Week 1: Informing Contexts – Shapeshifting

Szarlowski investigated the reasons why a photograph resembles a particular way, and its visual grammar has been separated by him in the following sequence:

The Think Itself, The Detail, The Frame, Time and The Vantage Point
(Szarkowski, 1966)

It sees the work of the photographer as a selection, rather than Synthesis, a selection of a fragment of the real world. My project at the moment is based on selection, I am deciding what to select for the images, and which metaphorical messages they might be coding to the viewer. As different individuals from different cultures might be seeing the images, the objects can transmit different interpretations, or suggestions to the viewer. This are the things themselves that will be inserted in the photo frames.


For an example, the ribbon has a cultural meaning that can be read as a clue to be discovered by someone that has never being to the state of Bahia in Brazil, but Brazilian people might understand quicker and connect the object to the place and its cultural suggestions. I am being more attentive into these details and trying to add more of these elements in my project.

The idea that to “photograph is to confer importance” (Sontag, 1977, p.28) is a very significant statement to me and the current stage of my project. I need not only to praise and consider my items and subjects important, but also to reward them with a certain form of reward. Doing that, I will be more confident into inviting more individuals to the project and also recommendations will be made.

Time is described by Szarlowski as always present, and that photos are never instantaneous. In the book he mentions Bresson’s decisive moment as the perfect timing when taking a picture. It is knowing when to press the shutter. To know when to overexpose for a purpose, or to use blur to suggest time or motion, as in the image bellow.


Here I used the water and blur to suggest the time passing by, behind our eyes, and the motion of live. Also, the description of an artist as ‘someone who seeks new structures to simplify the sense of its own reality’ (Szarlowski, 1966) caught my attention, as we as humans are always trying to make sense of our reality and life, therefore art is different forms and “structures” are constantly used to get these feeling out to the world.

On the second reading, Shore describes as interesting when someone sees something ordinary and consider it as a photo opportunity. I am exercising this at my current practice, trying to look harder around me, and making a list of items and scenarios. I might have even inside of my own house many opportunities. I am also stretching my list of subjects connecting first to the close ones, instead to look for the unknown and harder to reach ones. I want this to have an intimate feel and natural fluency.

Shore divides the process in three stages: Physical level, Depictive level and Mental level.

Physical, as it says, related to the physical aspects of the print and the subject.

The Depictive is divided into: Flatness, Frame, Time and Focus. These descriptions include the way space is used, what a photographer decides to put inside the frames, as the world does not have frames, relating to the selection process described above by Szarlowski. And, again, the definition of Time and the use of effects, such as long exposure for symbolising dreams, or even stillness as a disruption in time. The focus again is related to the selection process, and it a tool that can be used to provide importance and to highlight aspects in the image.

The Mental level is the way we look and construct the image, and Soth’s comments about a photograph that creates curiosity is a better one than a photo that satisfy it (Soth in Shuman, 2004). The use of clues can give these suggestions. This can be compared to Szarkowski’s Detail mentioned above.

I am keeping this in mind when photographing, and the use of emptiness can be particularly significant, such as photographing the place itself, without a person in it. One inspiring fragment I am incorporating in my practice is the following:

“A photographer’s mental model is a complex ongoing spontaneous interaction of observation, understanding, imagination and intention” (Shore, 1998, p.76)

The later exhibition What is Photograph in 2014 was criticised for returning mainly to traditional methods and excluding the digital photography from the selected pieces. It was a response to the avalance of digital material que have daily, but when looking back on the history of the photography, the daguerreotypes were spreading very quickly during the late 19th century, with 3 million pieces produced in 1853 alone. (Szarlowski, 1966).

Therefore, photograph always had this ubiquitous nature form the beginning, being considered by Baudelaire as the mortal enemy of the industry of art. The difference is that technology changes through times, and new discussions arise amongst the general public. In the end, most of the images produced will always be without meaning and code, but a few will be coherent and have a message.

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