… and Narrative

From the OED

a spoken or written account of connected events; a story: a gripping narrative • the practice or art of telling stories • a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.

As seen in the course notes, individual photographs and series of photographs can each hold narratives within themselves.

A useful, if glib, working distinction between ‘context’ and ‘narrative’, then, is that narrative deals with what is inside the frame and context deals with what is outside. As a photographer, my first thought is that narrative is the more important because that is the part the photographer has direct control over. He shares control of context with others, the publisher, gallery owner or curator.

It is therefore interesting to read in the course notes, ‘By understanding the context of particular photographs it becomes possible to obtain the fullest appreciation of the narratives they convey’. This is something I look forward to exploring further over the next few months.

A Profusion of Pictures

No, not an obscure George RR Martin title, but a description of the mass of photography being made and shared every day. According to Michel Franck (2017) a single sharing site, Flickr, had an average of 1.7 million images uploaded per day in 2016, down slightly from a peak of 2 million per day in 2015.

This image, by Jesse Alexander and blogged by Gareth Dent (2013) shows an installation by Erik Kessels, ’24 hours of photographs’, being printouts of one day of Flickr uploads. Dent uses his blog post to ask why we take photographs, given the extent of the flood, and there is a fascinating comments thread, 44 posts over a week in 2013, that seeks to provide answers.

A slightly different question, asked by Joachim Schmid (Boothroyd, 2013) is ‘why do we all take the same photographs?’

Schmid collects (he prefers ‘gathers’) ‘found photographs’ – tens of thousands of them –  from jumble sales, flea markets and online sources and arranges them into typologies. For example, the set above, Archiv 321, is of small girls posing with their toy prams. Other archives show other common image types (bride-and-groom shots, camels at the Pyramids, cars and their owners, etc. (Schmid, 2007)) linked by similar subject matter, groupings, props and poses.

One answer to the question is that, with so many photographs taken per day, simple probability theory implies that many will be similar or near-identical.

Schmid himself does not give an answer; he seems more interested in observing than explaining, but there is a good comments thread to Boothroyd’s blog which refers to ‘appropriate photographic moments’ (rites of passage, preservation of happy memories etc.) and maybe it is simply a matter of many people in modern society living very similar lives.


Boothroyd, S. (2013) An interview with Joachim Schmid. Available at: https://weareoca.com/photography/an-interview-with-joachim-schmid/ (Accessed: 11 February 2017

Dent, G. (2013) Dealing with the flood.. [online at] https://weareoca.com/photography/people-are-hungry-for-stories/ (Accessed: 11 February 2017).

Franck, M. (2017) How many public photos are uploaded to Flickr every day, month, year? [online at] https://www.flickr.com/photos/franckmichel/6855169886 (Accessed: 11 February 2017).

Schmid, J. (2007) Archiv (1986–1999). Available at: https://schmid.wordpress.com/works/1986-1999-archiv/ (Accessed: 11 February 2017)

Decoding adverts with Judith Williamson

We are directed towards Judith Williamson’s ‘Advertising’ articles in the Source photographic review journal, and one example is available for download on the oca-student website. On the basis of that example, I have subscribed to Source

The example is her deconstruction of an advertisement for an Apple iPad, showing a small girl reading from her iPad in a darkened room. Overall, the effect is almost reverential or religious – an impression that reinforces to concept of ‘Apple evangelists’ in the days when Apple was a niche manufacturer. Williamson comments on the lighting (lit to appear that the iPad is the sole source), composition (with the iPad held high, the girl is lit from above and the impression is one of ‘annunciation’) and the other signs giving Apple’s message about Design as a concept elevating their products out of the ordinary.

Williamson then looks at the text and draws contrasts about the privileged position of the users of Apple products with the Chinese child labour that produces them. This is an aspect that will quite escape the layman reader of the advert.

I was inspired to research Williamson further and found an online extract (some 15 pages) from her 1978 work, Decoding Advertisements, Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. In this extract, she looks at 16 adverts and dissects them in the language of semiotics. (I have to confess that semiotics is currently, at this end of the module, a foreign language to me – a position to be corrected over the next few months) I found the explanations down-to-earth and easy to follow, although I am sure that the book (I have ordered a copy) will repay further study later in this course.


Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements, Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars [extract online at] http://www.charlesacramer.com/sf1110/ewExternalFiles/Williamson,%20Decoding%20Advertisements%20smaller.pdf (accessed 9/2/2017)

Williamson, J. (s.d.) Advertising, Apple [referenced online at] http://www.oca-student.com/content/her (accessed 9/2/2017)