Photography is Simple
A photograph is just a snapshot of reality. Or is it? I thought so when I first started to become interested in photography. It is a moment in time when the shutter opens for a fraction of a second to let the light onto the film or sensor to create an image. However I am now aware that it is the interpretation of that image that makes it more than just a snapshot in time.
Terry Barrett said in his article, ¹Photographs and Contexts, “The meaning of any photograph is highly dependent on the context in which it appears”. He sights the example of a photograph taken by Robert Doisneau of two people enjoying a drink in a Paris bar. The photograph was taken with their permission and it subsequently appeared in a magazine: Le Point.
Some time later the photograph re-appeared in a leaflet produced by a temperance league warning of the evils of alcohol abuse, without Doisneau’s permission, and later still appeared, again without permission, in a paper entitled “Prostitution in the Champs-Elysees”. Barrett used this as an example of how any image may be interpreted in different ways, depending on the viewpoint of the interpreter, and may be far removed from its original intention.
Barrett’s view is that an image may be interpreted according to three different types of information:
- Internal Context: the information in the picture.
- External Context: information surrounding the picture
- Original Context: information about the way the picture was made.
¹Barrett, Terry. (date unknown) Photographs and Context. [online] Available at: http://terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf (Accessed 1/7/2019).
So using Barrett’s analogy, the internal context of the image showed a couple enjoying a drink in a bar, the external context was then interpreted by the temperance league and the anti prostitution group in different ways, neither of which were the purpose of the photograph. Finally, as for the original context Doisneau simply set out to photograph groups of people enjoying café life in Paris.
For this assignment I chose to take a series of photographs of my bike. A simple subject but one which means a lot to me. I have selected 9 photographs from my initial series, and the final edit is entitled A Journey Round my Bike.
I had never cycled a great deal in my childhood, but in 2015 was persuaded to enter a charity bike ride from London to Paris – some 280 miles. Quite a challenge considering at that time I didn’t even own a suitable road bike, just an old heavy mountain bike. So my journey started with buying a suitable bike, training, and then completing the ride to Paris.
I took a series of photographs starting with the handle bars and working around the bike. Below the series is one final photograph of the complete bike.
A journey round my bike
I have enlarged the final photograph here to show the entire bike and I have analysed this image using Terry Barrett’s analogy.
Internal Context: The information in the picture.
The photograph was taken on a bright sunny day. The bike is propped against a green metal barn, standing on gravel. There is no water bottle in the bottle rack, no panniers, no pump or puncture repair kit. So it could appear that this bike has been nowhere, done nothing. No further information can be extracted from the image.
External Context: The information surrounding the picture.
The reality is that this bike has taken me from London to Paris three times, as well as on a number of long distance charity bike rides in the UK, including Oxford to Cambridge (twice), London to Brighton and other rides around the Cotswold Hills and the Chiltern Hills. It is not just a bike to me – it represents more than that.
Original Context: information about the way the picture was made.
Had anyone said that I would be able to cycles such distances, I would have not believed them, particularly as I was not a keen cyclist in my childhood. So to discover that later in life that I am capable of cycling long distances was quite a surprise. This bike represents acheivement, health and fitness, freedom, economy (no fuel required!) and I am very proud of what I have done. It is not just a bike propped against a barn!