Summer Reading

On of the summer tasks was to familiarise ourselves with 3 books in preparation for the start of modules in our second year. The first one was for the module Community , Culture and Identity, this was Representation by S. Hall, J. Evans & S. Nixon. For this we only had to read the introduction, however once I had read this I was already interested in the book and wanted to read more, however I was unsure on the amount of time I had to finish all of the other summer tasks along with everything I was doing in my summer. I settled on just reading the chapter summaries hoping to get back to this book and finish it properly! Here are the notes I made whilst reading:



  • The question of representation
  • ‘Circuit of culture’
  • What does representation have to do with culture?
  • Culture is about ‘shared meanings’
  • For example language is a way we ‘make sense’ of things- a way meaning is produced and exchanged, the meanings are shared through our common language therefore language is very central within culture
  • Language= representational system
  • Language is just one media in which we can share our thoughts- through signs and symbols (words, written & spoken, sounds, images, objects, music etc.)
  • So many ways to define culture
  • Traditional definition: embody the best that has been thought and said within a society, this suggests it is the ‘high culture’ of the age and represented in classic works of literature, painting music and philosophy
  • A more modern explanation of culture is through popular media in the form of music, art, publishing, design, activities of leisure and literature- make up the lives of ordinary people ‘mass culture’ or ‘popular culture’
  • High vs. popular= a main debate within culture
  • Culture is not so much a set of things, like described above, but more a set of practices
  • To say that two people are part of the same culture implies that they see the world in similar ways and can express themselves in a way which each other would understand
  • Culture is very much about ‘making sense’ of one another
  • Cultural Identity Theory (from psychology)- you identify yourself in part of a group, you emotions and reactions make you fit in and allow other people to read you, you dress and act like a certain group to fit in and follow their social norms
  • It is the way we feel about things that gives them meaning, for example a house becoming a home
  • Meaning gives us a sense of our own identity
  • Meaning is produced at several different points within the circuit of culture
  • Meaning is constantly produced and exchanged in every social interaction
  • Mass media is global communication which will circulate the meanings of different cultures
  • Rules, norms and conventions
  • Members of the same culture share sets of concepts, ideas and images- this enables them to think about an interpret the world in similar ways
  • They must also share ‘culture codes’
  • We must speak the same language, but not as simple as speaking French or German, in a broader sense, we must be able to understand and translate with one another in at least one sense- this may not be spoken
  • A language uses an element to allow other people to understand what we want to say, this may be an idea or how we feel
  • Cultures can be split and mixed, for example most humans understand the traffic lights system but may not be able to communicate in other ways
  • Photography is representational system! – Using photos to communicate photographic meaning about a particular person, moment or scene
  • Is photography a larger sense of culture? What we think of the photography and how we interpret it.. If it is similar to someone else does this make us part of the same culture?
  • The type of display chosen can also been seen ‘like a language’- the way we display our work implies certain meanings and how we feel about it, this can be interpreted in different ways, suggesting different cultures
  • Titles push us into certain cultures for example ‘English’ without these titles would we have accepted the norms we have or would we be part of another culture?
  • Discourses are ways of referring to our knowledge, and defines what is/isn’t appropriate in relation to a certain subject
  • Semiotic approach- language= general model, ‘science of signs’, their general role and meaning in society
  • Semiotic- concerned with the how of representation- how language produces meaning
  • Discursive- concerned with the effects and consequences of representation- on particular languages and how they are deployed at particular times in particular places- not language as a general concern
  • Chapter 1– ‘the work of representation’, greater depth into the argument about meaning, language and representation
  • Chapter 2– ‘does visual language reflect a truth about the world which is already there or does it produce meanings about the world through representing it?’
  • Documentary photography- truthful account of the world? John Hilliard- Cropping, this is something that I have looked into in previous modules and seems to fit in very well here. The way an image is cropped may completely change the concept or way people see it. For example John Hilliard was able to change the way people thought towards how someone had died, simply by cropping the image slightly differently.


  • Chapter 3- ‘the poetics and the politics of exhibiting other cultures’, the exhibition and production of meaning through objects
  • Chapter 4– ‘ the spectacle of the “other”’, representing difference, more contemporary and popular forms (news photos, advertising, film etc.)
  • Chapter 5– ‘exhibiting masculinity’, new gendered identities
  • Chapter 6– ‘genre and gender: the case of soap opera’, how representation is working in soap operas- popular sources of fiction narrative of everyday life, popular culture
  • There are no single or correct answers in this debate, much is on opinion
  • The meaning is not straight forward or transparent

We were also given two books to familiarise ourselves with in preparation for Anthony’s module: concepts and approaches. As it was just to familiarise ourselves with these books I again decided to read the introductions and the chapter summaries. Knowing I would be revisiting these in class and in my spare time too.

