Part Two : Research Points re Narrative, image and text

Part 2 : Research Points re Narrative, image and text

I have looked at these Photographers mentioned in the Handbook.

Sophie Calle

She does not have her own website as such but there’s information here on the website of her Faculty  I really appreciate her work. I think she is witty, funny mischievous, creative, inventive, caustic, cunning, guileful, wily, and maybe somewhat manipulative and voyeuristic! I have four of her books, including Take Care of Yourself which I borrowed from the library first and then enjoyed it so much that I had to have it for myself. . A large book which is almost an installation in itself, with a pink metallic cover that is quite ‘feminine’. Here  is a summary of the work that I think encapsulates her style.

The work was in response to an email from her lover breaking off their relationship and she asked 102 women, chosen for their profession, plus a parrot, for their responses to this. I think that, in its multi-dimensional way (photographs, short stories, poems, different modes of writing, , video, film, CD etc) it extends, enlarges, exaggerates the shock, insult and disbelief that such a thing could happen. Was it a true event? In some respects does that really matter? The work reminded me of the ways in which one agonises over words and letters from someone important, especially in a relationship (or maybe feedback from a tutor!). Each word analysed, reframed for differing interpretations. There’s that sense of “How could he does this to me!” with the anger leaking out all over the place. I also visualised smaller events with a woman surrounded by her friends and dissecting the relationship, and the man.

It isn’t clear whether Calle took some or all of the photographs or made the film herself. What is clear to me is how she orchestrated the work to create her desired effect and the amount of co-ordination that this must have necessitated. I certainly think it embodies postmodern approaches to narrative, included creating art from everyday events, femininist approaches and working in collaboration.

Sophy Rickett

Objects in the Field is a very different kind of work, less emotional, more measured and painstaking in a different sense. The interview in the Handbook Appendices is from Photoparley, November 2013 The work reflects the ‘encounter’ between Rickett and Dr Roderick Willstrop, a retired astronomer who, in 1980, designed and built the Three Mirror Telescope, which is a camera telescope in the grounds of the Institute of Astronomy.

The telescope produced 125 black and white film negatives, until it was modified to capture digital images in 1991. When Rickett and Dr Willstrop met he was preparing to have the negatives archived and she started making her own large scale prints of them. Her work explored the connections between optics and seeing; the shift from analogue to digital; relationships between two different types of photographic practice and the relationship between an artist and a scientist. This is achieved through the prints themselves; a written text describing her encounters with Dr Willstrop and the memories triggered from childhood, and a recording of Dr Willstrop reading the text that forms the soundtrack to Afterword (Grinding a lens for King’s College Chapel) which is monitor-based video work.

I’ve read the interview and other reviews of the project but have not had access to either the text or video and have only seen the photographs on my monitor. In that sense I have an uninformed view. As such, the photographs didn’t have much impact on me and it’s the story of the encounter that I find interesting. As a postmodern narrative, I don’t get the sense of an artistic or intellectual conversation between two experts; no meeting between two minds leading to a richer dialogue. I could, of course, hypothesize regarding differing views on the role of photography and purpose of a camera; the meeting point between the artistic and scientific mind at two extremes and the misunderstandings inherent in the generation gap. I won’t though!

Kaylynn Deveney

The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings (2007) Here is another meeting between a younger and an older person but so different. Close, more intimate and personal – being invited into Albert’s life. Deveney met Albert, known as Bert, when she moved into basement flat in South Wales and he lived nearby in a dilapidated apartment building. She asked him if he’d work with her on a photographic project. The introduction to the book outlines how Deveney met Bert. In the introduction to her book she writes:

I often seek in my photographs the banal moments of the day – the experiences not usually considered significant enough to warrant a snapshot….I look too for domestic patterns and arrangements, practiced daily routines that make us feel at home or that confirm – or conform to – our ideas of what home should be”.

This what she did with Bert. There are reproductions of his personal possession; drawings connected with his clock hobby; handwritten TV listings, old photographs accompany poems Bert composed. All of these communicate something of Bert’s life whilst recognizing that no book could possibly present a complete picture, “In fact I believe it would be an impossible goal. Nor do I believe there is a single ‘true’ story about any one of us, but rather a plurality of versions made up from various perspectives. .

