Project 1

The Photographic Image: Shifting Meanings

One of the common ways of understanding photographs is that they portray some kind of truth about the world. Because a camera is a machine, its images seem more objective than those created by human hands. The “truth” that the camera shows can be more complicated than that, however, in several ways:

1. The photographer always chooses what to take a photograph of, when to take it, and how to compose it. Framing, aperture, shutter speed, and other factors all heavily influence the final image and what it shows.

2. The scene can be staged 3. The photograph can be manipulated; this is particularly true with digital images 4. The “truth” that the photograph represents may be what Roland Barthes calls “cultural myths”: ideas, values, and

beliefs that we take for granted as both true and obvious but which are actually culturally constructed assumptions.

Many photographs involve all of the above. An image of a fashion model in an advertisement would be framed and composed by the photographer; is usually staged; is almost always heavily digitally manipulated (sometimes with horrifying and funny accidental results); and works with a mythology of ideal beauty and a mythology that buying things helps you achieve it.

For this project, you will explore the ability of photographs to show a certain kind of “truth,” but also the ability to contradict that truth with another image.

Create 4 image pairs, one for each of the kinds of ‘truth construction’ above. Pair 1:

An image that suggests a ‘truth’ about a subject through composition and framing. An image that tells you something very different about the subject through different composition and framing.

Pair 2:

Stage a scene and photograph it to make it look natural Take a second photograph that reveals that the scene is staged

Pair 3:

A photograph of any subject A digitally manipulated version of the same subject which changes it in an important way, but is still completely believable

Pair 4:

A photograph that conveys a cultural myth (use any of the above techniques if you want, to reinforce the image) An image on the same topic (does not need to be the same subject) which questions the truth of that myth. REMEMBER, the word “myth” often suggests things like Roman mythology, superstitions, and urban legends. Barthes uses “myth” much more broadly, so it could include things like ideal beauty, democracy, free-market capitalism, altruism, comsumerism, etc.

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