Part 4 Project 3 Fictional Texts

Part 4 Project 3 Fictional Texts

Michael Colvin’s project ‘Rubber Flapper’ (Boothroyd and Roberts, 2015: 86) is a work of complete fiction. Colvin says of the process:

I like having the freedom to think up narratives that investigate an idea, an emotion, a point of view, and try to make work that expresses my thoughts and confusions. What I’m trying to say is not always fully realised, even to myself.

I love the planning involved. Buying and making props. Trying out compositions, roping friends and family in to help pose for my characters – just working through scenarios and seeing what works and what doesn’t (Boothroyd, 2015).

Less a complete work of fiction is Erica McDonald’s ‘The Laundry Sherpas of Brooklyn’ (Laurent, 2013; McDonald, s.d). McDonald’s practice has been described:

Seeing people carry their laundry through the streets in Brooklyn, McDonald was reminded of people in developing countries, who might have to walk for miles on foot to reach the bank of a river where they can wash their clothes [see fig. 1 and 2.].

McDonald first considered doing a traditional documentary piece about these Brooklyn ‘Sherpas’, talking to The New York Times about shooting it. Yet the photographer, who has been living in Brooklyn for more than eight years, wanted to use the people she photographed in a collaborative way, to emphasise the idea that they were wandering through a built-up area. In other words, she says, “I wanted them to participate in this story that came out of my imagination” (Laurent, 2013).

The similarity here with Michael Colvin’s work (above) is evident in that in both cases the story ‘came out of my imagination’ (above).

Christian Patterson’s book ‘Redheaded Peckerwood’ (Patterson, 2011): ‘which unerringly walks the fine line between fiction and nonfiction, is a disturbingly beautiful narrative about unfathomable violence and its place on the land’ (Luc Sante cited by Mack, s.d). Fifty years after a 20 year-old and his 14-year-old girlfriend went on a two-month killing spree that resulted in the deaths of 10 people Patterson followed their trail trail across the US states of Nebraska and into Wyoming:

his magpie eye picking out landscapes, buildings, woods, wastegrounds and darkly suggestive interiors. On the way, he visited the murder sites and the neighbourhoods of the killers and their victims, discovered personal letters and official documents pertaining to the case and trawled the archives of local papers such as the Lincoln Journal Star for first-hand accounts of the trial. He talked to police officers, local people, drifters and strangers he met in bars and coffee houses. The result is a unique photobook-cum-archive, a kind of impressionist visual narrative whose subtext is Patterson’s own obsession with the couple and their dark mythology …

“In Redheaded Peckerwood,” writes Luc Sante in his essay for the book, “Christian Patterson is working out something that hasn’t been done much before, if ever: a kind of subjective documentary photography of the historical past. That requires that the individual pictures be true, as close as possible to the physical details as historically established, while remaining ambiguous and unsettling …” (O’Hagan, 2011).

The Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel (b. 1975) says of her work ‘Life and Miracles of Paula P.’ (de Middel, 2009):

‘For me, the language of reportage is not enough when compared with everything I had experienced. It started with Paula P, a prostitute. I worked with her for three years, and it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t reduce it to just a reportage about her life – her story was much more complex’ (Laurent, 2013).

It has been remarked that:

One aspect de Middel couldn’t convey in her images was the judgment that other people have towards her and towards prostitution. “This is something you cannot add to an image, so I decided to take the book and change the narrative of the story by using verses from the Bible,” she [de Middel] says. De Middel also added images shot for other projects to convey the oppressive nature of other people’s views on her life. “Everything I used to tell her story is real, but by using this freedom in the approach, and by using images that didn’t belong to the project, I was telling a fuller story. I wasn’t misleading the readers, I was instead giving them more information. I was giving them a more complete experience of what I had to say. I was sharing more on so many different levels. That’s one thing photography can do when you know how to do it” (Laurent, 2013).

