Camera Lucida; Reflections on Photography, Roland Barthes.

I thought this reading portrayed a very interesting perception of photography & journey of thought. Roland Barthes recounts his own perception upon photography. He states how the photograph reproduces to infinity what has occurred only once and therefore photographs as ‘the return of the dead’. He reflects on his amazement encountering a photograph of Napoleons youngest brother interpreting it in a way that nobody else shared. He acknowledged that by looking at this photograph he was looking into the eyes that have looked at the emperor. This aspect is what I enjoy about photography, as an audience you are seemingly experiencing an infinite moment in time and as the photographer you are capturing that moment.

Barthes explains that a photograph cannot be equally experienced just with words. He states that the photograph is never interpreted for what it represents, instead the audience initially only perceives what is physically within the image. For example ‘a pipe is always a pipe’. I personally disagree with this statement, especially within abstract photography where the subject is not identifiable the entire photograph is left for interpretation. Even portraits still embody a certain ‘mood’. For example Diane Arbus’s the ‘Jewish Giant’ portrays a non-belonging and sorrowful mood.

Barthes also states that a photograph is always invisible, it is not what we see. We see the scene that it portray whatever that be. He also goes onto question why has the photographer chosen this point in time, this occasion to capture out of the trillions of moments we live each day.

Barthes possesses a truly outside the box outlook upon photography which I think it’s truly riveting to explore his concepts.

Week 5 Lecture & Tutorial; ‘Painting is Dead.’

In this weeks lecture/tutorial we explored the history of the photograph & the connotations associated with it.
Before photography emerged, portraiture was a huge workforce, therefore when photography did emerge many were fearful about the loss of painting as an art. Photography was observed as a more faithful representation.
Instead photography freed up painting to explore other concepts and forms. For example surrealism which portrayed unrealistic concepts like ‘Boogie Woogie’ by Mondrian.
There was a cross fertilisation of play between painting and photography, a form of ‘pictorial-ism’ in which photos were set up in a Victorian Style, mimicking those of the Reconnaissance.
Photographers were classified as a lessor skilled person than painters, this created the photographers revolt against pictorial-ism. Photographers began manipulating images in the dark room which then lead to such confusion about what is the original image? Is it the original negative or the one that the artist has manipulated through development in the darkroom? With paintings there was always an original.
As stated within Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ photographers adopted a social commentary. They discovered that as ‘tourists’ they could raise awareness of social injustice. For example Lewis Hine’s images depicted child labour, immigrants and sweat shops. Hine was different compared to the other documentary photographers of the time, he reached out to the subjects instead of ‘othering’ them.

Lewis Hine Adolescent Girl, A Spinner in a Carolina Cotton Mill
Lewis Hine Adolescent Girl, A Spinner in a Carolina Cotton Mill 1908

Influential Modern Portraiture Photographers

Imogen Cunningham

Photographers like Imogen Cunningham challenged other social stigmas like gender. She was a female photographer in a male dominated industry. One of her most renowned photographs is ‘unmade bed’, proving that its not what the photographer includes within the image that is most powerful – its what they purposely leave out.

Imogen Cunningham 'Unmade Bed'.
Imogen Cunningham ‘Unmade Bed’.

Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry is renowned for his documentary photography, the world recognised photograph ‘Afghan Girl’ is his photograph. It demonstrates how an image can influence the entire world and the subject is unknowing.

Cindy Sherman & Tracey Moffat 

Cindy Sherman & Tracey Moffat are renowned for their visual storytelling. Sherman’s photographs are all self-portraits, she expresses that she is not portraying herself in these images but she is trying to teach the audience about themselves. Her billboard series challenged stereotypes of gender and race.
Moffat’s images also challenge stereotypes of race, identity, gender and sexuality. She portrays these ideals through ‘photo narratives’. Her series ‘some place better than this’ she created a set backdrop & shot a story on a stage.

In the tutorial we had to create a ‘faked’ photo in groups. With only 10 minutes my group quickly found a half egg at the UON Gallery and we faked a human hatching out of an egg, which if course is untrue.