Deveney asked him to caption small prints kept in a pocket-sized workbook which he does in his handwriting. There’s a dialogue going on here where Bert’s personality comes to play because I get the sense sometimes that what Bert writes isn’t in accord with Deveney’s artistic intention – almost as if he doesn’t quite understand what she’s getting at but is doing his best to please because they have a good relationship going on. As she writes in the introduction, “Bert’s captions create a new context for my photographs while some correspond to the thinking that shaped the image, others interpret the image in a different way, thereby adding a critical second perspective to this work.”. It’s a delightful book and Bert’s personality shines through. It reminded me of Julian Germain’s work, For every minutes you are angry you lost sixty seconds of happiness (2005) portraying his friendship with Charlie Snelling over a period of eight years which is similar in atmosphere and conveying the partnership that can evolve between photographer and subject.

Karen Knorr

Karen Knorr is one of the first photographers I wrote about when I first started with OCA. See here . Her series Gentleman was an early work (1979-1981) and photographed in St James’s Clubs in London and “..investigated patriarchal conservative values of Britain during the Falklands War”. In the section on her website she writes that she wanted to use humour to explore these attitudes which still prevail.

In a recent interview with Sharon Boothroyd for Photoparley, commissioned by Photomonitor, Knorr talks about her work, and what’s interesting to me is that she chose a critical approach as opposed to a self-expressive one, “A critical approach may deal with emotion and desire but more knowingly appreciates the staging and performing involved. In other words that something has to be constructed…performed”. The pretensions of the upper class are critiqued through humour – a wry humour that is evident in the choice of texts beneath each image. Of course, she is critiquing her own background of privilege and, of course, it’s that background that actually enabled her to gain entry to these Clubs. She knows how to ‘be a lady’ and speak in the right way, using the right connections.

It was collaborative work as, after gaining access, she asked people who worked in the Clubs and also friends to pose for her in different rooms . Regarding the texts. Unlike the texts in “Belgravia” the text here was “totally invented” and inspired by clubland literature and parliamentary speeches published in the Hansard sections of The Times. Knorr’s view of text is that text adds new meanings; operates between text and image (relay) and, “Adding text also prolongs the time that a viewer spends looking and thinking about the work. It slows the consumption of the image”.

I find Karen Knorr a fascinating photographer – splendid imagery, imaginatively conceived scenarios, rich in classical and political meaning. Some good advice to women photographers as well in the article, “Challenge your comfort zone, take risks learn new skills, update and push the boundaries, experiment.

Duane Michals

I have long admired Duane Michals., whose original surname was Mihal, but changed by his parents . Duane was named after the young son of Mrs Michals’ employer, who actually committed suicide whilst a College. The two of them had never met. In the Photofile book Duane Michals (2008) Renaud Camus, states in his Introduction,

The whole issue of the name Duane, and all it suggests of frustration doubts regarding identity, a virtual rivalry for his mother’s love, unsatisfied curiosity, the ambiguity surrounding the death of someone who was more himself than he was – and more legitimately so – may not entirely explain but may well symbolize the majority of the basic themes and recurrent aspects found throughout Michals’ work, his life, and especially in his comments.

He incorporated painting into his work in 1979, by painting directly on his own prints or on classics by other well-known photographers, “…and never hesitated to add his own signature above that of others”. At one point he said that he saw his handwritten words as proof that he’d been there. This fits well with the image we are suggested to look at which has the title this Photograph is My Proof (1974), see it here. The heading, in handwritten capitals, is “This photograph is my Proof”. The caption below it reads:-

This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!

The photograph, in b+w, is of a couple sitting on the edge of a bed, sideways on looking at the viewer. The woman is hugging the man from behind cheek resting against his back, and gazing soulfully at the viewer. He is smiling. We know that they were in love once, but now it’s ended. The words themselves and that they are in handwriting enhance the layers of messages and evoke a response. I had thoughts like, “They look happy there. Why the bed? Are they on a weekend together? Are they married, new lovers, what happened between them? We know it must be in the past and so he’s looking back. There’s a hint that he might be trying to console himself against a thought that maybe she never loved him at all and it was all a pretence. This Youtube video here shows one response by a student of Fine Art

Stepping, back being more objective. It doesn’t look as if it’s Michals himself so are/were they a real couple or models.? The handwriting adds that touch of authenticity. The brief words leave it open for the viewer to build one’s own narrative.