Thus, by adding images from other sources de Middel changed her project from a straightforward documentary — a ‘closed’ narrative (Boothroyd and Roberts, 2015: 88) —  into an ‘open’ one which allowed for ambiguity in the narrative. Similarly, another de Middel’s project ‘The Afronauts’ (de Middel, 2012) revolves around the plan initiated in 1964 to send the first African astronauts into space:

De Middel set about her project in the manner of a filmmaker, blending fact and fiction. “I thought, I have a story and I need images to support that story. On one hand I had the real documents and on the other I had images I wanted to create. As I saw it there are key Nasa images that we are familiar with – the flag and the footsteps on the moon. I tried to translate these and give them an African spirit.”

As well as finding props such as helmets (she used a glass dome from an old street light), she also commissioned her 92-year-old grandmother to help her make the spacesuits and the textile covering the rocket. …

Alongside these new images, she placed images from her archive … and included a mixture of genuine and faked documents pertaining to the story. “I used an original press cutting, but changed Edward’s [Makuka Nkoloso, the founder and sole member of Zambia’s National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy] face. The letters are real letters I found on the internet, but I retyped them with an old typewriter. To make the story understood, I needed all these different parts” (Davies, 2014).

Joan Fontcuberta’s (b. 1995) book ‘Sputnik’ (Fontcuberta, 1997) created:

a narrative structure of material pulled from various sources. Through the documentary images that he aggregated and sequenced, Fontcuberta relayed the biography of an imaginary cosmonaut named Ivan Istochnikov, constructing a story that could very well be considered plausible because the (Western) audience had access to very little faactual information about the Soviet Union, let alone its sp[ace program. In actuality, the work, produced as an exhibition and a book, is a postmodern backdraft of the notion that photography is a purely transparent medium. It’s not exactly a lie, but its content is absolutely not ‘true’ according to the ethical standards of journalism (Vroons, 2017).

When asked why he would devise such an elaborate hoax, Fontcuberta relpied:

My model is Jorge Luis Borges [the Argentine writer behind many literary hoaxes]. The idea is to challenge disciplines that claim authority to represent the real – botany, topology, any scientific discourse, the media, even religion. I chose photography because it was a metaphor of power. When I started in the early 70s, photography was a charismatic medium providing evidence (Jeffries, 2014).


Boothroyd, S., 2015. Rubber Flapper. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24 11 2017].

Boothroyd, S. & Roberts, Keith, 2015. Photography 1 Identity and Place. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Davies, L., 2014. Cristina de Middel: The Afronauts. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 25 11 2017].

de Middel, C., 2009. Vida y Milagros de Paula P. Alicante: Museo de la Universidad de Alicante.

de Middel, C., 2012. The Afronauts.  Self-published

Fontcuberta, J., 1997. Sputnik. Santa Fe: Photo Eye Books .

Jeffries, S., 2014. Joan Fontcuberta: false negatives. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24 11 2017].

Laurent, O., 2013. Stranger than fiction: Should documentary photographers add fiction to reality?. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24 11 2017].

Mack, s.d. Christian Patterson Redheaded Peckerwood. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24 11 2017].

McDonald, E., s.d. The Laundry Sherpas of Brooklyn. [Online] Available at:–the-laundry-sherpas-of-brooklyn/Sherpa_web_McDonald_Erica_001s/ [Accessed 24 11 2017].

O’Hagan, S., 2011. Christian Patterson goes on the trail of America’s natural born killers. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24 11 2017].

Patterson, C., 2011. Redheaded Peckerwood. London: MACK.

Vroons, E., 2017. Steamy Windows and Distorted Rearviews: How Photographic Images Can Function In Artist Books. GUP, Issue 52, pp. 37-51.


Figure 1. McDonald, E., s.d. Mountain Sherpa. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24 11 2017].

Figure 2. McDonald, E., s.d. Balancing Sherpa. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24 11 2017].


Part 4 Project 2 Exercise 4.5

Part 4 Project 2 Exercise 4.5

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.

You may choose to present your images with or without the original words. Either way, make sure that the images are working hard to tell a story. If you decide to include the words, ensure that they add to the meaning rather than describing the image or shutting it down. Try to keep your image-and-text combinations consistent – perhaps they are all overheard conversations on a bus or all come from an old newspaper report. Keep them part of a story.