We also discussed the meanings behind Barthes & Sontag’s underlying meanings within their texts ‘Camera Lucida’ & ‘On Photography’.

Our group discussed the quote from Sontag “Photographs are, of course, artefacts. But their appeal is that they also seem, in a world littered with
photographic relics, to have the status of found objects – unpremeditated slices of the world.  Thus, they trade simultaneously on the prestige of art and the magic of the real.”
We came to the conclusion that she is stating the importance of photographs. An artefact is a man made object therefore it is treasured and possesses immense value. They display a moment in time infinitely, it’s a message from the past. So the discovery of finding a piece from history is priceless and much like an architect finding a new tomb in the Egyptian Pyramids. The photos that Sontag mentions are the scenes of violence and hardship for example ‘Weegees Naked city’, therefore are not planned or staged. They depict the real world through an art form, thus “they trade simultaneously on the prestige of art and the magic of the real.”

Week 4 Recommended Reading; ‘On Photography’ Susan Sontag

“What renders a photograph surreal is its irrefutable pathos as a message from the past, and the concreteness of its intimations about social class” – Susan Sontag
“Press the button, we do the rest.” – Kodak

I personally found Susan Sontag’s interpretation regrading American photography extremely intriguing and eye opening.
Within the text she explores the context of Surrealism photography comparing the Surrealist artists. She mentions a few of my favourite photographers within this context including Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy & John Heartfield.

From left Whoever Reads Bourgeois Newspapers Becomes Blind and Deaf: Away with These Stultifying Bandages! Photomontage by Heartfield, 1930. Photogram No. 1 – The Mirror by László Moholy-Nagy. And a photo by Man Ray. 

“What could be more surreal than an object that virtually reproduces itself?” She states.
I am fascinated by her idea that photos don’t “seem to portray the intentions of an artist, they are a loose connection between photographer and subject.” This is what separates surrealist photography from other surrealist art, the photographers intentions are not always portrayed within the image.

Sontag explores the concept of how surrealism merged with social adventurism, capturing scenes of violence & social misery and therefore exposing a hidden reality. She describes the uprising of flaneurs & ‘tourists’ as they transform the city into a ‘landscape of voluptous extremes’ through ‘picturesque’ photographs.

For example the candid shots from Paul Martin & Arnold Genthe, Atgets twilight paris & Weegee’s Naked City as seen below:

From left: Candid shots from Paul Martin, Arnold Genthe, Atgets ‘Twilight Paris’ & Weegee’s ‘Naked City.’

Sontag describes the two types of photographers of this period as scientists & moralists. Scientists creating an inventory of the world & moralists portraying the harsh environment of society. For example August Sauder’s ‘archetype photos’ of Germany are scientific, they document a broad range of society within an environment. “It is not my intention to either criticise or describe these people” August stated. Compared to Diane Arbus’s ‘circus’ series which depicts the subjects as morally unaccepted into society. I agree with Sontag’s concept here, Diane’s photographs are more subjective then Sauder’s German portraits although they are still incredibly similar and fascinating.

August Sauder’s ‘archetype photos’ of Germany.

Diane Arbus’s ‘Cirus’ Photographs.

Sontag explores the photographic project created from this sudden ‘adventism’ called the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The FSA’s purpose was to expose to the middle class what it was really like to be poor and that the poor were dignified. This organisation was hopeful and cast hardships & unethical situations into the public eye, such as child labour on cotton fields.

Induced by this rush of documentation the tourists began to unknowingly “alter” truth. Americans were impatient and desired photographs of the Native Indians, turning the past into a consumable object. Tourists like Adam Clark Vroman often intruded Indian privacy, forcing them to pose and re-enact ceremonies therefore portraying a false documentation of Indian culture. Sontag describes these photographs as a “cheap method of disseminating a loathing for history”, they are artefacts, found objects & an inventory for morality.

