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Exercise 5.2

Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?

Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five.

I researched as part of the exercise the PDF essay ‘Photographs and Context’ written by Terry Barrett.

In essence he explains that there are three contexts’. The Internal, External and Original Context.

The Internal context is evident within the photograph and therefore should not really need any explanation. The example used for this is a photograph for an advert where the ingredients to create and Italian dish and Italian wording against the backdrop imply that it has “Italianicity.” The connotation that the ingredients would be fresh sealed in packaging be that glass or a can.

The External context I thought was rather interesting. I learnt that in 1958, Robert Doisneau took a photograph in a café entitled ‘At the Café, Chez Fraysse, Rue de Seine, Paris’. The couple consented to being photographed and the photograph was later published in a magazine devoted to cafes. However, sometime later the same photograph was published without permission demonising alcohol abuse.

Again, the photograph was published for a third time but without permission and appeared in a French scandal sheet entitled, “Prostitution in the Champs-Elyees”. Needless to say that the male in the photograph successfully sued the publication.

So, without knowing the first two versions and publications you could be forgiven that this was the first publication and had been taken totally out of context. Needless to say, the male in the photograph successfully sued and was awarded compensation. It has since appeared at the MOAM.

It has gained a place in the history of art and has been presented, received and interpreted in many ways by others. Therefore, the context in which it appears defines the meaning of the photograph itself.

Copyright MOMA

Original context has to contain something which was present either physically or psychologically at the time the photographer intended to take the photograph.

The key here is that firstly the photographer intended to take the photograph in the first place and that the second ingredient has to be present e.g. a something physically present. Without either of these then the definition of an Original context doesn’t apply.

Barrett talks about Nick Ut’s example photograph of a young naked Vietnamese girl running away from the fields set ablaze by napalm with American soldiers in the background. It is without a doubt a haunting and harrowing photograph and we can only imagine how the child felt. I know what war and conflict feel like I have been there in Kuwait and Iraq. It is neither pleasant or welcoming. The images I have seen will never be erased from my mind and in a way neither can you do it when you have seen Ut’s photograph. Whilst we do not know the circumstances that surround the photograph it has become a synonymous with the Vietnam conflict. (Nick Ut, no date). If you have the knowledge and history that appertains to this photograph, like many other examples then it makes more sense and is more than just a photograph of war involving children.

Copyright Nick Ut

I chose to pay ‘homage’ to Fay Godwin. Godwin, documented the changing landscape and how inaccessible the land had become to the general public. She was a self taught photographer, who started her career taking portraits but quickly moved into the countryside. She wrote several books ‘Our Forbidden Land’, Land and many others but by far a personal favourite a signed copy and first edition of The Saxon Shoreway From Gravesend to Rye written by Alan Sillitoe. Godwin accompanied him photographing the 140 mile walk.

The chapter Along the Wantsum and in particular Reculver appealed immediately to me. I have a love hate relationship with Reculver. It is of historic national and local importance and in my opinion an ancient monument and should be treated as such by the general public, but I find it heart-breaking to see children climbing over the ruins with little or no respect. I love that we are able to get up close and appreciate it but with that comes the price of commercialism

Reculver Roman Ruins and Towers are a short 20 minute drive from my home. Reculver is now a country park managed by Canterbury City Council. A great deal has changed since Godwin and Sillitoes walked past and if Godwin was to re-visit today she would be horrified to not only see the expanded caravan parks but the visitor centre, play area and pay and display car parks encouraging coach loads of visitors to a fragile part of the North Kent Coast.

Sillitoe described it (Reculver) as “Reculver is surrounded by caravan parks – Caranville with a vegenance.” I fear that it was too late then as he goes onto to explain, “I hope no calor-gas bottle outside each tethered living van will explode, because if one does, so will the next, and I will clearly regret not being alive by the end to have witnessed a spectacular example of the domino theory in practice.” (Sillitoe and Godwin, 1983)

Copyright Fay Godwin

Godwin photographed the expanse of the caravan park surrounding the Roman towers, which resonated with my recent visit in my specially adapted wheelchair vehicle. The recent installation of a height barrier to the old car park and creation of a new open car park, with restrictions was the idea and inspiration for this exercise. Often Godwin photographs signs, which are direct in their message or show man’s interference on the landscape usually to its detriment and contain ‘Original context’. Her use of monochrome is appealing and removes the distraction for me and focuses the viewers’ attention to the important parts of the photograph. Although Godwin did later use colour film and a flatbed scanner for me the early work is by far her strongest photography.

I took a walk around the site from the entrance searching for a viewpoint that echoed the caravan park and the negative impact it had on the landscape; but because the place has changed so much I was unable to replicate the viewpoint and had to work back from the entrance to the more public areas searching for an original context photograph.

The entrance to the Country Park now has rather posh wooden sleeper sign mounted with metallic letter, which lit up when the sunset hits it and creates low shadows across the car park. The sign welcomes visitors but juxtaposed is the formal sign erected adjacent and three times the size outlining the pay and display rules and policies apply. Rather interesting for me is the disabled rules and regulations are so extensive that they are condensed in size and make rather difficult reading from a distance and inaccessible as the sign is mounted in the verge facing the entrance rather than the car park. Are we really welcome???

The next layer is the new welcome centre and café and further into the distance the towers and Roman ruins the commercialism spreads like a disease from the old photograph taken by Godwin.

The North Kent Coast has become something of a wind farm mecca and the increase to harness wind power is now more important than ever. I came across a sign containing information about the wind farm, which can be seen in the distance on the horizon from the edge of Reculver.


I selected the final image – “Welcome?” as my photograph in homage to Godwin’s photograph of Reculver.


Perhaps and just perhaps nature will reclaim it all as it did with the village that is now submerged in the sea who knows?


https://www.moma.org/collection/works/57506(no date).

Nick Ut(no date) World Press Photo. Available at: https://www.worldpressphoto.org/people/nick-ut(Accessed: 3 July 2018).

Sillitoe, A. and Godwin, F. (1983) The Saxon shore way: from Gravesend to Rye. London: Hutchinson.

Ut, N. (2017) ‘Nick Ut: a career in photography – in pictures’, The Guardian, 30 March. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/mar/30/nick-ut-a-career-in-photography-in-pictures(Accessed: 5 July 2018).