening.



Author: Photos Things and Stuff

Study Log for Expressing Your Vision module, for BA (Hons) Photography Degree with OCA

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