Part Two : Exercise

The exercise points us towards Assignment Two and encouragement to develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something. We are invited to choose a poem t hat resonates, then interpret it though photographs. – to give a sense of the feeling of he poem and the essence it exudes.

Now, I haven’t done this exercise as such because I’ve have previously created this type of work and think I have a good idea of ways to achieve this. See here where, in a simple way, I linked one of my photographs with a Manley Hopkins poem; here where I responded to a poem by John Donne; in DPP: here, again in DPP, where I responded to one of my own poems for Assignment 1; and here,  last October in C&N where, in exploring my fascination with landscape, I illustrated and wrote a poem

I’ve also previously looked at Elmet : With photographs by Fay Godwin (1994 ) where Fay Godwin responded to Ted Hughes’s poetry with landscape photographs in Yorkshire where he grew up. An earlier book was published as Remains of Elmet in 1979 but the newer book contains additional poems and photographs. I have to acknowledge that I didn’t really enjoy the book. The photographs do have a dark and brooding aspect, which Godwin’s photography often had and, whereas I normally enjoy Hughes’s poetry, here I found it stilted somehow. Godwin also collaborated with other writers and there’s an interesting article in the Guardian in 2011 here.

Another recent ‘booklet’ I’ve bought is Photographer/Writer/Illustrator which continues a new experiment in play from Miniclick .This looks at how the interpretation of image and text changes from person to person and how these images and text are connected. Eight different photographers provided an image, stripped of context and title, that was passed on to eight different writers who responded in short stories, poems and descriptive text. The writings, but not the photographs, were then passed on to eight different illustrators who created a piece of art in response to the writing.

It’s simply presented as an A4 booklet with fold out pages where you can see each triptych. What interested me was that the writing, on the whole, didn’t seem to bear much relation to the image – as if something else had struck the writer’s creative response. However, the pieces of Art did more often reflect the writing. How could this be? Maybe it was to do with the writings being so descriptive; painting mind pictures that had an impulse to follow.


This has been quite a lengthy write-up but I wanted to keep everything together. We’re guided towards some very interesting photographers here and I learned a lot about Narrative and the way in which image and text can interact to provide deeper layers of meaning and exploration. I’m particularly interested in:-

  • Giving the subject a voice through collaboration and their handwritten captions (Kaylynn Deveny, Julian Germain
  • Deepening the layers of Narrative by using multi-dimensional strategies (Sophie Calle)
  • Using handwritten text captions generally as a means to add depth and a sense of authenticity (Duane Michals)
  • Using literature as a reference point/springboard.
  • Creating fictional stories that can evoke memories and emotions in the viewer; that they can relate to in their own lives. (Sophie Calle)
  • The additional depth that can be given by collaboration where the people involved have an empathic/sympathetic response to each other. If artists are collaborating with each other then there can be a multiplier effect in depth/layers of narrative.

There’s a lot of material here which  has guided me towards my idea for Assignment 2.

25th March 2015


Calle, S (2007) Take Care of Yourself, Actes Sud,
Camus, R (2008) Duane Michals, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
Deveney, K (2007) The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings, Princeton Architectural Press
Hughes, T (1994) Elmet : With photographs by Fay Godwin, Faber & Faber
Miniclick (Vol 2) 2014) Photographer/Writer/Illustrator, Mini Click

Websites all accessed on 25.3.2015

Project 2: Image and Text – Part 1

Project 2 : Image and text
Part 1 : Narrative, anchor and relay

This Project is continuing from the picture essay to look at how text and image can be combined in different ways. It touches upon the difference between a picture essay/story and classical prose. A writer will normally present paragraphs etc in a particular order that governs how a piece is read, although I have to say that I’m one of those people who sometimes looks at the end of a story first. Other people might read every word whereas I tend to scan to get the essence of the rhythm and mood and a sense of the unfolding story. For some reason or other this enables me to allow my imagination freer rein. I guess I’m a post-modern reader!