Consider different ways of presenting the words. Audio or video might lend itself well to this kind of work, or a projection of images using voice-over. Experiment.

All the words chosen for this Exercise relate to loss and come from disparate sources. The five photographs map in some ways to the adjacent text but all could just as easily be interchanged, for example the photograph included of religious icons reflects the almost universal idea of the solace of religion.

The poem ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop may be listened to while looking sequentially at the images arranged in Gallery 2 (these are the same photographs as in Gallery 1 but with the intersperse  text removed). The poem is  part-autobiographical:

and mirrors the actual losses Elizabeth Bishop experienced during her lifetime. Her father, for instance, died when she was a baby, and her mother suffered a nervous breakdown some years later. The young poet had to live with her relatives and never saw her mother again. In her mature years she lost her partner to suicide. One Art carefully if casually records these events, beginning innocently enough with an ironic play on ‘the art’, before moving on to more serious losses. It culminates in the personal loss of a loved one, and the admission that, yes, this may look like a disaster (Spacey, 2017).

I felt the last line of this poem to be particularly effective when heard with the images in view and in mind

Gallery 1 (Click to enlarge)

Gallery 2 (Click to enlarge) View this Gallery of images while listening to ‘One Art’ a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, below

One Art a poem by Elizabeth Bishop




Spacey, Andrew. 2017. Analysis of Poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 11 2017].

Project 2 Memories and Speech (ii)

Project 2 Memories and Speech (ii)

The Written Word

Sophie Calle (b. 1953) has written that: ‘In my work it is the text that has counted most and yet, the image was the beginning of everything’ (Calle cited in Nelson, 2015). Calle’s book ‘True Stories’ (Calle, 2010):

includes short, presumably autobiographical texts and photographs describing episodes in her life – “The Love Letter”, “The Husband”, “Monique”. By situating this work within that larger “autobiographical” archive, Calle not only plays with our willingness to accept the veracity of both photography and the written word, especially when linked together, but also suggests how much validity can be conferred on an idea or image by its placement within a larger archival context (Nelson, 2015).

Calle’s book ‘Rachel Monique’ (Calle, 2013; see fig. 1. – 3.) is the story of Calle’s mother, Monique Szyndler, who died in 2007 — ‘all photographs are momento mori’ (Sontag,1977: 15). Similar to ‘True Stories’ the story of Calle’s mother is told:

through excerpts from Monique’s diary and family album photographs. It’s a highly personal work of mourning that manages to be universal in its evocation of the emotionally complex mother-daughter relationship (Artbook, 2013).

Magnum photographer Donovan Wylie (b. 1971) and Timothy Prus collaborated on ‘Scrapbook’ (Wylie and Prus, 2009; see fig. 4. – 6.), which:

combines imagery from Wylie’s own family scrapbooks with other vernacular imagery gathered in Ulster. … It derives not only from his [Wylie] mother’s scrapbook but also from the tradition in Northern Ireland where personal albums held not just snapshots but things like recipes and clippings from newspapers. Wylie extends this with all kinds of vernacular material, but also with the mind and eye of a professional photographer, to make a thoughtful meditation on the ‘Troubles’ (Parr and Badger, 2014: 252).

Larry Sultan’s (b. 1946) ‘Pictures from Home’ (Sultan, 1992) is:

a masterclass in merging images and text. Throughout, Sultan’s often painful reflections – on his upbringing, his parents, his photography, and the wisdom of this project – are undercut with his father’s more macho, matter-of-fact monologues on the same. The tension between the two is the classic generational tension between father and son; the one seeking affirmation of his work, the other baffled by it. “Every few months I visit, loaded down with camera gear and ideas for pictures,” writes Sultan. “It takes a day or two for most of these ideas to seem strained or foolish and then I’m left with cases of unexposed film and a feeling of desperation.” (O’Hagan, 2017).

Shown in Figure 7 is an image from ‘Pictures from Home’ which incorporates text into the image composition.

