When considering this subject, it is best to start with what is it that’s considered narrative within photography. When researching online, David Campbell’s website gave this insight:

“In telling visual stories about the world, photography is narrating the world. Of course, narrative is something that is far larger than photography. Social communication is one of the defining characteristics of being human, and narrative stories have long been a common and powerful mode for transmitting information.” (Campbell, 2010)

Campbell has expressed how photography is merely a carrier of narrative. Through photography, viewers have been given a visual exploration of story telling, creating room for each of the viewers’ personal experiences to generate a narrative through the use of the visual elements used in each image. The following essay investigates into this idea further, identifying cultural, social and historical progressions that may alter or change the perception of the images. 

Mary Warner Marien has communicated the idea that through literature and other forms of story telling, photographers have been able to develop their narrative structures for the viewers: 

“In overwrought language and outlandish plots, popular fiction played on the visual veracity of photography, suggesting that the medium could reach beneath the surface to penetrate the minds of sitters” (Warner Marien, 2006: 75)

Warner has explored how the way we view images has altered and the veracity within images had changed. Before photos were mainly considered as documents, however with the use of ‘overwrought language and outlandish plots’, it has given photography the opportunity to play around with the details. As viewers, there is more room for creativity and ways for viewers to connect with the images. In addition to this, French theorist Roland Barthes found a Latin term that deal with the way we read and interpret photographs. The term Studium relates to the emotional reaction to viewing an image; Barthes states this in his book Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography: 

“It is by stadium that I am interested in so many photographs… for it is culturally (this connotation is present in studium) that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions.” (Barthes, 1982: 26). 

This confirms that through Studium, viewers have individual reactions to photographs, personal to themselves through their experiences, cultural and social influences. From there, each focuses and interprets ‘the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions’ differently, pertaining to their own understandings. Gradually, each generates their own narratives through when they see within the images, relating back to whether photographs can narrate. 

The concept of narrative within Photography originally derived from literature, yet the first form of a visual representation of narrative is painting. A painter such as Édouard Manet explored this early idea through paintings including Olympia (1863) (Figure 1). Many indicators lend themselves to a narrative being created within the work. For example, viewers are not drawn to the woman on the bed due to her nakedness but rather her confrontational gaze. During the period in which Manet painted Olympia, it was unconventional for a woman to be represented in such a sexualised fashion. Additionally, Manet purposefully included a black cat that, in Paris, France during the late 1800s, symbolised heightened sexuality and prostitution; the painting easily fits into the “boudoir” genre. Because of these indicators being put in place, as well as further use of props, it’s easier for a narrative to be created. Leading on form the genre of the sex industry and prostitution, photographer Tom Hunter has completed the photographic series Living in Hell and Other Stories that is heavily influenced by this genre. Many of his images in the series stem from a similar sexualised nature like Manet’s painting, following stripper pubs and sex workers. Figure 2 titled Rat in Bed depicts a young woman sleeping in a Bordello-like room. Instantly the viewers are given a voyeuristic view into the room as well as further visual aids indicating she is a sex worker; the viewers generate a narrative from what they see and how to interpret it through their own cultural references. For example, the large feather in the corner of the room could be associated with careers including being an entertainer in strip clubs; now a culturally accepted career path. Another element of this photograph that creates narrative is the use of rats on the bed. They could symbolise the sly acts that happen in the bed, along with the people who commit them. Furthermore the rats are used as a device, connoting a menacing presence within the room. Both examples draw on Barthes Studium, where those viewing the painting or photograph make social and cultural connections, in turn creating a narrative of sex workers and the industry. 

The previous painting and photograph showcase two representations of a narrative being created, focusing on the sexualisation of the viewer and the subject in the image. Other photographers use a different way to present and narrative. Charlotte Cotton notes this way in The Photograph as Contemporary Art: “Whereas the photographs… draw on specific imagery and cultural codes for their narratives, other photographers use the tableau formula for much more ambiguous and unreferenced narratives.” (Cotton, 2009: 57). This next photograph by Jeff Wall exploits this different genre of narrative. Wall has chosen to use elements such as colours, lighting and props to help define a narrative, following the tableau example of narrative within his image The Quarrel (Figure 3). As viewers, we are immediately drawn into the image and being submersed into an already apparent narrative. When looking at the photo, there is an obvious tension depicted between the two characters. The strained sheets give a visual display to the viewers about the tension between them, adding to the melancholy feeling within the image with the dull blue colour of the bed sheets. Universally, blue is regarded as a colour that symbolises sadness that, in this case, connotes the couple is emotionally low and at a strenuous place within their relationship. Other theatrical uses such as props help to continue this documentation of a relationship. As viewers, it’s easier to relate to images such as this, allowing separate narratives to unfold through another representation. David Bate examines this within Photography: The Key Concepts, detailing what it is about documentary (style) photography allows for distinctive representations: “…documentary photographs construct representations of reality, according to someone’s view, their desire to see.” (Bate 2009: 61). Continuing Bate’s theory of representations within documentary (style) photography, American photographer Gregory Crewdson is renowned for the theatrical quality to all his images. When searching through, Bed of Roses (Figure 4.) appeared to have the most to give regarding a narrative. Crewdson, similar to Wall, uses props, lighting, settings and other elements to generate a wide variety of narratives. Mary Warner Marien notes this as High Art Photography in Photography and its Critics, A Cultural History, 1839-1900. Warner delves into this stating: “High Art photographs blended theatre, print-making, and painting with photography.” (Warner Marien, 1997: 87). Within this particular image though, Crewdson has allowed room for different narratives to be created using this theatrical approach, generated through each viewers’ personal experiences and influences. For example, the roses could be seen as a romantic gesture from a lover, however when looking closer it’s easier to see they’re dead roses that could alter to meaning to something more threatening; This in turn relates back to Barthes Studium theory; viewers are creating a narrative based on what they may have seen first hand or through the medias interpretations. From this, it becomes clear that through the use of theatrical elements and points of view, a narrative can be created within any image. 

