It is usually thought that photographs are a little slice of the real world. Traditionally, they have played the rule of adding realism to written text. The text becomes a commentary of the frozen shot of real life encapsulated in the photograph.
However it could be argued that this is not the case. There are several aspects of the photographic image, which make it less than real.
These aspects all have different ways of showing that camera’s aren’t always correctly right.
Even simple pictures can represent a number of qualities. It is possible to understand a number of different meanings from one picture, this is called decoding. For instance visual images can be false by editing and cropping detail out of the photographs/pictures. This process changes the frame and can sometimes exclude main or minor parts of the picture. These missing images occasionally can back up the authors article and help the audience understand the meaning. Cropping occurs in the media to suit the audience and to express the opinions of the writer.
We can also argue photograph’s can distort the truth by the selection of the picture.
The illustration always is chosen for a particular event or story, but the final image is selected from a wide range of material. This allows the author flexibility, in choosing the correct image for his motive in his text. Sometimes the pictures aren’t always appropriate, but have certain ways of backing up the article. As the photographs only show one aspect of the situation, the image could always be unrepresentative and tell many different stories from the single picture. These images often make statements about the link between what is being displayed in the photograph and the type of person viewing the article. The picture can be misleading a bare no relation to the text. This is a good example of poor selection of photographic material.
All photographs are not reality, but iconic signs. Iconic sings are a way of demonstrating a particular subject. When we observe a photograph in print, it is only a symbol not the real image as we see in real life. All pictures have captions describing the image; the captions anchor the meaning of a photograph – which offers a clear preferred reading. The text of the article also performs and shows this function. A photograph alone without a caption can be interpreted in various ways.
As well as having iconic meaning, photos make meaning and signify because of the associations we have with the image. Denotation is the simple literal meaning of all the images viewed in the picture, basically defining the illustration. On the other hand connation is the associations we have with the sketch. These associations are viewed in many different ways and automatically display and imply numerous opinions on certain situations.
The top photograph (Fig.1) shows Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness – leaders of Shin Fane situated outside a conference surrounded by the media. The denotation in this image shows the leaders surrounded by paparzates, divided by some form of barrier. Barbed wire fencing is in the rear of the photograph; this gives the impression of security and restriction.
A lot of people are surrounding the leaders, giving the feeling of interest or trouble. The connation of the sketch is basically of immense interest in these powerful Shin Fane leaders. With the photograph being taken so far away from the incident it’s hard for individuals to be identified and described. This particular photo was probably selected for this quality, to show the mass interest. The barrier shows disgrace for Shin Fane, with the leaders being barred from the conference. This specific image is chosen as an example to show the media had interest in Shin Fane. Having no open text it is difficult for the reader to know exactly what is occurring, it would be impossible to guess what the photograph is trying to display.
In the photograph (Fig.2) it shows the viewer a close up of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, behind bars. This gives a dramatic feeling of exclusion and shame. The denotation in this image is easy to identify and describe with the shot being so close and clear. We can view two very well known faces, restricted from going into somewhere with solid bars. The Shin Fane leaders are dressed formally, which gives the impression of the conference being important and themselves being powerful. In the background faded faces can be seen, this can be interpreted in various ways. For example Shin Fane Supporters/Shin Fane Protestors or Paparzates.
The connation is one of power and conflict; this particular picture of the leaders gives publicity for their cause. This image has a closer propaganda feeling, and the bars give a feeling of jail and prison, which makes the photo even more dramatic. It’s easy to understand what the picture is displaying, even without a caption. The difference between Fig.1 and Fig.2 is that the leaders can be identified easily and not so much is occurring in the image, which makes it easily understandable.
In photograph Fig.3 “The Mob’s Brief Rule”, the first impression is that it shows an argument between a protestor being held by police and a West End Shopper. The caption below this endorses this impression. The donation in this image is that there is a riot-taking place, with people being restrained by the Police and non-protestors being caught up in the chaos. In the background we can clearly see the West-End buildings and a telephone box. The connation in this photo is that the male protestor is being restrained presumably for wrongdoing and the by-passer has entered in conversation with him. Without the caption this photograph is simple to follow and gives you a slight understanding of the disorder.
Having read the accompanying letter to the editor from the eye-witness (West End Shopper), it is obvious the camera can be misinterpreted and this is an example how the media can use images to achieve a particular purpose. The letter explains exactly what did happen, which was that the shopper was walking down the street in the early evening hearing a group of cheerful poll-tax protestors. With police aligned along the pavements, the lady suddenly saw four of the riot squad police grab a young girl in her late teens for no reason and brutally forced her onto the crowd control railings. The man you view in the image is her boyfriend recklessly trying to reach for her, but being held back by a policeman. The lady is urging the man to calm down or he will be arrested, she is not having an argument with him as your first impressions thought.
I looked at the same events reported in two different Sunday papers, to see if they had represented the photographs differently. The subject of these images is the same, but the photographs attached to the article differ.
Reports on the Israel Conflict
The Sunday Times and The Sunday Express wrote articles on the Israel conflict, each took a different approach on the issue. Both photographs in the papers produce the same sort of meaning just in different ways.
The Sunday Times took a conservative attitude to the conflict in as much as the article dealt only with the Israel Conflict. The photograph (Fig.4) alongside the article shows President Bush casually dressed in typical Texan fashion. It was very informal and displayed the idea of him and Tony Blair being chums. In the image Bush and Blair are seen to be united together, which reflects the text in the article. The denotation of the picture shows the two powerful, respected leaders together. Blair supports Bush and pays compliments for the Presidents U-turn on Israel. The connation in this photo implies American society and the United Kingdom have combined together to sort out problems over in the Middle East. The caption on this photo doesn’t exactly reflect much of the article, but gives the reader some idea about them uniting and the toughness they will have over in the Middle East. Unlike some images, without any open text this photo could mean a variety of things.
The Sunday Express included a similar article, which was more dramatic and combined the two issues of the Israel Conflict along with the possibility of war within Iraq. The photograph (Fig.5) alongside was more formal showing the president handshaking Tony Blair. The image is personally more appropriate than the Sunday Times photo, with the denotation showing the two countries flag in the background and them both being in recognized clothing. This particular photo has been chosen because it is simple with few figures and it portrays a strong meaningful picture for this serious article. The connation implies the same issue as in the other Sunday paper, showing them becoming united. With the handshake and them looking pleased in this image you speculate something respectable has happened. Unlike the other image you have a vague idea of the situation without the open text caption.
The next photograph (Fig.6) I’m going analyse appeared in the Mirror, alongside articles paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth – The Queen Mother’s funeral. The denotation shows Lady Thatcher and her husband Dennis taking their seats in Westminster Abbey. This image is a good example of misrepresentation as with out the caption the read would have no idea what was happening. The connation in the left picture could imply just grief or Dennis having an accident. Their expressions do not indicate any physical injury. In contrast the photo on the right, gives more idea that Lady Thatcher is the one in pain. With the caption we can tell she is in agony due to Dennis treading on her toes. This article seemed rather out of place, alongside the funeral tributes.
After analysing these five different images, I have learnt due to editing and selection photos can misrepresent the truth. The Media producers are constantly competiting with each other to make money. New and exciting ways of representing information/pictures can have impact and ensure success. A good photograph of something can help audiences make sense of a complicated issue. The media uses photographs that will hopefully not date and always support the author’s text. Without cropping, selection and photographs being anchored, the images would put across a more truthful statement. As can be seen from my examples, the camera can distort the truth or even lie.