Reading the Image

Informing Contexts

My response to my Module 2, week 2 at Falmouth University.  Second of Two Posts.

Peirce (1839-1914) provides us with three categories to code what we see, or indeed what we show, as photographers; the iconic, the indexical and the symbolic.

The iconic being the code for resembling something;  the signifier of the signified. The index is coded as a known connection, to indicate a contiguous relationship. The symbolic codes as a human crafted graphic for meaning or instruction.  Despite the insatiable desire for imagery globally, I suspect that cultural, linguistic and traditions that pervade different zones of the world mean that the exactness of reading these codes will dilute or vary depending on the place of ‘reading’.  Snyder and Allen (1975 Photography, Vision, and Representation), write about visual conventions, as applied by the photographer and understood, precisely because the convention is absorbed repeatedly by the viewer or reader and thus subliminally adopted. But the photographer and photo-editor must beware of assuming such conventions are globally consistent.

Gaining an understanding of this 3 way categorisation has been useful for me, in that it I have begun to analyse photographs, especially my own, to see particularly indexical signals.  To see what is being suggested or linked to an event, or convention or a thing ‘beyond the frame’ that is signified.  I am though also regularly intrigued by ambiguity, especially when I know the context, as the photographer, whether it be a closely captured view or a wider scene, the viewer may take from these alternative ‘readings’, assuming perhaps the cause and effect that has led to the image being ‘understood’.

By way of example;

keys
The keys may indicate many doors, many spaces, many points to view…
pc-open
Is this a data theft? The office beyond looks intact with its kitchen and office furniture.
tippex
A typical office scene, the glue pen on the window cill? But the elasctic band is broken and the fly is dead, perhaps this is not what we first think
suitcase
A suitcase out on a stand. A sign of arrival or departure?
sign
This is a textual indication to conclude. This is an office block that is now being demolished. All the spaces are abandoned, vacant; humanity is a trace but not present. There is an enigmatic emptiness.