Conclusively, it can be agreed that photographs can narrate. Through research, it’s become abundantly clear that through the use of various elements necessary to create a photograph including lighting, props, models/actors, and settings a narrative can be transmitted. Through the images referenced, there is a progression of narratives being created, starting with paintings and their ability to narrate, and leading through the similarities within photography. After examining Barthes theories and other critical analysis’, the question whether photographs can narrate is yes they can; through both the photographers use of practical elements to create the image, yet mainly through the viewers individual response based on social and cultural influences and personal experiences. 


Barthes, Roland (1982) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd. 

Bate, David (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 

Battye, Greg (2014) Photography, Narrative, Time: Imaging our Forensic Imagination. Bristol: Intellect Ltd.  

Campbell, David (2010) ‘Photography and Narrative: What is involved in telling a story?’ In david-campbell.org 18.11.10 [online] At: https://www.david-campbell.org/2010/11/18/photography-and-narrative/ (Accessed 07.04.15) 

Cotton, Charlotte (2009) The Photography as Contemporay Art (New Edition). London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. 

Warner Marien, Mary (1997) Photography and its Critics, A Cultural History, 1839-1900. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 

Warner Marien, Mary (2006) Photography: A Cultural History (2nd Edition). London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 

Wells, Liz (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th Edition). Oxon: Routledge. 


Figure 1. Manet, Édouard (1863) [Painting] At: http://www.jssgallery.org/Other_Artists/Manet/Olympia.htm (Accessed 22.03.15)

Figure 2. Hunter, Tom (2006) [Photograph; ‘Rat in Bed’ from the series ‘Living in Hell and Other Stories’] At: http://mylondonyourlondon.com/?p=43 (Accessed 24.03.15)

Figure 3. Wall, Jeff (1988) [Photograph] At: http://www.levinartgroup.com/visuals-detail-67.php (Accessed 22.03.15)

Figure 4. Crewdson, Gregory (2005) [Photograph: chromogenic print] At: http://www.artnet.com/artists/gregory-crewdson/untitled-winter-bed-of-roses-V7-6zze3EIQCN08HDXDMRQ2 (Accessed 24.03.15) 

The intent of this essay is to explore how digitisation has affected photography, photo shoots and post-production editing; also looking at how this has affected public views, as well as the messages conveyed. Through the research conducted, there are both positive and negative affects of digitisation explored. Sturken and Cartwright have delved into these ideas through their book ‘The Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture’ (2nd Edition) (2009), specifically looking at their chapter on ‘Reproduction and the Digital Image’ (2009: 212-220). Furthermore, other authors, photographers and artists have investigated this area including: Michael R. Peres, Liz Wells and William J. Mitchell. Moreover, they have examined the development of photography and how this has had an impact on industry and advertising.

Within the aforementioned chapter in Sturken and Cartwright’s book ‘Practices of Looking’ (2009), it focuses on various aspects of developments in photography. This includes the move from analogue photography to digital. For instance, both authors have noted the ways images are taken and then stored stating: ‘The digital camera has no negative, no “original” storage medium’ (Sturken, Cartwright 2009:212). This only focuses on the digital camera, but it does note how analogue cameras would have something material (like a negative) to relate back to as an original image. From this, it becomes clear that analogue photography is deemed to be truthful which William J. Mitchell regards as: ‘casually generated truthful reports about thing in the real world, and which could be distinguished from the more traditionally crafted images’ (Mitchell 1992: 225). Furthermore, when studying how the images are stored, Sturken and Cartwright note the various digital options there are including SD Cards, Micro SD Cards, Hard Drives or a Compact Flash. Additionally, this allows for the photographer to gain instant gratification through the images they’ve produced. In comparison, analogue images would need to be stored in photo albums, boxes or within photo frames; furthermore, when analogue images are copied, they’re prone to degrading which Sturken and Cartwright pick up on noting: ‘when a film negative is copied, there is degradation of the “original” image’ (Sturken, Cartwright 2009: 213). When both examples are places side by side, it’s clear which style of storage has more capacity, reliability and less likely to come to degradation over time. Thus, digital photography can be deemed as a more reliable form of photography regarding storage and accessibility. 

Leading on from this, post-production on photography has changed dramatically. Previous to the digital age developing, the majority of work would have been conducted within the darkroom with minimal allowance for editing. Some photographers have experimented with editing within the darkroom with negatives with the most impressive result being created by photographer Henry Peach Robinson. The magnificent image was created through Robinson laying 5 negatives on one another, with an example of the final image seen in Fig. 1. This is a very early example of editing and puts the ideology that analogue photography is a representation of the truth into consideration, showing how images that the public could trust could be compromised. Now through digitisation, the development of processes and programs to conduct the post-production work now allows photographers to enhance and alter digital images too; this adds to the moral panic that images are being altered to the extreme and damaging the meanings that can be created and portrayed. 