I don’t want to dwell too much on narrative and writing because this project is about narrative and images, but it’s a fascinating subject. There was an interesting discussion over on the OCA student forum some time ago here (for those who are able to access it).  Tutor Peter Haveland gave us some links to relevant essays etc and this one by Paul Barolsky gave me food for thought. It rests its argument, “There is No Such Thing as Narrative Art” on an image by Ghiberti which refers to seven episodes from a Biblical episode. Barolsky states , “Understanding the way in which the panel relates to the Bible story requires the beholder to retell the story to himself. This act of recollection is itself a narrative. The figures that refer to this narrative are not a narrative in themselves” “This is because the composition of the work is more important than its allusions to narrative and, if anything, the harmonious arrangement of figures in space distracts viewers from the temporal sequence of the Biblical narrative.” Bartolsky continues,

The proper appreciation of Ghiberti’s art rests on the understanding that “Ghiberti’s panel essentially spatial and only temporal by implication. The difference between narrative and image is based on fundamental differences between space and time, between literary composition and pictorial composition……When we attempt to put words to such mute images as Ghiberti’s, we ourselves become narrators. “

What was interesting to me first is the aspect of the ‘beholder’ having to retell the story to himself. You have to know the story first. It made me think about the wall paintings in the early Churches – put there to remind worshippers of the glories of God and the temptations of Satan and in pictorial form for those (not allowed education) who were unable to read, not only in their own language but also in Latin. Needing to know the story first brings in cultural aspects and how this affects the viewer of an image.

More recently, in Postmodern narrative in literature, …” ‘experimental’ authors have challenged the beginning, middle and end narrative and the notion of authorship control that had its roots in traditional and classical literature” (p. 54, Boothroyd, S., OCA 2014). Roland Barthes and Michael Foucault referred to this as ‘the death of the author’ that allowed the readers to put themselves into the story. This is implying that the reader had always been passive but I disagree here to some extent. Hasn’t the reader or listener always put themselves into the story identifying with particular characters? I’m thinking of folk tales here.

Turning back to image and text, Roland Barthes (1967) used the terms Anchor and Relay to define different ways of using words with pictures. His examples concerned advertising and his was a pejorative analysis of the subtle ways in which the creators of advertisements aim to manipulate the reader/viewer into buying the products.

….all images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a “floating chain” of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others:

Anchoring text fixes the meaning of an image into one clear and distinct message.

The function of relay is less common (at least as far as the fixed image is concerned); it can be seen particularly in cartoons and comic strips. Here text (most often a snatch of dialogue) and image stand in a complementary relationship.

Image and text ‘bounce’ off each other and widen the scope for ambiguity and varying interpretations.


This asks me to cut out some pictures from a newspaper and write my own captions, using both anchoring and relaying text.

  • How do the words put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
  • How many meanings can you give to the same picture?

One of the images I chose was this from the Independent Newspaper of 15th February 2015. I came out with such captions as

  • 10am on 15th February 2015. Boston is covered in snow. (anchor)
  • Shoppers are unable to use their cars (anchor, although there’s scope for expansion into another story)
  • There’s a cold wind blowing over Boston (relay)

I do think though that this kind of image has a more ‘arty’ appeal together with a universal application that lends itself towards relay. The snow is hiding landscape details and the woman is wearing dark clothes, worn for warmth not style probably. In fact, as you can see if you follow the link, the caption itself provides a relay to an article concerning the state of the American economy.

Maria Short looks at the relationship between image and text in her book Context and Narrative (pp 144, 2011) and provides examples of the way in which the use of text, (as caption or within the image, as print or handwriting) works with, or against, the image to allow wider interpretation or create ironic tension. Paul Reas’ early work I Can Help  (1988) has a documentary style that reminded me, in a more everyday way, of the work of Anna Fox. For example the shopper dressed in a cuddly sweater with a pig pattern, rummaging into the labelled frozen meat section in the supermarket, or the man in combat trousers, cigarette in mouth, holding up the wallpaper of a fighting soldier. Very colourful, wide-angle, reminding me as well of those other elements in ‘telling a story about the truth’ – the colour, tone, orientation, composition etc.

The C&N Handbook asks us to look at further examples from the work of Sophie Calle and Sophy Rickett and I’ll look at these and others in the next part.

9th March 2015


References [accessed 6.3.2015 [accessed 6.3.2015] for those who can access