Martha Rosler (b. 1943) has been a critic of documentary photography practice, for example her influential essay ‘In, Around, and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography)’ (Rosler, 1989). Rosler suggested that:

The exposé, the compassion and outrage, of documentary fueled by the dedication of reform has shaded over into combinations of exoticism tourism, voyeurism, psychologism and metaphysics, trophy hunting – and careerism (Rosler, 1989: 303 – 341).

Rosler proposed as solution to this dilemma: ‘A constant renegotiation of content and context through careful use of text and an acute self-consciousness’ (Soutter, 2013: 54). An example of this practice is Rosler’s ‘The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems’ (Rosler, 1974 – 75; see fig. 8.). Here, Rosler:

uses a combination of images and texts to respond to earlier documentary photographs of vagrants and alcoholics in Manhattan’s run-down Bowery neighborhood. Criticizing what she regards as documentary photography’s diminished power to motivate change, Rosler juxtaposed photographs of Bowery storefronts with shots of typewritten words associated with drunkenness. The resulting disjunction—between words that refer to an all-too-human state and images devoid of people—suggests the inherent limitations of both photography and language as “descriptive systems” to address a complex social problem. By arranging the work’s component parts in a grid, Rosler disrupts the traditional idea that a work of art, hanging by itself in a museum, is to be approached simply as an object of beauty (Whitney Museum of American Art, s.d).


Artbook, 2013. Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 05 11 2017].

Calle, S., 2010. Sophie Calle: True Stories. Paris: Actes Sud.

Calle, S., 2013. Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique. Paris: Editions Xavier Barral.

Nelson, A., 2015. Sophie Calle. In: S. Greenough, ed. The Memory of Time. London: Thames & Hudson, p. 72.

O’Hagan, S., 2017. Pictures from Home by Larry Sultan review – when Mom and Dad lived the dream. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 05 11 2017].

Parr, M. & Badger, G, 2014. The Photobook: A History volume III. London: Phaidon.

Rosler, M., 1989. In, around and afterthoughts (on documentary photography). In: R. Bolton, ed. The Contest of Meaning. London: MIT Press, pp. 303 – 341.

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Soutter, L., 2013. Why Art Photography?. London: Routledge.

Sultan, L., 1992. Pictures from Home. London: Mack.

Whitney Museum American Art, s.d. The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 06 11 2017].

Wylie, D. & Prus, T., 2009. Scrapbook. Gottingen: Steidl.


Figure 1. Calle, S., 2010. from Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique. Available at: [Accessed 06 11 2017]

Figure 2. Calle, S., 2010. from Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique. Available at: [Accessed 06 11 2017]

Figure 3. Calle, S., 2010. from Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique. Available at: [Accessed 06 11 2017]

Figure 4 Wylie, D. and Prus, T., 2009. from Scrapbook Available at:;timothy_prus_&_donovan_wylie_scrapbook_(signed).jpg [Accessed 06 11 2017]

Figure 5 Wylie, D. and Prus, T., 2009. from Scrapbook Available at:;timothy_prus_&_donovan_wylie_scrapbook_(signed).jpg [Accessed 06 11 2017]

Figure 6 Wylie, D. and Prus, T., 2009. from Scrapbook Available at:;timothy_prus_&_donovan_wylie_scrapbook_(signed).jpg [Accessed 06 11 2017]

Figure 7. Sultan, L., 1992. Dad at Whiteboard, 1984. Available at:×827.jpg  [Accessed 06 11 2017]

Figure 8. Rosler, M., 1974-75. The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems. Available at: [Accessed 06 11 2017]

Project 2 Memories and Speech (i)

Project 2 Memories and Speech (i)


Roland Barthes said of photography and memory that ‘not only is the Photograph never, in essence, a memory … but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes a counter-memory’ (Barthes, 1980: 91). Something of this thought is captured by the journalist who ‘accidentally deleted every digital photograph she’d ever taken – a complete record of her 20s, including every pictures of her late husband’ (Molloy, 2014); years later she seems strangely liberated from the photographs:

That was seven years ago and, though I rarely ever looked at those photographs, I always knew they were there as a reminder. Yet, to my surprise, I didn’t cry when I realised I would no longer have these memory prompts at my disposal. In fact, as the weeks went on, I felt an odd sense of relief and lightness (Molloy, 2014).