Through the specific research into how editing software including Photoshop has affected the meanings generated through images, Liz Wells questions the integrity of photos stating: ‘Had the application of the computer and digitisation to image-making brought an age of ('false') innocence to an end?’ (Wells 2000: 131). In the light of this question, Wells summaries that the ideology - the act of photography being ‘innocent’ and truthful - has now come to an end. Through Wells expressing that there was already a ‘false innocence’ within photography also connotes that even though there has been a progression of post-production software, images still displayed some form of distortion. This could be due to the use of minimal editing techniques within a darkroom, however, it still allows for images to be altered. This, in affect, corrupts with the messages being communicated to viewers, leaving the viewers to be falsely conscious to what is deemed real and true. In turn, this brings forward to debate on morals and unrealistic expectations. Through Photoshop, a hyper-reality is created, with goals of both men and women being thrown out of proportion, which can be seen here in Fig. 2. The National Advertising Division has banned this advert due to the highly editing image of Julia Roberts. Within the US, they have similar situations where the boundaries between actuality and an unreachable objective. Consequently, Photoshop has tainted the viewers’ ability to accept an image as truthful. From this, we can link Stan Cohen’s theory of moral panics into view.

Through further research, Angela McRobbie and Sarah L Thornton transferred Cohen’s theory of moral panics (focusing on the violence within the media – particularly video games) into a multi-media platform. Both authors note, ‘It has become a routine of making youth-orientated culture products more alluring…’ (McRobbie, Thornton 1995). The example that they have used is with music, however this same concept could be noted for the use of Photoshop and the desire to keep looking younger; this is the main focus for all the beauty campaigns and cosmetic adverts seen today. Correspondingly, this has caused both physical and mental heath issues in both men and women as the use of Photoshop is causing them to look at their ‘flaws’. The most severe health issue caused, seen particularly in young girls is anorexia with many newspapers and blogs writing articles and journals about the impact this has on children and teenagers. Extending from this view, it has caused issues regarding communication between consumers and producers as well as meanings taken from these images. Meanings produced are no longer depicting the veracity of the product but enhancing what the product should do.

As a final point, there have been many campaigns to ban photoshopped images from public view. Because of this, for a few years there have been many beauty campaigns that attempt to ‘fight’ against the norm and standardised sexual images created through the media. One example of this is with the Dove ‘Natural Beauty Campaign seen here in Fig. 3. The women used in these images are different shapes and sizes, looking at how each body is different but still beautiful. Moreover, it looks at women as people and not sexual objects seen through the male gaze, a theory that has been explored by Laura Mulvey at how women are depicted as sexual objects for the male audiences and viewers. As a result of this, the meanings conveyed though images is telling women and girls that it’s good to wear minimal clothing to gain attention from men. On the other hand, there is also another campaign by Victoria’s Secret that has been named ‘Love Your Body’. The images used for this campaign, seen in Fig. 4, are of women who are all sizes 2 – 6. This may make some women feel empowered if they’re similar sizes, however those who are of a larger size may feel uncomfortable looking at these women. In addition to this, the Dove beauty campaign could make smaller sized women feel distressed, making them feel inadequate to other women who are more voluptuous. With these images, both sets could be digitally enhances to make the women seem flawless which causes problems for both campaigns. There is constantly a style of beauty created that is unrealistic and a lack of communication of what is truly considered beautiful.

In summary, this essay has explored how digitisation has allowed photography to develop as a subject in both academic means as well as advertising and within the media. It also looks at how the progression of post-production mediums has allowed advertising companies and media giants to alter images to their desired look, enhancing the use of products such as makeup or other beauty campaigns. Furthermore, through digitisation, images no longer depict veracity and have a distorted view of reality, causes a lapse of judgement within the consumer culture. In addition to this, it has delved into the beauty campaigns created by modelling agencies and beauty products and/or producers bringing to light how these images are creating a false sense of security for the public. Overall, the communication through the digital age has caused a further corrupt view of what is ‘true’, generating a hyper-reality for consumers to live in. Moreover, the meanings created are causing rifts between advertising agencies and the consumer culture; the media are creating images and stimuli for men and women that are false and potentially harmful towards the viewers.  


Anthony, Sebastian (2011) US Watchdog Bans Photoshopping in Cosmetic Ads [online blog]in extremetech.com at http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/109375-us-bans-photoshop-use-in-cosmetics-ads (Accessed 25.03.14)

Cade, DL (2014) Women Given Photoshop Transformations Say They Prefer Their Before Imaged [online blog] in petapixel.com at http://petapixel.com/2014/02/15/women-given-photoshop-transformations-far-prefer-pictures/ (Accessed 24.02.14)

McRobbie, A, Thornton, S. L. (1995) ‘Rethinking ‘Moral Panic’ for Multi-Mediated Social Worlds’ In: The British Journal of Sociology at http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/591571?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2134&uid=2480878953&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3&uid=2480878943&uid=60&sid=21103925722893 (Accessed 03.04.14)

Mitchell, William J. (1992) The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, Massachusetts

Peres, Michael R. (2007) The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science (1st edition) USA: Focal Press

Shetler, Angela (2012) Photography and Truth [online blog] at http://www.angelashetler.com/tag/beauty-myth/ (Accessed 18.02.14)

Sturken, M, Cartwright, L (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture Oxford: Oxford University Press

Unknown (2013) ‘Body Image in the Media’ [online blog] At: http://www.mirror-mirror.org/body-image-in-the-media.htm (Accessed 04.04.14)

Wells, Liz (2000) Photography: A Critical Introduction (2nd edition) London: Routledge

Wolf, Naomi (1991) The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women London: Vintage Books pp.139


Fig. 1 – Henry Peach Robinson, Fading Away 1858, combination print from five negatives At: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/collection/photography/royalphotographicsociety/collectionitem.aspx?id=2003-5001/2/23282 (Accessed 25.03.14)

Fig. 2 – Anthony, S (2011) ‘US Watchdog Bans Photoshopping in Cosmetic Ads’ In: extremetech.com [online] At: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/109375-us-bans-photoshop-use-in-cosmetics-ads (Accessed 30.03.14)

Fig. 3 / 4 -- Angela Shetler (2012) Photography and Truth [online blog] at http://www.angelashetler.com/tag/beauty-myth/ (Accessed 18.02.14)  

The following essay examines the various comments made and suggested by multiple theorists surrounding ‘the gaze’. These include French theorist Jacques Lacan and his discussions of how painters alter or manipulate their works to show their desired representations. Roland Barthes’ theories surrounding the gaze and the position the viewer is placed will also be explored. The most heavily influenced area of these investigations will include Laura Mulvey and her theories centred on the exploration of the male gaze. Each of these theorists’ (and others) studies will be examined to some depth, specifically detailing how each area influences audience’s views of different photographer’s works and in the media.