The first book was Photography: A critical introduction by Liz Wells, here are the notes I made whilst reading:


  • Overview of conceptual issues relating to photography and ways to think about photographs
  • Photograph=artefact, photography=a set of practices
  • More about reading the photograph than the making itself
  • Theory informs practice
  • Without theory you are limiting your knowledge and therefore your practice as well

Chapter overviews

        Chapter 1

  • Key issues relating to photography are introduced and some of these are elaborated on by established theories
  • Focuses on a number of debates that are well known within photography for example the interrelation between aesthetics and technology and historical accounts of photography
  • Consideration of sites of practice, institutions and audience
  • How can particular attitudes and assumptions be made from a single picture
    Chapter 2
  • Focuses on the documentary role of the camera- in relation to every day life
  • Travel photography and photojournalism
  • Authenticity or the ‘truth’ of a photograph
  • Critical history of documentary
    Chapter 3
  • Concentrates on the popular and personal, the history of the use of photography (domestic and leisure uses)
  • Everyday immediate connection
  • Individual lives and fantasies have been recorded
  • Particular attention paid to family albums- social histories and personal experience
  • Contemporary developments in digital imaging for domestic use
  • Recent research on the family photograph- what is concealed and what is revealed- family relationships, gender, sexuality, attention is also drawn to the role of women
  • The keepers of the album
    Chapter 4
  • The body being photographed and how the attitude towards body image has changed
  • The history of the attitudes to photography and the body
  • How the photograph is taking to embody social difference
  • Crisis in body confidence
  • Questions of desire are explored
    Chapter 5
  • Continues focus on the everyday use of photography- commodity culture, spectacle and advertising
  • Photography= cultural tool- key expressive medium to promote commercial interests
  • A series of case studies are examined: tourism, fashion and the exotic
  • Political and cultural issues
  • Particular attention to gender and ethnicity
    Chapter 6
  • Considers photographic practices in relation to art and art institutions
  • Photography as a fine art?
  • Chronological: the 19th century, modern art movements, post modern and contemporary practices (method of identifying different moments)
  • Forms of work and themes which regularly come up (e.g. gender, ethnicity and identity
  • Land and landscape imagery
    Chapter 7
  • Explores photodigital imaging
  • New means of electronic and digital imaging (end of 20th century)
  • Socio-economic and political change
  • Are the developments understood
  • What effect do they have on historically established methods of photography?

The final book was Photography: the key concepts. Again as we just had to familiarise ourselves, I read the interaction and chapter summaries, knowing that I will return to it and go further into it. Here are the notes that I made:


  • Stability is given to the image world of representation from genres
  • Genres help achieve communication, institutions rely on this
  • Genre is a set of processes that involves the producer and the consumer in conventional systems of meaning production, not just a type of picture
  • Genre recognition is an act of communication
  • Genres are mutable, dynamic and polyvalent


  • A narrative account of events
  • The aim of the historian effects how the events are seen, personal opinion effects how the viewers are seeing the work
  • The history of photography is a general history
  • Photography is emphasized as an aesthetic form within the historical collections in art museums, using the ‘best of the best’- ignores other versions of photography that may not be as perfect
  • Images for history are created through photography- documentation through the years, interpretations are made though

Photography Theory

  • The theory of photography is essential to all aspects of the medium
  • New ways of thinking have developed along side this, for example the rise of advertising and editorial photography
  • Semiotics makes a distinction between the photograph and the concept
  • An audience is needed to give the image a meaning
  • Meanings are not fixed, these may change depending on the audience, time and other factors

Documenting and Story-Telling

  • Documentary photography isn’t just about the taking of the pictures but a lot about the selection and editing process, this makes the body of work and not just separate images. The editing process may include cropping, the use of captions and titles and establishing the overall concept of the work
  • The aim of documentary photography is to creatively inform the audience about another part of the population that they are unaware of. There are different aims such as to celebrate, criticize, support or attempt to reform the situation
  • Tripod based views, hand help scenes- different views, normally a ‘witness position’

Looking at Portraits

  • Historical development relied on portraiture, especially as a commercial identity
  • Used to identify different sections of the population
  • Key semiotic features can be identified from a portrait whatever the purpose of it may be
  • A viewer can implant their own feelings in a portrait, though it may seem that these meanings come from the portrait itself

In the Landscape

  • ‘Landscape’ implies a visual separation in relation to nature
  • Pictorial tradition in paining before photography
  • Photography gave a more high resolution effect

The Rhetoric of Still Life

  • A genre that is often neglected
  • Advertising depends of still life photography
  • Objesctivness is central in the logic of still life pictures
  • Photography in the 1930’s began to serve advertising of industrial products
  • ‘product shots’ are a development of still life photography for advertising purposes- it can be linked to historical uses of still life though

Art Photography

  • Art can be referred to as a type of value as well as referring to different types of art
  • Autonomy is a key concept in artistic freedom
  • The history of the impact of photography on art can also be reversed as art also has an impact on photography
  • Photography is central to debates in contemporary art discussions

Global Photography

  • Globalization offers a new paradigm for thinking about the development and impact of photography
  • A global language of photographic communication is found from world or humanist photography
  • Digital photographs give a higher consistency compared to analogue
  • Globalisation has both positive and negative effects