Week Seven – Brief reading

A little delayed but I have finally got to have a quick peek at some of this week’s reading suggestions.

My first thought relates to Alan Sekula and how we arrive at the meaning of a photograph. In the chapter On the Invention of Photographic Meaning in Thinking Photography by Victor Burgin1, Sekula comments that every photographic image is a sign, above all, of someone’s investment in the sending of a message. But what if the photographer really did not have a conscious idea of a meaning that they wanted to portray? Does this make the resulting picture empty and meaningless?

Within my practice, the work I show all carries a meaning, a story of some sort, whether that is instantly apparent or not, mostly not. But sometimes I feel I create work that I simply find aesthetically appealing, I’m not sure why it turned out the way it did and then I may find I look to create a meaning for it that is perhaps more substantial than necessary.

For example, the image below was an original smart phone portrait, taken to test out the phone’s camera. It was then printed onto paper and transferred to watercolour paper. After that an instant lift was made of the same image and overlaid to create an almost ‘fairytale-esque’ portrait. But what does it mean? To me, to you? As Sekula notes, Roland Barthes used the term denotative to describe the imagining of a photograph as having no core of meaning and devoid of cultural meaning, while his term connotation references a culturally determined meaning. So where does my example sit? Shaped by the world in which I live, the picture must carry some signs, some significance?

Sekula mentions Barthes again, with a reference to his “polysemic'” character of a photographic image, that there is a “floating chain of significance underlying the signifier”. And this in turn suggests that all photographs must therefore have a “possibility of meaning”.

Taking in the diverse ways an image can be consumed, the discourse attributed to it, it would follow that my example can be given a variety of meanings dependent on its viewing. Where could I use this photograph and how would it change, or create, its meaning?

It is fascinating to consider the work I continue to make under the microscope of intent and meanings. With my first exhibition related to my current research topic coming up, it will be even more fascinating to learn what others take from my images and what meanings they believe they have.


  1. Burgin, Victor. Thinking Photography. Macmillan, London, 1982, Alan Sekula p84-109.