‘The gaze’ has been interpreted in many different ways. One includes the examination of the subject by Jacques Lacan, the French theorist. When Lacan began his studies, one section was heavily focused on paintings and the way the painter was able to alter a viewer’s gaze. Painters would recreate a landscape, a person, or objects, painting their interpretation of what was before them. From this, viewers are only given a view of what the painter wants them to see. In turn, the artist’s interpretation could not be considered a true representation. Through the progression of fine art, it was typically considered that paintings were the best way to document a scene or person of importance, and a ‘true representation’ of what was painted. Lacan has stated in ‘The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis’: 

“In the picture, something of the gaze is always manifested. […] Looking at pictures, even those most lacking in what is usually called the gaze … [i.e. eyes] something so specific to each of the painters that you will feel the presence of the gaze” (Lacan, 2004: unknown). 

This statement expresses that when a painting is viewed, it’s possible to sense the presence of the painter’s gaze and how they are interpreting their surroundings. Furthermore, viewers gradually surrender their gaze for that of the painter’s, taking in each moment depicted. One way that Lacan has expressed this further is by stating: “[The painter] gives something for the eye to feed on, but he invites the person to whom this picture is presented to lay down his gaze there as one lays down one’s weapons” (Lacan, 2004: unknown). This ‘laying down’ of the gazed has a pacifying effect, creating a lulled sense of gazing with another’s gaze. Through this action, we as viewers get reminded of our ‘nothingness’ as we become trapped in surrendering our gaze. 

These two statements by Lacan can also be related to painting’s technologically advanced successor, photography. An area where photography has raised questions about its depiction of truth is within documentary photography. With this format of photography, as well as TV documentaries, viewers are lead to believe that what is being presented to them is truthful. The content viewers are given may be shown in a certain light, or reveal just the extremes that photographers want to portray. Sontag expresses this in ‘On Photography’ stating: “A fake photograph (one which has been retouched or tampered with, or whose caption is false) falsifies reality” (Sontag, 1979: 86). One example of how a photographer has chosen to focus on one extreme is Steve McCurry’s work. A series of images taken of India by McCurry demonstrates how he has chosen to occasionally put emphasis on some of the poorer areas of India. The gaze the viewer is offered here, in figure 1, presents a more intrusive position on the subject. Whilst McCurry’s photos have a variety of subjects, they do appear to depict a very parallel aspect of a location. This gaze is one that continuously surpasses our own, as we let ours be taken over by someone else’s. Furthermore, viewers openly allow their gaze to be manipulated by the photographer’s as a form of escapism. To view art or photography is to escape your own mind, and take on that of someone else’s, thus it can be stated as taking on someone else’s gaze. From this, the debate of whether a photographer’s gaze is imposed on the viewers comes to light. 

French theorist Roland Barthes explores a similar concept within ‘Camera Lucida’ circulating the idea of the photographer becoming the ‘operator’. He states: “I might suppose that the Operator’s emotions… had some relation to the “little hole” through which he looks, limits, frames and perspectivizes when he wants to “take”” (Barthes, 1993:10). In this statement, Barthes touches on the subject of the emotional impositions that happen because of the photographer. Furthermore, the gaze within the photographer’s work is limited due to their decisions about what they wish to capture. In addition to this concept, Barthes theories comprise of three sections, the operator (mentioned above), the spectrum, and the spectator. Within ‘Camera Lucida’, Barthes explains the latter: “The Spectator is ourselves, all of us who glance through collections of photographs – in magazines and newspapers, in books, albums, archives…” (Barthes, 1993: 9). Here it could be noted that we as spectators are blindly taking on the information provided by the photographer. Viewers have no influence over what is presented, leading to similar interpretations of the work; the ones provided by the operator. This can also be seen within McCurry’s image in figure 1. The idea of the spectacle also becomes noticeable as it entices the viewer into the image, and in McCurry’s case, the gaze and subject matter of the poor draw the viewer in. David Bate discusses our desire to see something so vastly different stating: 

“While ‘reality’ is what we believe exists […] it also involves what individuals wish to exist. Images of devastating poverty […] may, quite simply, not fit that wish, and it is here that the politics of vision comes to play a role […] of what viewers do with the knowledge presented to them” (Bates, 2009: 61). 

With this, Bate expresses how viewers accept the reality that is presented. Furthermore, Bate touches on the representation of the poverty-stricken population, which McCurry has focused his gaze on. The idea of a reality being what we desire alters the way viewers engage with a photographer’s work. An alternative reality becomes less surreal as photographers modify angles, colours, and other areas when editing, and being meticulous regarding the composition of their images. From the outset, a viewer’s gaze is being shown the photographer’s chosen ‘reality’ they’ve decided to create. 