  Images from Adam Clark Vroman 

“Photographs turn the past into an object of tender regard, scrambling moral distinctions and disarming historical judgements..” Santog describes photographs as a reminder of death which is true. When you look at photographs from the past whether it be photographs of your ancestors or history documentations, we are reminded that death is inevitable. We reminisce.
Santog mentions Roman Vishniac’s photographs of the ghettos of Poland as a reminder that all these people were set to perish.

Images by Roman Vishniac Poland 1938

Overall Santog states that the conventional studio style photograph is more effective. I agree. Out of all these historic photographs the more intriguing images are those in which the subject has stood in an environment expressionless leaving the photograph entirely up to the audience to interpret. Sauder’s is renowned for these type of photographs.

The lure of photographs continues to astound myself & it seems Santog aswell. This text summarises the link between surrealist photography, the documentation of history and quotations, with a world of examples. I highly recommend this knowledgeable read, as it has opened my mind to the world of photography.

“No activity is better equipped to exercise the surrealist way of looking than photography, and eventually we look at all photographs surrealistically. ” – Susan Santog.





Week 3 Tutorial: Eggcellent Eggs

In this weeks tutorial following the isotype reading Simone asked us to draw and instructional drawing explaining how to draw an egg without using any words.

I chose to draw how to cook hard boiled eggs. It’s surprising how challenging this task actually was, especially the time element. How do you inform the audience of how long to cook the eggs for without using numbers?
Well my team member came up with an ‘eggcellent’ idea to draw an egg timer. Which none of us thought to draw.

Below is my drawing:

How to Boil An Egg Isotype.

The Simone requested we combine our ideas and create one as a group. Below is what our group illustrated.
Step 1: Boil the Kettle
Step 2: Pour water & wait until hot (steam)
Step 3: Place eggs into pot
Step 4: Wait for the egg timer
Step 5: Scoop eggs out
Step 6: You have hard boiled eggs!

Group Isotype: How to boil an egg

‘Words Divide, Pictures Unite”

Otto Neurath & the Isotype

The isotype is a visual language that displays facts pictorially. Explored by Otto Neurath & colleagues who believed the isotype would revive dull statistics and provide education on a universal level through a vast array of values it embodied.

One of the major values exhibited by the isotype was the power to educate. Neurath believed that people “need some comprehensive knowledge to help make their own decisions”. After testing in several schools the isotypes successfully taught high level content at a low level of the schools curriculum.

World’s Motor Car Industry Isotype 1929

The isotypes portrayed a ‘goal of neutrality’ in which facts were not depicted as bias allowing people to draw their own conclusions. Neurath also wanted to create isotypes so that they could be universally understood, he believed he was creating an ‘alternate language’. Although as he later discovered this was impossible with some isotypes but he had many successes. For example Marie Neruath was successful in adapting an isotype for the Nigerian people and many officials believe that by publicising this isotype the turnouts in elections increased.

This legacy of the isotype and the values embodied lives on prominently within today’s society.
Have you ever been on a plane for example? The emergency evacuation card must be universally understood hence why they are extremely pictorial and self-explanatory. Otherwise if they were limited to one language only people who spoke that language would know what to do within an emergency.

Jetstar Airlines A320 Emergency Isotype.

I believe that the isotype is a valuable language to society and without it we could not educate people on a universal level efficiently.

“Your Talk May Kill Your Comrades.”

Propaganda; Semiotic Analysis

What should be considered in a semiotic analysis:

  1. Detonation – physical object e.g. word ‘dog’.
  2. Connotation – understanding e.g. dog implies loyalty.
  3. Signified – what is signified in the image.
  4. Signifier -what Kind, icons, symbol or index?
  5. How does the text anchor the image? 

So lets look at this Propaganda Poster by Abram Games (Britain, 1942):

Poster by Abram Games (Britain, 1942).
Poster by Abram Games (Britain, 1942).


In the above poster the soldier is speaking and the speech is travelling and his comrades are dying.

The soldier has spoken about his knowledge regarding the military and as a result this information has travelled into enemy knowledge and they have gained an advantage therefore killing his fellow comrades.