The author Henry James wrote of ‘traps to memory’ which ‘baited themselves with the cheese of association’ (James cited by Simic, 2012). It doesn’t take much to fall into such traps:

A deserted street at dusk, with the summer sunlight lingering on the upper floors of a row of buildings and the sidewalks down below already deep in shadow, may get some old movie in our heads rolling again. Since we are ordinarily better at forgetting than remembering, it is often a mystery why some such sight has stamped itself on our memory, when countless others that ought to have far greater meaning can hardly be said to exist for us anymore. It makes me suspect that a richer and less predictable account of our lives would eschew chronology and any attempt to fit a lifetime into a coherent narrative and instead be made up of a series of fragments, spur-of-the-moment reminiscences occasioned by whatever gets our imagination working (Simic, 2012).

The photographic is present in the visual descriptions above of the ‘series of fragments’ that ‘gets our imagination working’ – here a photograph fits perfectly as the provider of a fragment that evokes memory and imagination.

For the practitioner, memory and photography can be deeply intertwined. Rachel Jump (b. 1991) says of her main interests as a photographer:

I have a tendency to gravitate towards intense emotional experiences. My most important memories—the ones that have sculpted me into the person I am today—have been vivid and all-encompassing. I am drawn to impassioned individuals, stories, and works of art that encourage me to reflect upon events in my life when I was the most vulnerable, ecstatic, or hollow (Fotoroom, s.d).

In the series ‘Origins’ (Jump, 2017), Jump ‘brilliantly captures the volatile nature of memories, using black and white, abundant light and staged photography to reconnect with fragments of her personal history’ (Fotoroom, s.d). Jump says of the series:

Through the act of making pictures, I am coming to terms with my past. As a young person, I had a very fragmented idea of what a home was—both physically and metaphorically—and did not consider how this would affect my personal sense of stability until I got older. … Photography finally provided a way in which I could eternalize these fleeting memories with the people I love. As a way to cope with these disparate feelings, I created a mythology hoping to join these places and regain a sense of intimacy and closeness with my family (Fotoroom, s.d).

Peter Watkins (b. 1984) says of his series ‘The Unforgetting’ (Watkins, 2011 – 2014) that it:

is the culmination of several year’s work that examines my German family history; the trauma surrounding the loss of my mother [by suicide] as a child, as well as the associated notions of time, memory and history, all bound up in the objects, places, photographs, and narrative structures circulated within the family. This is an exploration of a personal history that cannot be told with any certainty, but is told anyway (Watkins, 2011 – 2014).

To one critic the ‘most haunting and forlorn image in the Unforgetting’ (O’Hagan, 2015) was a self-portrait (see fig. 1.) which Watkins says:

was taken when I was suffering from depression and acute back pain, both of which, according to a Chinese doctor, were related. … My psychological state was becoming manifest in these marks. It seemed to me to be a wonderful physical embodiment of an internal state (cited in O’Hagan, 2015).

The painful memories at the source of Watkins’ work (and to a lesser extent also of Rachel Jump’s, above) remind of Roland Barthes’ suggestion that: ‘We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds’ (Barthes, 1980: 53). Of ‘The Unforgetting’ Watkins says:

There is no way to describe that sense of loss [of his mother], nor did I set out to try and solve the mystery of my mother’s death. … The Unforgetting is a realisation that there are no answers, but, as an artist, you have to find ways to meditate on that sense of loss. The project … lets people bring their own experiences to a very personal story (cited in O’Hagan, 2015).

This aspect of people’s own stories — the universal — being present in a work of personal memories is reflected in this reaction to Watkins’ work:

My response to his archive of images of his mother’s objects, pictures of her and her father, and the family homestead in Germany and the trace memory they hold for him left me cold…and not cold in the sense that I couldn’t “get with it”, but rather cold in the sense that it drudged up all my own insecurities and memories I try to hide myself from (Feuerhelm, 2015).


This is the conclusion to the above blog post ‘Project 2 Memories and Speech (1)’ added as suggested in the Tutor report on Assignment 4:

“you have analysed and interpreted the source material and formed an interesting investigation on the photograph and its role with memory; it would be good to write a conclusion to this by forming your own opinion.”

