Context And Narrative – Maria Short

A meaty but lean book.  Meaty in the breadth of the areas it covers in six chapters, lean in the way it leaves you wanting a more in-depth analysis of each area.  It’s a book I’ll definitely have to re-read to get the most from it as context and narrative within photography is such a wide-ranging subject and it’s difficult to get it all in and make connections between the threads, the illustrative material, the case studies and one’s own practice.

What did I take away immediately, and what do I need to re-read?  Well as a student it was particularly gratifying that this book has been written with us in mind and surprisingly the explanations are very clear, with non-academic language and linked well to illustrative material.  There’s also the big hint to its tutorial pedigree at the end of each chapter where there’s a section for Exercises.  Here you’re encouraged to interact with your peers who’re studying photography, although clearly it is aimed at bricks-and-mortar study rather than remote learning; having said that, there’s nothing that can’t be done by remote students.

What do I really need to re-read is nearer the mark, well I think ‘Chapter 3: Audience’ and ‘Chapter 5: Signs & Symbols’ aren’t an easy read and I don’t really remember much of what they both said, so by that yardstick they really need to be re-read, although I think I got something immediately from each chapter and the parts I remember most clearly are best explained from the sequence as they appeared in the book.

Chapter 1:  The Photograph

For me the Photographic Brief was what stood out.  Explanation of the different approaches that are possibly required for each type/style of photographic instruction received and different photographer receiving them.  How to approach the job and how to possibly break it down and analyse it.

Chapter 2: Subject

I found this chapter extremely interesting and something I felt I required for my practice and as a result I was immediately at home with it.  I did find it quite funny to read about how to choose which equipment to use where it exhorts you to consider the size of camera you use for the project including using full frame plate-type cameras….. yeah as if I can afford that kind of stuff.  That aside it was good to have what I’d instinctively thought about as being right, picking subjects to which you have a natural affinity and some knowledge as it makes the work easier and more pleasing and harmonious.

Chapter 3: Audience

This is one of the two chapters I picked out as not fully understanding earlier on and I think that’s because I’ve not yet had much contact or response from an audience.  My photography to date is still very much in its infancy as far as art is concerned and I’ve not shown any to anyone so I can’t say I really click with what was being proposed here.  I’m not sure that audience is going to be one of those areas that’ll be big in my mind until I’m happier with what I’m turning out.  The one thing I did pick up from it is that you have to bear in mind what audience your work is going to be aimed at before taking on a project as this will have, or should have, a great influence on how you portray the subject.  Mmmm, maybe later.

Chapter 4:  Narrative

Wonderful chapter.  Really rams home what needs to be thought about before, during and after a shoot to ensure that the final image(s) have a story either in it or them.

Chapter 5: Signs & Symbols

The second of the chapters I said earlier was one I didn’t fully understand, but I think that’s possibly a mis-statement.  I understood it as I was reading it, but unfortunately not a lot stuck.  The general gist I came away with was that a metaphor can be just as useful for stirring reactions and memories as a picture of the actual thing.  I need to really understand this more as I like the idea of metaphors within photography.

Chapter 6: Text

A somewhat disappointing chapter as it said in the beginning it was about how text inter-relates with photography and how it helps explain and/or adds a story.  What I’d hoped for was a guide into the journalistic side of text accompanying photographs, whereas it  mainly deals with captions and titles and only mentions large blocks of texts as an aside.

For me this would be a better book to give to students starting TAoP than the one that is current, ‘The Photograph – Graham Clarke’ as Clarke is unreadable and not understandable without a dictionary and this book is clear and helpful, OCA admin please take note.


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