Week 3 – Interpreting Photographs

Image 1:


Andres Serrano. 1987. Piss Christ.

This image was originally part of a series of religious articles submerged in different liquids. This image was submerged in Serrano’s urine and, according to him it was a criticism of a “billion-dollar Christ-for-profit industry” and a “condemnation of those who abuse the teachings of Christ for their own ignoble ends”.

This image caused a great anger by fundamentalist Christian groups, considering it offensive and unacceptable. It was eventually destroyed as an act of vandalism in 2011. These extremists’ religious groups interpreted the image as grotesque and disrespectful. These is an immediate interpretation based on their own religious fundamentals that all religions should be respected, and, because it was their religion, they decided to take the matter into their hands.

If someone is coming from a secular background, questions could be asked on why the photographer chose the cross as a subject and the urine as the liquid to be used. The image could be used to start a discussion on how the church plays its role in current days, instead of just being a trigger of “shock” and synonymous to disrespect.

To sum up, the reaction will depend on the religious background of a country, specific group, or a person.

Image 2:


Avedon, Richard. In the American West.

Avedon’s work photographing ranches, housekeepers, drivers etc in the American West could be criticized for being explorative and as “a catalogue of the odd, the bizarre, the defected”, as described by Susan Wiley.

These are constructed images, since Avedon selected a group of people from the same area to be portraited. They were all placed in a white background and photographed with a black and white film. Coming from a fashion background, these images have the quality of a fashion magazine, but without the gloss. They are consistent with each other and represent these people as “front covers”.

The man above, Billy Mudd, a subject in the project described his experience of seeing his image in the museum as “the most profound experience of his life”. Therefore, he did not feel exploited or uncomfortable with the photo and the project.

Image 3:



As my third constructed image I selected Mapplethorpe. Considering that images are interpreted depending on your world view and the culture one is inserted a person from a religious background might see these images as offensive, vulgar, and even pornographic (other images from the photographer).

On the other hand, if you interpret them from a gay perspective, Doug Ischar consider them as providing “representational visibility” for the gay people, therefore important for them to be part of the contemporary art history, in contrast of the long tradition of gay invisibility.






Swinnen, Johan and Deneulin, Luc. 2010. The Weight of Photography: Photography History Theory and Criticism.  




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