My experience leads me to identify with the idea of memory as something fragmented and partial. For example I have experienced the well-known phenomenon whereby two people can experience the same event but yet remember it differently (the Rashomon effect).

We cannot remember everything, every detail, but what we choose to remember is mostly driven by emotion, either positive or negative. However, even when remembering a long emotional episode it is still the case that, because of the way out mind/memory functions, we can only remember the episode in fragments. It is this selective aspect of memory that strongly relates the process of remembering to the process of photography. Thus, we cannot photograph everything, we must always choose and frame within the viewfinder.

If I were to make a photographic series on my remembered past the photographs would likely reflect the fragments that I retained of a longer episode or time, for example, a period in my childhood. These by necessity would be images of a personal nature which would not be of interest to anyone (the exception being if I were in some way a celebrity or famous, and then the images would become a curiosity). What would make my photographs, inspired by my personal memories, of interest would be if they reflected universal themes such love, loss, the universal experience of childhood and so on. It’s not that the viewer must be reminded of the same or similar class of event that inspired my images but that the human understanding and experience is conveyed such that empathy may occur.

But it is not straightforward: for example the photographer Diàna Markosian was taken to the US from Armenia when she was seven without saying goodbye to her father. Her mother told her to forget him and she did; after twenty years without contact she met with him again; she writes:

My father didn’t recognize me. I didn’t recognize him either… I felt out of place. Photography has in a way allowed me to confront this part of my life. My father and I began to take images of each other, the space between us as a way of working through the void in our relationship (Moakley, 2016).

Here Markosian (Markosian, 2016) attempts to address an absence, ‘a void’, something of which neither she nor her father has a memory. The viewer looking at Markosian’s photographs must do so in the manner of reading a novel — the photographs like the words facilitating not memories in the viewer but imagination, seeing what it must be like to have such a life experience. The photographs do not evoke memories in Markosian nor empathetic memory in the viewer, but rather a sense of memory’s  absence.

Addendum References

Markosian, D., 2016. Mornings (with you). [online] Availabe at: [Accessed 12 02 18]

Moakley, P., 2016. Father’s Day: The Photographs that Moved Them Most. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 02 18]


Barthes, R., 1980. Camera Lucida. London: Fontana Paperbacks.

Feuerhelm, B., 2015. The Pain of Loss is a Mother, Fucker – Peter Watkins’ “The Unforgetting”. [Online]  Available at: [Accessed 04 11 2017].

Fotoroom, s.d. Origins — Rachel Jump Creates Light Inundated Images Drawing from Her Personal Memories. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 04 11 2017].

Jump, R., 2017. Origins. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 04 11 2017].

Molloy, A., 2014. I lost a decade of photographs. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 03 11 2017].

Simac, C., 2012. Memory Traps. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 04 11 2017].

Watkins, P., 2011 – 2014. The Unforgetting. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 04 11 2017].


Figure 1. Watkins, P., 2015. Self-portrait. Available at: [Accessed 04 11 2017]

Part 4 Exercise 4.4

Part 4 Exercise 4.4

Over the space of a few weeks gather newspapers that you can cut up, preferably including a mixture of different political points of view. Have a look through and cut out some images without their captions. You could choose advertising images or news.

For each image, write three or four different captions that enable you to bend the image to different and conflicting points of view.

What does this tell you about the power of text and image combinations?

Now write some text that re-contextualises these images and opens them up to alternative interpretations.

Write some notes in your learning log about this exercise. How might you use what you’ve learnt to add a new dimension to your own work?

Gallery 1 (Click to enlarge)

The photograph above (Gallery 1) is from a newspaper report headlined: ‘Taoiseach [Irish Prime Minister] on US tour’ and the caption for the photograph reads: ‘Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple’

Alternative captions:

  1. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in chance meeting with Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple
  2. Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, manages to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on his busy tour of the US
  3. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple in informal meeting
  4. Staid, formal ‘old Europe’ meets casual ‘digital frontier’ Silicon Valley

Gallery 2 (Click to enlarge)

The photograph above (Gallery 2) is from a magazine advertisement for jewellery (shown in the photograph).