Another French theorist Jean-Paul Sartre explored the concept of how we observe reality. Sartre has been noted to follow the idea that we, as viewers, tend to see reality as something that is not quite what we believe it to be. In turn, this concept introduces the idea of the ‘Other’. The ‘Other’ surrounds the notion of a being that is different from us, whether it’s a small or large difference. One example that demonstrates how the ‘Other’ is an imposed view is from Craig Owens and Scott Stewart Bryson. Within their book ‘Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture”, Owens and Bryson explored how a photographer holds a position of power over the viewer: “The photographer inevitably functions as an agent of the system of power that silenced those people in the first place: (Owens, Bryson, 1994: 178). With this concept, it clearly depicts the photographer as the position of power, thus imposing their view of the ‘Other’. In addition to this, the representations created through their work appear to potentially come from a wider source than just the photographer. A further example of this can be seen within Sartre’s book ‘Being and Nothingness’, Sartre states: “By the mere appearance of the Other, I am put in the position of passing judgement on myself as an object, for it is as an object I appear to the Other…” (Sartre, 1943: 302). Through this statement, Sartre places the viewer in a substantial position. The position of judgement allows the observer to place him or herself accordingly to what is before them. This would ultimately make the viewers place themselves above the ‘Other’ depicted within any given photograph. Moreover, Sartre is also noting how we as viewers may place ourselves within the position of the subject in the images. Moreover, Sartre also explores how the gaze of the ‘Other’ takes away our freedom as viewers, and denying and falsely identifying ourselves. 

The ‘Other’ could also be seen as something we strive to achieve. One form of photography that creates this illusion is advertising. When viewing images from billboards, magazines, newspapers and other areas, we place ourselves within those images. The aim of advertising is to show viewers something they will want to purchase, and so advertising lends itself to the notion of the ‘Other’ through something viewers don’t currently poses. In turn, this alters the gaze of a viewer through strong suggestions created through photographers, as well as agencies that promote the advertising images. When examining the gaze presented within advertising further, theorists have covered multiple concepts thoroughly. One theorist, Laura Mulvey, studied the gaze and focused heavily on the viewpoints surrounding the male gaze. The male gaze is a study on how women have been represented within the media, including advertising, film and TV. Typically, women are places in positions that are either provocative, or demeaning. In addition to these areas of research, Mulvey also examined the psychoanalysis of visual pleasures. In her book ‘Visual and Other Pleasures’, Mulvey denotes: “An idea of a woman stands as a lynchpin of the systems: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies” (Mulvey, 1989: 14). This quotation examines how a female presence represents the lack of something that men are not able to present themselves. 

As a further development by Mulvey, she also expresses the theory that a woman is there for the visual pleasure of the men and women enjoy being viewed: “There are circumstances in which looking itself is a source of pleasure, just as, in reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at” (Mulvey, 1989: 16). Through this, there is two terms that Mulvey used to express these two views: Fetishistic Scopophilia, and Sadistic Voyeurism. The first, Fetishistic Scopophilia, surrounds the notion of “building up the physical beauty of the object from something dangerous into something satisfying itself” (Mulvey, 1989: 21); the second, sadistic voyeurism, is where “pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt (immediately associated with castration), asserting control an subjecting the guilty person to punishment or forgiveness” (Mulvey, 1989: 21). As a further investigation of Mulvey’s theories, it can be seen clearly within multiple outlets, including magazine covers; these demonstrate how women are depicted in either a Fetishistic scopophilic way, or a sadistic voyeuristic way. One well-known magazine that presents women in a scopophilic manner, which obtains the most prominent gaze, is Sports Illustrated. The magazine has been publishing issues since 1964 with various editions available. The most controversial edition of the magazine is Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. From the release of the first issue, there’s been only 1 female athlete on the cover, and 3 female athletes mentioned inside. The controversy from the magazine stems from the reaction by women and feminist groups; they state the magazines swimsuit issues promote the harmful concept that women are just a product for men to visually consume. In figure 2, the cover from the 2009 swimsuit issue features Israeli model Bar Refaeli. This particular cover conforms to the beauty standard generated by the media, with a tall, slim, tanned woman with long, flowing fair hair. Susan Sontag begins to question this ideology of beauty in one of her essays inside her book ‘On Photography’ asserting: “So successful has been the camera’s role in beautifying the world that photographs, rather than the world, have become a standard of the beautiful” (Sontag, 1979: 85). From this, it can be determined that it’s the way in which photographs are taken that can adjust the gaze or perspective of the viewer and what is seen as ‘beautiful’. In relation to Mulvey’s scopophilia theory, the photograph used corresponds to the definition of transforming something, or in this case someone, into something else that is ‘satisfying itself’. Additionally, the suggestiveness created through the model’s position, hand placements and the direct eye contact lure the viewer into the image itself. The gaze that has been created, as well as deemed acceptable, is one that is influences by the male audience’s gaze. Other viewers of the magazine align their gaze to fit the male gaze that is more predominant within the media. The male gaze is also considered the ‘active’ gaze, as men are engaging with the photographs presented, taking in all aspects of the image to consume them for self-gain. The opposing view of this is the ‘passive’ gaze, which is usually associated with female characters/models as she represents the raw material, along with being looked at, but not looking themselves. Sontag again expresses the concept of beauty and what we do to achieve it by observing: “… photographers made seeing into a new kind of project: as if seeing itself, pursued with single-mindedness, could indeed reconcile the claims of truth and the need to find the world beautiful” (Sontag, 1979: 87). This revelation made by Sontag regarding the ‘single-mindedness’ of searching for beauty links to how the male gaze is so obvious and recreated, it’s easy for viewers to find something beautiful to look at. From the way people in certain adverts are shown, models in clothes shop window displays, women on TV, they’re all depicted following the standardised male gaze to entice an audience. 