The purpose of this poster is to scare soldiers into not speaking out about their military knowledge therefore keeping information censored.
The poster utilises a very selective colour palette.  The word ‘your’ is red and the sword is also red, implying that ‘YOU’ are killing your friends through blood & violence. ‘Your Comrades’ is yellow indicative of guilt & mustard gas. The smokey yellow texture separates the soldier from his friends.

The solider is an icon.
The speech is a symbol
The colour red is an icon.

How does the text anchor the image?
Without the text the audience would not understand what the image is depicting. I would not have recognised that the spiral was actually speech travelling out of the soldiers mouth, nor would I have interpreted the figures dying as comrades. I would have assumed they were the enemy.

I think this poster would have been very effective upon the British audience as it depicts the extent of devastation that leaked information can inflict. It successfully scares soldiers into keeping war related information censored by threatening the lives of their comrades.

“Art & Technology: A New Unity”. The Modernist Movement.

“The modernists saw themselves as the creators of a ‘machine age’ aesthetic truly redolent of the twentieth century.. compatible with the mass production capacity of progressive industrial culture.” – Jonathan M. Woodham.

I believe that Modernism is the cultural movement of those who opposed the traditional forms of art, interpreting that they were outdated in the new fully industrialised world. Emerging in the twentieth century with a belief that decorative embellishment was ‘out of tune with the age’. “Trash is always abundantly decorated” as designer Le Corbusier stated.

Modernism was a rejection of ‘traditional’ design and the result of wide-spread experimentation. Designers across the world believed in a ‘simplified’ method, experimenting with typography as an image, lines & non-traditional colour palettes. For example the Cover of Red Magazine which held a great influence towards avant-garde designers across Germany & Russia.

Red Magazine
Red Magazine Cover 1928

With wide-spread experimentation across the world an ‘International Style’ emerged from the 1920’s through to the 1960’s. It was most prominent in architecture but influenced many aspects of design including furniture, typography & posters. Modernism was generally characterised by simple, geometric structures, with the abstract manipulation of light & shade. For example Gerrit Reitveld’s Schroder House was a turning point after the war in which modernism attracted more critical attention. It’s use of primary colours, red, yellow and blue combined with geometric shapes is symbolic of the modernist movement.

The Museum Of Modern art (MOMA) was closely associated with the promotion of a ‘Bauhaus Aesthetic’. With the establishment of Bauhaus and under the directorship of Walter Gropius, a design aesthetic fundamental with the spirit of modern mass production was visible. For example William Gipsen’s Giso Lamps poster adopted a modern abstract form, symbolic of the Modernist movement.

Willem Gispen, Giso Lamps Poster 1928
Willem Gispen, Giso Lamps Poster 1928

The Modernist movement is completely astonishing in my perception. A dramatic increase in industry catapulted the art world into a universal completely contradictory style and changed the design world forever. It just goes to show that whats happening in the world around us is portrayed in our creative practice.

Diane Arbus: American Portraits

Lake Macquarie Art Gallery


Today I experienced Diane Arbus’s works in the flesh. And it was revolutionising.
It is one thing to see an original in text books or online, but it actually experience it sitting in front of you is a whole another experience.
You get a grasp on the actual size of the artwork, you see details you may have missed & you get to witness the actual texture of the work.
The first thing I realised when I entered the gallery was the immense open space it possesses & the sheer amount of works they have there!

Authors media.

The concept that interested me most about Diane’s works was that they weren’t of ordinary subjects. They depicted unusual beings ‘outcasts’ to society as one may put it. She shone light & drew attention to the corners of the world in which people shunned or ignored. Upon research of Arbus I learnt that she herself had severe episodes of lows and highs, I feel like this is conveyed in her works. By photographing not happy people but unaccepted people.

For example: ‘A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C.’, ‘Identical Twins’ & ‘Jewish Giant’ all portray in-ordinary people.

Sourced images:

The exhibition also held exhibitions of my favourite photographer Lee Friedlander, which I had seen all of his works online through excessive research but never witnessed them in real life before.
I love his self portraits and his street shadow photographs. I try to mimic these techniques within my own photographs. His works are one of a kind and very inspirational!

