Exercise 1: Denotation and Connotation

Part 1

  • Read the Documentary Deconstruction source text and engage with the research task at the end of the document.
  • Add reflective evidence of your reading and watching to your learning log.

Part 2

  • Choose a suitable image for each of the 4 genres.

From your reading of the Bate Photography Theory chapter, make your own analysis of your chosen images including both the denotation and connotations of your selected images

Listening to Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson and Philip Lorca diCorcia, and how they push the medium of photography and play with genres forced me to reappraise and think about:

  • Images as documents of truth-what you see is not always what you see-there are meanings beyond truthful reproduction
  • The definition of documentary photography as an objective method of capturing the world, devoid of the author’s explicit intervention and its role as factual evidence of social issues, is too narrow a view, especially when you consider the role of the artist and the viewer in determining meaning.

Jeff Wall talks about an image he made ‘Tattoos and Shadows’ and the inspiration for it coming from a scene he saw of some young people under a tree, all with tattoos and the dappled light and shadow across some of the people. He remarks that it was a beautiful scene. He didn’t photograph them and got around to recreating the scene a year later-a scene he feels is ‘faithful’ to what he saw. What I find interesting here are the detonation and connotation aspects of his process. He feels he is faithful (to the original inspiration) as he includes a tree (not the original but a more interesting one), some people (thought he reduces from 4 to 3), and recreates the shadow effect. What’s important for him is the freedom to add additional meanings or interpretations beyond its literal depiction. So rather than be ‘constrained’ by the original scene, he recreates another that communicates the ‘beauty’ he experienced when he first saw it. The final image is a photographic artefact based on the articulation of Jeff Wall’s experience.

Philip Lorca DiCorcia comments that ‘ a person’s interiority is very different to their exterior appearance and to some degree life is a performance’.

Talking about Philip Locca DiCorcia, Dr Sam Lakey talks about his  work in terms of how he changed how we think about photography. She opined that ‘there is an idea that in photography it captures a moment of truth photography and has a special and privileged relationship to the real, theses photographs operate to subvert that completely.  Talking about his work DeCorcia comments ‘I don’t really find them; I choose the place, in different ways,the subject matter, and then I try to put it together with lights and what I call dramatising elements, and these are what make seem like a narrative’

Dr Sam Lakey talks about DiCorcia’s approach and how ‘he gives the viewer a great of authority over the works, he sets up a relationship between the photographer and the sitter that we are not really used to, he’s not interested in privileging this relationship, instead, there is a type of distance between the two, and this distance means you the viewer can insert yourself in relation to that person’

Gregory Crewdson, talking about his approach says  ‘I don’t have a direct relationship to a camera-I never have- I’m just not that type of photographer’ and that Light is important and I always want certain type of ambience….Light is something you can choreograph in a way.

I feel their images are real works of art. Constructed with a purpose and codes of use that go way beyond just lifting up the camera, composing and pressing the shutter. All 3 artists creatively use the elements of detonation to drive and creatively connotate a deeper message or feeling within their images. The viewer’s interpretation plays a much more elevated role than, say, in a ‘traditional’ documentary where an image is present as an artefact of truth.



I begin by not photographing Jeff Wall

My work is familiar and mysterious…ordinary yet tinged with beauty and terror -Crewsdon



Part 2
Choose a suitable image for each of the 4 genres.

From your reading of the Bate Photography Theory chapter, make your own analysis of your chosen images including both the denotation and connotations of your selected images

In photographic theory, denotation provides the basic, literal content of the image (what it is), while connotation provides additional meaning by evoking emotions, ideas, and cultural associations.

In the first image above by Dorothea Lange- White Angel Breadline, San Francisco, California, 1933, the images shows many men huddled and waiting with one man faces in the opposite direction leaning on a fence with a metal cup between his hands.In the top right there is some writing on a board and the dress of the people situates it in the 1930s. This is what it denotes.
When i look at it deeper …



https://www.nowness.com/series/photographers-in-focus/gregory-crewsdon (accessed 28/05/2024)