The second aspect of Mulvey’s theory is sadistic voyeurism, where there’s a sense of ascertaining guilt. Mulvey links this to Freud’s psychoanalysis theory of castration anxiety, in metaphorical terms in when there is an intense, irrational anxiety surrounding emasculation from women. This could be demonstrated through figure 3, of Ronda Rousey graces the cover of another Sports Illustrated magazine in 2016. The photograph used for this cover, which is not on the swimsuit issue, places Rousey in a dominant position. Furthermore, the angle of the camera is below her eye line, which creates the illusion of her look down upon the viewer. Through the different way she has been presented, there is a strength added to her. Moreover, because of her superior and leading position, there could be cause for some men to potentially feel inadequate to her, resulting in negative reactions to the magazine cover. In retaliation, men may begin to view her in the sadistic voyeuristic manner, by gaining the urge to try to dominate her, or begin to accept her position as a possible higher authority figure. Additionally, there appears to be a limited amount of the male gaze being shown within this image. Men and women would view this cover and men may feel intimidated, but women may begin to feel a sense of pride that there’s a female athlete on the cover for the main magazine. Moreover, women can start to see themselves within these roles of women who have power and strength to offer rather than selling themselves short by presenting their bodies for men to gazed at. 

There are different ways of interpreting ‘the gaze’. To begin with, there was the exploration of how painting has made an impact on photography, and it’s links with how a painter chooses what to paint for viewers. This is all brought forward to photography, and how a photographer manipulates images, whether pre or post-edit. This examination opened to the concept of what we consider ‘reality’. Furthermore, it questioned how a reality is constructed through what a photographer decides to capture. This lack of reality leads on to how there’s a constant gaze being given to audiences within advertising, film and TV. The search for something beautiful is also considered, and looking at how the male gaze is a predominant gaze that we as viewers align our own to. All of these have been progressing through the decades from painting, to cinema, TV, and advertising. To conclude, the artists influencing the gaze of viewers has been gradually developing through the years and developments within the art world. It is something that will be visible for audiences to see, however due to the ‘beauty’ shown, an alternative gaze will continue to supersede our own. 


Barthes, Roland (1993) Camera Lucida. London: Vintage Books. 

Bate, David (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. 

Berger, John (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books. Gallop, Jane (1994) Feminism and Psychoanalysis: The Daughter’s Seduction. London: The Macmillan Press. 

Lacan, Jacques (1994) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis. London: The Hogarth Press.  

Mulvey, Laura (1989) Visual and Other Pleasures. London: Palgrave Maccmillan Publishers. 

Owens, Craig (1994) Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture. California: University of California Press. 

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1943) Being and Nothingness. London: Routledge. 

Sontag, Susan (1979) On Photography. London: Penguin Books. 


Figure 1. McCurry, Steve (Unknown) India #74 [Photo] At: http://stevemccurry.com/galleries/india?view=grid (Accessed 02.03.15)

Figure 2. (2009) Sports Illustrated Cover – Bar Rafaeli [Photo] At: http://www.si.com/swimsuit/search?term=2009+issue (Accessed 07.03.15) 

Figure 3. (2016) Sports Illustrated Cover – Rhonda Rousey [Photo] At: http://www.foxsports.com/ufc/story/ufc-ronda-rousey-lands-sports-illustrated-cover-051215 (Accessed 10.03.15)         

Through the book ‘Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd Edition)’ written by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, both authors have explored and discussed all aspects of media; this includes visual technology, Postmodernism, realism, advertising and politics. By viewing the chapter on the myth of photographic truth (2009: 16-22), I have focused of generating different interpretations of their initial analysis. Whilst studying this chapter, it required additional study of other chapters including reproduction and digital image (2009: 212-222) to solidify the furthered examination. Within the following essay, there is specific focus on three aspects of the myth of photographic truth. These three analysis’ are the idea of Positivism and its influence on photography, personal interpretation and what the entails and digital manipulation and the development and influence it has on the media. Therefore, through exploring these specific ideas, it focuses on the ‘truth’ of photography and how it came to exist as a ‘myth’.

Sturken and Cartwright have both explored the idea of Positivism and the positivist way of thinking. Positivism is a “philosophy that… holds that scientific knowledge is the only authentic knowledge and concerns itself with truths of the world” (Sturken, Cartwright, 2009:17). Through this perception of truth, the idea that machines were able to attain this truth through the production of experiments became prominent. Scientists who were conducting these experiments previously were seen to be liable to making mistakes, unwillingly allowing their “subjective actions… influence the outcome or skew the objectivity of the experiment” (Sturken, Cartwright, 2009:17). Sturken and Cartwright likened this ideology to photography, noting how using a camera - which is free of opinion, is able to obtain the ‘truth’. Cameras capture what is being photographed in its truest form; not adding meanings or values, therefore allowing the photographic truth to be shown. Furthermore, machines such as cameras, are unbiased and have the ability to display a factually true view, rendering photographs to be objective. Additionally, Sturken and Cartwright noted that historically, photography is regarded as more objective than drawn or painted art pieces. This is a conclusion drawn from how a photograph captures moments in history mechanically, allowing for a clear perception to be frozen in time. A further development of the idea of photography being objective comes from the French theorist Roland Barthes. Barthes generated the term studium; this term is used to describe the banal meaning of an image, referring to “the photograph’s ability to invoke a distanced appreciation for what the image holds” (Sturken, Cartwright, 2009:17). This refers to the ability to see the facts within a photograph without the need to analyse it further, which photographer Elliott Erwitt expressed in his book The Joy of Photographing People stating “The whole point of taking pictures is to that you don’t have to explain things with words”(Eastman Kodak Company , 1983:14). 

