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Informing Contexts - Viewers Make Meaning

Writing in his essay, 'The Death of the Author' Roland Barthes spoke of the fact that text is made up of multiple of meanings which comes from a wide variety of cultures and relationship in terms of the context in which the dialogue is delivered and received. In much the same way photographs have a host of meanings some overt and literal, others less apparent or subjective. However just like the text that Barthes was referring to, the one place where these multiple meanings are focused is the reader, or for the purposes of photography, the viewer. Essentially this means that as the author of an image the photographer can influence the photographs meaning, through subject matter, composition, settings and other techniques but ultimately the understanding of the work is set at the viewer. As Barthes goes on to emphasise ' it lies not in it's origin but in its destination.

It was therefore with interest this week that we were all asked to share an image with our peers, without any words or context and then read their responses in terms of what they saw and read in the image.

From the responses I received I was intrigued by the focus that most placed on the suspense and imbalance that was given to the placing of the apple on the edge of the brick. Here are a couple of quotes from colleagues on the course:

"This gives me a feeling of suspense, when or if the apple will fall."

"Unbalance, disturbing, and decaying image."

"I can’t help but wonder if the Apple will fall off the edge."

I had deliberately chosen this image as it is from my current work in progress where I am exploring the meaning of images through still life and in particular the hidden meanings that exist in many of these items of food and flora from the art of the sixteenth and seventh centuries. My placing of the apple on the edge of the brick was very deliberate, even using a bit of blue tac to achieve the precarious position, and so I was pleased that this was read by the viewers. However it equally illustrated to me that there are times when you may need to guide the viewer as no one identified the apple as a 'sign' or 'symbol' of the forbidden fruit. In creating this image I was looking to portray the question of temptation and how far this could push you to the edge.

As was seen in my previous post, we have also spent time this week looking at the use of images in advertising and the power of text that can exist in helping the viewer reach a mutual understanding of the image that the photographer intended. To quote Roland Barthes again, the text can give the photograph it's anchorage, "images are prone to multiple meanings and interpretations. Anchorage occurs when text is used to focus on one of these meanings, or at least to direct the viewer through the maze of possible meanings in some way."

As result of this research this week I am now exploring the use of text with some of my images. Whilst I do not intend to be overt in terms of putting text onto the photograph I do want to give each photograph a title, that at least gives the viewer a direction that I want them to go in. For example the above image of the apple is called 'Temptation' ,which had my peers known at the time of viewing it, may have led more to make the connection between temptation and getting close to the edge.

I am also considering taking this one stage further and may look to provide further words that would be read ahead of the image being seen. For 'Temptation' the following quote may be used.

"How far should I be tempted .Will it take me to my edge.”

I will continue to explore this in the coming weeks through further still life photography and research. My book of ideas continues to grow and can't wait to get more of these in front of the camera and into the image world.


TV Tropes. (2019). Death of the Author - TV Tropes. [online] Available at:

Traces Of The Real. (2014). The Rhetoric Of The Image – Roland Barthes (1964). [online] Available at:


  1. Temptation Steve Rabone 2021

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