Alternative captions:

  1. A young woman showed reporters how she had stood hidden behind a tree when she heard the shooting
  2. In some areas wearing conspicuous jewellery can leave you vulnerable to attack and theft
  3. A mother watches as, in the final minutes, her son’s junior school team take a free kick to win the game

Gallery 3 (Click to enlarge)

The photograph above (Gallery 3) is from a newspaper report headlined ‘AIB [a bank] shareholders vote for new structure’ – and ‘the start of the meeting was briefly interrupted by activist … who told shareholders she was carrying out a ‘citizen’s arrest’ of the AIB board … ‘

The caption of the photograph read: ‘Margaretta D’Arcy being escorted away from the EGM’.

Alternative captions:

  1. Elderly shareholder who lost everything is lead away from podium after emotional speech
  2. Elderly shareholder, ignored by bank directors is led away
  3. Oldest bank board-member takes ill at EGM

Gallery 4 (Click to enlarge)

The photograph above (Gallery 4) is from a newspaper report headlined ‘Macron [French President Emmanuel] opens €1.6bn Louvre Abu Dhabi’

The caption of the photograph read: ‘The French president Emmanuel Macron at its opening ’.

Alternative captions:

  1. French president Emmanuel Macron insisted on hearing a description of the art works in the French language
  2. Dignitaries in Abu Dhabi wait as the French president and his wife view one of the art works
  3. French president Emmanuel Macron, his wife and museum dignitaries listen as the significance — historical, political, cultural and financial — of the art works are explained.

What does this tell you about the power of text and image combinations?

The re-captioning of photographs in this Exercise above indicates the truth that: ‘We constantly need reminding that photographs are not narrative in function, and when asked to perform in this role they need words’ (Jay, 1992: 39). This absence of narrative function has often been considered in photographic theory:

… one of the recurring tropes of photographic criticism is an acknowledgement of the medium’s brute exteriority, its depthless-ness, perceived as a kind of ontological limitation rendering it incapable of registering anything more than momentary accident of appearance. “less than ever does a simple reproduction of reality express something about reality”, wrote Walter Benjamin (citing [Bertolt] Brecht) on a photograph of a Krupp munitions factory. “Only that which narrates can make us understand”, cautions [Susan] Sontag nearly forty years after Benjamin’s essay. “The knowledge gained through still photographs will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist” (Solomon-Godeau, 2017: 12).

It is the text that gives photographs their narrative function, a function that can be separate from aesthetic consideration, though these are often combined resulting in ‘great’ or iconic news reportage photographs.

How might you use what you’ve learnt to add a new dimension to your own work?

In Assignment three ‘Window’ I generated a visual narrative by photographing those who worked over time to restore a rocking chair. The image series culminated in a photograph of the completed chair (see fig. 1.). This photograph alone says nothing of the work done, or by whom, simply that a functional rocking chair was there to be photographed; its significance depends entirely on the viewer having read the previous photographs in the series. This reading could be eliminated, and the significance of the image maintained, by the addition of a caption and/or some text, for example: ‘Over several weeks the members worked on an old rocking chair, successfully restoring it to its former state.’ Here the caption telescopes the narrative, the need to view the other images is eliminated i.e. the information (or message or narrative) is maintained. However also eliminated is the aesthetic pleasure of  viewing the images, along with all the narratives nuances that they bring, for example, the sort of people doing the work (for example all men in this case), what type of work was involved and so on.

 It follows that a combination of caption and image can often work successfully. In the example I’ve given above the captions for individual images in the series could read:

  • The chair is assessed and plans made for its restoration
  • The chair is first disassembled into its constituent parts for ease of working
  • The wood is sanded ready for painting

These example captions while to some extent closing down the image nevertheless assist the viewer to better appreciate the photograph, both its information/narrative content and its aesthetics.

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)


Jay, B., 1992. Occam’s Razor. Munich: Nazraeli Press.

Solomon-Godeau, A., 2017. Photography After Photography: Gender, Genre, History. London: Duke University