Following on from this, Sturken and Cartwright reconnoitred how an image can be interpreted. As mentioned previously, photography is deemed a more objective practice and display of expression. However, it can also been thought to be subjective as images can contain what Barthes describes as punctum. The term 'punctum' expresses how an image can grab our attention or emotions; drawing viewers into the image, punctum is unique to each individual. This, in turn, creates individual truths for each image seen by the audience or an ideology captured and displayed by the photographer. Subjectively, the photographer can manipulate images to portray various meanings or ‘photographic truths’ for the viewers - photographic truth is “a circumscribed truth; it only exists within the limits of the photographic frame” (Brothers 1997:18). Therfore, the information depicted within an image could be truth; it does, however, depend on the personal interpretation of the image. Thus, the ‘photographic truth’ generated in a photo becomes a myth as there is no solid version of what is truth; creating numerous versions of the ‘true meaning’ of the photos. Barthes also noted that photos have become distorted 'photographic truths' as they are culturally inflected and there is “no singular truth to be identified outside the myths or ideologies of cultural expression” (Sturken, Cartwright 2009:18). 

Developing this idea, Sturken and Cartwright have delved into Barthes uses of denotation and connotation. By looking at the difference between connotation and denotation, we’re able to depict the ideas of punctum and studium. Through connotation, viewers can have a more emotive response or understanding of the images as the connotative meaning relies on the social, cultural and historical meanings; in turn, this adds to the literal meaning generated within the photos. Alternatively, studium and denotation relate to each other as they both refer to the literal, face-value meaning through the image. With regards to the photographic truth, Sturken and Cartwright state, “myth thus allows the connotative meaning… to appear to be denotative, literal or natural” (Sturken, Cartwright 2009:20) stating that through having both functions within an image, they balance out the result of being emotive and informative. Furthering this idea, Sturken and Cartwright looked at how it’s possible for both punctum and studium to co-exist in one image as before it has been stated that only one can exist in an image. For example, photographer Robert Frank took numerous images through his travels in America including one image titled Trolley – New Orleans from his photographic series The Americans. This particular image depicts how punctum draws viewers in with an emotive connection of the racial segregation, and also studium by drawing upon the historical events within the 1950s and recording that moment. Sturken and Cartwright have stated the image “is moving insofar as it connotes a culture on the precipice of momentous change, evoking powerful emotions” (Sturken, Cartwright 2009:19). As a further development of this, photographer and theorist Allen Sekula proposed: “The photograph is imagined to have… a power that is primarily affective or a power that is primarily informative. Both powers reside in the mythical truth-value of the photograph” (Sekula 1984:10).

Through progressions in digital photography and software, it has now become easier to edit and manipulate images. Sturken and Cartwright have noted how digital manipulation software, including Photoshop, has altered the way viewers interpret an image. Photos are initially identified to be “objective or truthful records of events” (Sturken, Cartwright 2009:18), continuing with the idea of positivism. However, viewers are beginning to struggle to believe what they see when viewing a photo, whether it’s in magazines, newspapers or through various forms of advertising. Sturken and Cartwright propose that “photographs…manipulated with much greater ease than ever before” (Sturken, Cartwright 2009:18). Debates regarding the use of Photoshop and other forms of digital image manipulation have been put in the spotlight over the past 10 years. One example is of the film poster for King Arthur (2004). This particular poster conforms to the dominant ideologies set by the media, also portraying what theorist Naomi Wolf considered the Beauty Myth (portraying women as sexually attractive specifically for a male audience). 

The Beauty Myth links to the myth of photographic truth as both display standards that have become hegemonic ideologies with no solid proof of what is ‘beauty’ or ‘truth’. Additionally, the analytical book Feminist Perspectives of Eating Disorders (1996) notes: “a culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession on female obedience” (Wolf 1994:97). Through this statement, it is clear that we as a culture are becoming standardised by the representations (particularly of women) in the media. Furthermore, Sturken and Cartwright have also explored that we as viewers expect to be deceived with images through films and advertising but not through newspapers or news images on TV, proposing “we do not… bring the same expectations about the representation of truth to advertisements of film images… that we do to newspaper or television news images” (Sturken, Cartwright 2009:21). Ultimately, it’s clear that as a society we are living in a state of ‘hyper reality’ with theorist Jean Baudrillard stating “it is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (Baudrillard 1994:1-2) and are manipulated by the media, resulting in viewers inability to relate or trust images produced, conforming to the idea of the myth of photographic truth.

In conclusion, the evidence and opinions expressed have noted how photography and other media forms are tagged with the term ‘myth’. Through technological advances and changing social and cultural climates, photographic truth is being questioned about its integrity. Furthermore, through exploring theorists’ works and interpretations, there are multiple and conflicting ideas that suggest photographic truth is created in two ways: generated through the media and their manipulation, or through the individual viewer or photographer. Ultimately, all ideologies and opinions agree there is a certain level of ‘truth’ around the myth of photographic truth. Finally, through Sturken and Cartwright’s analysis and this further developed study, the myth of photographic truth has been an ideology that recently developed through the progressions in technology and social and cultural influences.   


Baudrillard, Jean (1994) Simulacra and Simulation (The Body in Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism) USA: The University of Michigan Press. 

Brothers, Caroline (1997) War and Photography: A Cultural History (1st Edition) Oxon: Routledge. 

Cable, S (N/A) ‘Has Keira Knightley gone under the airbrush again as the face of the CoCo Chanel campaign?’ in The Daily Mail [online] At: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1207445/Has-Keira-Knightley-gone-airbrush-face-Coco-Chanel-campaign.html (Accessed 14.01.14) 

Eastman Kodak Company, Editors of. (1983) The Joy of Photographing People Boston: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. 

