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Positions & Practice - Contexts & Audience


John A Walker identifies that everyone interprets images differently, there are as many meanings as there are humans. However another reason that there are so many interpretations of an image will be the context with which it is encountered.


There has been a cultural shift in the actual consumption of photography, highlighted by Roland Barthes in his 1968 work, The Death of the Author. He points to the fact that the readers interpretation of an image is now more important than the authors intention.


Context continues to influence our perception because whilst the primary attention is drawn to the image, there is always a secondary awareness of the environment. Context can be architectural, media, mental or socio historical.


Juxtaposition can also play a part if an image is displayed in a different setting, like the mirror above, or accompanied by another different image.


The globalisation and digital production of images enables them to be shared and viewed in a lot of different ways, all with different contexts.


The image's visual appearance is therefore determined by its spatio temporal point of origin. This suggests a photographs meaning may be regarded as externally fixed but is also subject to change depending on how it is circulated and viewed. An image may have a particular meaning today but also be seen and viewed very differently at a later date when it is in an exhibition or in a history book.


In addition to the physical and historical context that an image is seen, a viewer will approach an image, not with a blank mind, but with it already primed with memories, knowledge and prejudices. This is the mental context that will influence the images meaning.


As photographers and essentially the 'authors' according to Roland Barthes we must be aware of these factors in the production of our work. It could be argued that we lose control of the context in which an image is seen as soon as it is released into the world. We have a degree of initial control in terms of how it is released, i.e. digitally, in print, book , gallery etc but must accept that the ability to digitally reproduce work and the huge scale of social media means that in the same way a parent releases their child into the world, so our images will quickly take on lives of their own.


I guess the only ultimate control the photographer has comes back to whether to take the photograph in the first place.

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