Reading images.

When we read images, we use prior knowledge and experience to gain more understanding of what the image means and what the photographer is trying to say through the photo.

For example, ‘Hyères, France, 1932 by Henri Cartier Bresson’. It can be difficult to read photos like this one without knowing the title as this could be a man cycling down a street anywhere in the world, going to a number of different places. However, it is in a city on the french riviera and this gives you some more ideas of who this man may be.


‘We do not passively consume images, we actively read them.

The move from passive to active is image analysis.

Image analysis allows us to understand how we perceive the

world around us. The object of image analysis is to understand

the meaning of a work of art/design.’

Another quote i have found is this by Bill Brandt

“It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country.”

In our contextual studies lecture, we were given the following task.

Today’s task is to work in groups of three to research and ‘Read’ three photographic images taken by established photographers (historical or contemporary)

You will present your findings to your peers at the end of the session, or at the next contextual session depending on time constraints.

  • One image should clearly define it’s intent through the image alone.
  • One should need clarification of intent through caption or other signs. (I.e. it may be part of a series and as such fails to convey it’s intent as a single image.
  • Finally, one image should be one that needs further investigation to clearly understand it’s intent.


Please use notes from today’s session, and some of the prompts below to help you complete the task.


Who, What, Where?


  • Who or what do you see?
  • When was this photograph taken?
  • What is happening in the photograph?
  • Where was this photograph taken?



  • Why did the photographer select these particular elements to include in the photograph?
  • What don’t you see?
  • Why did the photographer emphasize certain elements and not others?
  • What’s in focus? Is only one person or element in focus, or are many elements in focus?
  • Why did the photographer take the picture at this moment?
  • What happened before or after this picture was taken?
  • Why did the photographer take the picture from this angle?

Here is my response to the task.

First, I looked at this image by a Photographer I have not previously heard of, called Sonol Zorlu.


Who, what, where?

Due to the quality of this photo, I can tell that it was taken recently (over the last 20 years). It is an image of a young boy, no older than 12, harvesting cabbages. He is not wearing shoes, gloves or any protective clothing and is using his bare hands. Using prior knowledge and comparing this photo to others i have seen in the news etc, I guess that it was taken in a third world country, probably somewhere in Africa.


I think the Photographer chose those elements to include the image to tell a story about the boy and what he is doing. He kept it simple with only the ground and the boy in the shot. Outside of the shot, i expect there is lots more field and perhaps some other people working there. The boy stands out in the photograph because the rest of the image is the cabbages and he is the part in focus. This makes him the focus of my attention when looking at the image. I think the photo was taken at that moment, to catch what the boy was doing and i expect when the photo was taken he then continued with the task. It was probably taken from this angle to get a clear view of what the boy is doing.

This is the next image i looked at, by Martin Parr.

FRANCE. Mulhouse. 2015.

Who, what, where?

As above, this photo looks like it has been taken recently (over the last 10 years). I came to this conclusion because of the clothing, interior decor and TV. It is of a boy of around 10 years old, another around the age of 6 and a woman who appears to be in her 40’s. Theyre posing for a photo in a living room environment and look to be in comfortable life circumstances. The image looks like it was taken in Europe.


I am unsure why the photographer took this image. I assume it was taken as a series of images that tell a story as a whole. I think the photographer took the photo in this environment and included everything in the image for a reason. I can imagine the photographer asked the three individuals to stand by the wall next to each other before the image was taken. Although, most of my attention is on the people in this image, i am also drawn to their surroundings and recognise the cartoon on the TV.

This photo is part of a series of images made by Martin Parr called ‘Mulhouse’. His website explains this series by saying –

Martin Parr takes a close look at the popular and mixed neighborhood of Cité-Briand in Mulhouse, France. The images were presented in the exhibition ‘A Taste of Mulhouse’ held at La Filature, Spring 2015.’

The final image I looked at was this by documentary Photographer, Chloe Dewe Matthews.


Who, what, where?

This photo looks like it could have been taken at any time using colour film but because of the quality of it, i feel it was taken more recently. Perhaps in the last 30 or 40 years and perhaps using a DSLR. It is of a field most likely to be in Europe with trees and an old fence. The feeling i get from this image is quite chilling because of the overcast weather, shadows and tone of the image.


I think this image again was taken as part of a series of images with a story to tell. I feel like it may hold a lot of memories to this person or tell some kind of narrative. I get the feeling that sadness may be attached to this image and it was taken from this angle to get this part of the field in the image as the focus of attention.

After doing some research and seeing a talk from the photographer, Chloe Dewe Mathews at the London Visual Arts Symposium I have found out a lot about this image. It was part of a series titled ‘Shot at Dawn’. This series was in response to the information released to the public in the 1990’s. Each picture represents the place where a British, French or Belgian soldier was killed due to ‘cowardice and desertion’ (1914-1918). The aim being that these people are never forgotten.


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