Authors images. 

“A Great & Truthful Medium”

What is it to be original?

The nineteenth century anticipated the rise of photography & the notion of “a great and truthful medium” was established. Many believed that Mathew Bardy’s photograph of Abraham Lincoln depicted Lincoln’s ‘true’ form without the social sigma. This was the first time citizens could truly interpret Lincoln’s appearance, creating a sense of reality & personal connection. But was this actually Abraham’s true form?
The photograph is taken from a straight angle in which Abraham appears large & strong, his expression creates a serious and compelling depiction; an excellent candidate for leader in most peoples eyes.


But what if this photo was taken at a high angle? Making Abraham look small and weak. What if he was smiling instead of an expressionless face?
Would he still be an ideal President of the United States in the peoples eyes?

I do not view photographs as ‘true mediums’. Even in a world without ‘Adobe Photoshop’ and image distortion the photographer has the power to crop what he doesn’t want the audience to see. For example: If I was taking a photo of an apple with a bite taken out of it, I could choose to take a photo of that apple from behind making it appear like it is a full and complete apple.

What interested me most in this weeks reading was the section regarding Lady Flinter. Lady Flinter took it upon herself to ‘toy’ with widely available nineteenth century design mechanisms. Flinter took this process of printing of photographs and edited the Prince of Wales into a photograph with her. She placed this photo into her family photo album as if it was a legitimate photograph. This can be seen as the start of an entire area of untruth imagery in order to gain social status.

What Lady Flinter did as I see it is the start of an entire era of photo manipulation in order to achieve social status. Similar things can be seen in today’s society where software like ‘Adobe Photoshop’ is widely available and people utilise this software to create a perfect image of themselves online for social status. For example this is something that the Kardashians are renowned for. The existence of Photoshop has toyed with our perceptions of whats real and whats not.

So what is it to be original? Is it the original photograph? Is it the final edit version? Or is it neither? As the angle, lighting and frame can all contribute to a different depiction of the subject.
I personally think its the original photograph but the answer is entirely up to your interpretation.


Tutorial 2: Nineteenth Century Design Timeline

Class Activity

In the tutorial today we were asked to form groups and arrange images of design stages into chronological order based on the reading for this week. Our group was the closest group to get to a correct arrangement of images.

1. First came Aboriginal Stencil Art –  The Aboriginal People have been around for thousands of years, hence why we put this image first.
2. Next Chinese Invent the Ink Brush – Again a really early technique.
3. The the Gutenburg Press – a very early printing mechanism, invented in the Holy Roman Empire by the German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440.
4. Next lithography where ink is applied to a greased image on the flat printing surface, non-greased sections, repel the lithographic ink.
5. First Sans Serif Typeface – this typeface I specifically remembered from the reading to originate in the early 1800’s.
6. Dagurerreotype Camera – The first commercially successful camera invented by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre which influenced design in this period dramatically.
7. The Arts 7 Crafts Movement – Emerged in the 1860’s when William Morris believed that ‘design arts had an important role in improving the lives of everyday working people’.
8. First Anime moving picture – Japanese cartoon. Our group struggled with this one as we were unsure when this emerged but it did appear fairly early.
9. The ‘Jazz Age’ – again no one in my group is a Jazz fan unfortunately, we were confused  where this stood on the timeline. The colour palette and geometrical shapes that this advertisement conveyed seemed fairly modern.
10. Rosie the Riveter – Clearly towards the end of the timeline as Rosie emerged in the first world war when women realised they could do what men were doing in the workplace.
11. Modernist Electricity Poster – the black and white appearance of this advertisement left us puzzled, but it was contradicted by the electricity being advertised. Therefore it is obviously second last in the timeline. It is actually a local Newcastle Ad.
12. And lastly but not least the Xerox Alto – the first GUI.

I found this exercise extremely educational as it required us to utilise our knowledge from the reading and arrange images with our hands in order from earliest to latest in History.

Authors image. 

Ref: Graphic Design A History Stephen J. Eskilson