one pic - the power of symbols

Started Apr 12, 2013 | Discussions thread
Fogsville Contributing Member • Posts: 577
Re: The how and why

Daedalus2000 wrote:

First of all I really welcome and appreciate your time commenting and challenging our amateur pictures. I just hoped you started with someone elses!

Now your points are of course valid, and let me just say that I took this picture many months ago, but I never considered it good enough to show it to the forum. But, given our discussion about semiotics, symbols etc, I thought I will present it as an example were simple symbols (shoe, heal, tattoo, tanline) can create specific reactions.

I have a couple of questions.  Those look to me like plastic chairs.  I can't help not thinking about the incongruity of plastic chairs juxtaposed against what appears to be a formal, expensive (or at least professing to be expensive) shoe of some kind.  Also they are right in my line of vision along with the wall or window ledge (we normally initially tend to look at the top third of a compositional frame and then we scan the rest of the image.) It makes me wonder what the significance of these plastic chairs might be.

Ok very good point, so let me give you some context. It is 11am, I am drinking my coffee. I see this very $exy (use of $ is to avoid getting blacklisted) lady coming in dressed in a very provocative way, completely unexpected for the time of day and the place. She sits behind me, the light is coming from the window so I know it will be very tough to get a good shot. I am sitting with my back to her... The only thing I can capture without getting a punch to my face, is the leg. I see it full of symbolism (the elements I mentioned earlier) but I also know that the background will be cluttered. But, I think it captures something interesting (to be discussed later), so I use a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus (as much as possible) and take the picture. So, no significance for the chairs, yes they are a distraction...

Also it appears that she has a tan line on her foot suggesting that she doesn't wear shoes like this often and instead perhaps wears casual running shoes as her daily shoe.  Also I ask myself why did the author choose to make this into a B+W image (the world is in color so I have to ask myself why is this in B+W and what is the meaning of it being in B+W.)

Well the tan line signifies the FAKE tan... One element of her effort to look good (more to follow).

I used B/W because the chairs were orange, so they would demand our attention.So I lighten them using an orange filter (in pp) Also, all the elements that are interesting (shoe, heal, tattoo, tanline) have strong shapes, so I hope with B/W they will come out.

The tattoo looks like a million tattoos I've seen and so I'm not sure what significance it has if any to me.  These days, women of all ages and backgrounds might have tattoos.  So it doesn't specifically signify age nor class status, either. So it's just kind of there, like her leg.  I've seen a lot of legs, too.

Ok, I come from a background where I have not seen many tattoos. So, to see a barb wire tattoo at this position is interpreted by me as a second element of looking good and even communicating a more provocative (permanent) side to her personality.. I will not analyse further, as I may get banned! (think S/M etc)

These are legitimate questions because it's what I literally see in the image.  And I'm not sure what I'm looking at here beyond a technically well executed image in B+W.  Is this part of a series of images?

They are legitimate questions and you are right the picture fails in many aspects, and that is why I did not post it before.

But the meaning for me is the following: Look at all the elements that a woman is using in a small portion of her body to communicate to us (men and women) how beautiful, sexy and adventurous she wants to be... The light from the window shows that she does that even during day time, not only in the evening/night in the club etc. Also, one may also want to discuss the "fakeness" of all these elements...

Now, of course I saw more elements in her that did the same thing (hair/make up/clothes etc) but of course I could not show them here. Sometimes this can be a problem as the photographer has a wider/deeper context and assumes that the viewers will have it as well. So he/she assumes that they will "get" the picture, when in reality there are not enough elements/info in the picture for the viewer to do so.

Anyway, this was my analysis of the how and the why I took the picture. It is not a great picture but it is a genuine effort to capture something about female communication through symbols and the reaction the rest of us may have to them. One of this elements has a strong effect on me, I will just say that and end the post!

Best, D

Please understand that there was no implication whatsoever about the image "failing."  It didn't fail.  However the viewer can only begin to decipher the image by what they see in the image and nothing else.  You cannot explain all these details unless you decided to show the image with a lengthy caption spelling out everything you just now told me.  But we cannot really do that with an image and therefore the image alone has to do all the explaining.

My post was an initial cursory look at what exactly am I seeing.  Not the codes or symbols, etc., but literally what am I looking at.  That's what the mind immediately does first: it looks at all the elements in the frame and arranges them.  After that (and it's an almost instantaneous process) the mind will then start to interpret the narrative of the image by using all the codes/symbols (the sign and the signifier) that it culturally understands (and note that you and I recognize tattoos in a different way based on our own cultural environment.)

Don't worry about "great picture" or "bad picture" sorts of issues.  Just keep making images and work to be fully aware of what you are doing (and also technically, since that also has an affect on the way a viewer responds to an image; technique is also heavily coded.)

This image within a series (even just two or three) could help to define your narrative (all images are narrative.)  It's really difficult to tell a story with a single image.  In fact, photography is one of the most difficult languages to use.  It's also embedded with this notion of the real (a realistic mechanical reproduction of what we observe) while it's actually only an interpretation of the world through the eyes of a particular author.  So we're 'stuck' with the burden that the viewer knows what we photographed actually does exist in the real world despite our effort at trying to be creative with our interpretation.  It's kind of a double-edged sword that other artists (painters, sculptors) don't really have to contend with so much.

Anyway, keep making images (and don't "shoot," that's what people do when they hunt for animals ) And post them all the time.  Having other people look at your images can be very positive even if they say they don't like them (providing they tell you why.)  And sure, showing your images can sometimes feel like you're taking your clothes off in front of strangers. But it can be very constructive.  Even well established artists will ask their colleagues for feedback about their on-going work.

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