Fallon, P, Katzman, M. A. Wooley, S. C. (1994) Feminist Perspectives of Eating Disorders (New Ed Edition) New York: Guildford Press. 

Sekula, Allen (1984) Photography against the grain: essay and photo works 1973 – 1983: volume 16 of Nova Scotia series Michigan: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. 

Sturken, Maria and Cartwright, Lisa. (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd Edition) New York: Oxford University Press. 


Fig. 1 Robert Frank, Trolley – New Orleans (1955). Robert Frank, from The Americans. Photo: Bowdin College Museum of Art.

Fig. 2 Cable, S (N/A) ‘Has Keira Knightley gone under the airbrush again as the face of the CoCo Chanel campaign?’ in The Daily Mail [online] At: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1207445/Has-Keira-Knightley-gone-airbrush-face-Coco-Chanel-campaign.html (Accessed 14.01.14) 

Within this essay, various points covering a multitude of texts and some images will be discussed including an exploration of whether the following points are reflections of Barthes’ statement. The different aspects of photography, along with the exploration of ideas generated from the early developments of photography will be studied. Included in this is to look into the mechanical aspects of photography and how this affects images. Furthermore, investigations surrounding modern interpretations of photographic truth and the veracity of images will be included. As well as these points, the outcomes of photos and the influences behind certain images may be noted, and how these connect to Barthes’ theory that it cannot be denied that subjects were not present when the image was taken. In addition to this, the examination of how photography creates a lasting impression or representation of something or someone that no longer exists will be explored.

Many tend to consider photography a medium that is heavily focused on the final image, and rarely reflects on the production behind it. The production values of photography are interesting and have lead to numerous debates around the veracity of an image. Sontag explores this in her book On Photography stating: “that a society becomes “modern” when one of it chief activities is producing and consuming images” (Sontag 1979: 153). From this statement, it could be noted that the truth-values within photos has diminished to make way for the mass production and consumption of images. Furthermore, this may also call to question the indexical signs in photos, meaning the connection between the signifier (image) and the signified. A photograph produces a trace of the subject, meaning the subject was there, or in Barthes’ term, it is something ‘that-has-been’. However, due to the increase in post-production, veracity and the indexical nature within images can be tampered with: 

“The indexical ‘naturalness’ of what-we-see is itself the core ideological feature of photography. This seeming ‘innocence’ of photography is part of its rhetorical power… that we see something apparently ‘as it is’” (Bate 2009: 17). 

Being able to see something ‘as it is’ relies on an understanding of cultural events and influences; photographs offer viewers an interpretation of a ‘reality’ or something that is deemed ‘real’ and accepts it because of the knowledge they have attained through exposure. In addition to post-production, photographers have more flexibility and creative freedom when it comes to photo shoots. They impose their opinions and perceptions through using techniques that have developed over the years. It can still be distinguished that the subject was there which supports Barthes’ claims. When looking into the mechanical aspects of photography and the objectiveness a camera provides, the photographer has the ability to alter the perception drastically: “…Cameras render the world in a perspective that is detached from a subjective, particular human viewpoint because the conventions of the image are for the most part built into the apparatus.” (Sturken, Cartwright, 2009: 17). Here it can be noted that the act of photography is mechanical, exploring the veracity of the moment. It also cannot deny that the subject was present as it’s presenting the subject as it is with no influence of a biased viewpoint. Cameras could be regarded as more reliable when it comes to portraying the truth as it can produce empirical evidence unaided; the act of empiricism allows for a scientific observation to take place, with developments of knowledge about a certain subject matter. Exploring the mechanical aspects of photography further, it could lead to an open representation of what is in front of the lens, thus linking to the positivist way of thinking; cameras being perceived as machines would allow for objective viewpoints and not a subjective viewpoint designed by the photographer. Moreover, the mechanical nature of photography creates access to the indexical naturalness within photos, enabling the connection between the subject and images to remain.

“Photographs in themselves do not narrate. Photographs preserve instant appearance” (Berger, 2013: 52). With this assertion, Berger has touched on the style of photography that had been heavily focused on during the early years of photography: documentation. During the Victorian era of photography, many were fascinated with the ability to create a photographic document. These documents ranged from Fine Art to the classification of inmates in prisons. This obsession also carried over to a more scientific exploration. One photographer who used this idea of documentation in artistic terms was William Henry Fox Talbot. Being a respected scientist, his later developments in photography were staggering, leading to him introducing the primary elements of photography (developing, fixing and printing). Rosalind Krauss expresses her understanding of these processes: 

“Every photograph is the result of a physical imprint transferred by light reflections onto a sensitive surface. The photograph is thus a type of icon, or visual likeness, which bears an indexical relationship to its object” (Krauss 1977: 75) 

One particular image by Talbot that corresponds with Barthes’ statement is ‘A Scene in a Library’ (1843-44) (see bibliography). The use of captioning along with the image leads the viewer to believe that this was taken at a shelf within the confines of a library. Paradoxically, this photo was taken out of doors with a backdrop, as the light was much stronger, resulting in a sharper image being taken. Relating this to Bathes’ statement “I can never deny that the thing has been there” (Barthes 1993: 76), it cannot be denied that these objects were present when Talbot took the photograph, however it is difficult to accept this as a true representation of the objects. With the misguidance of the caption, viewers are being presented with an altered perception of reality. Without the additional knowledge given by the caption, many would consider this to be a generic documentation of a bookshelf. This was noted within a lecture at the university: “All photographs can be said to have an essential origin, regardless of notions of staging, faking etc: the ‘reality’ of the photographic image as a result of it being a ‘trace’ of its object” (Lindsey, 2015). The function of the caption can be just as important as the image itself. The knowledge generated through photography is disseminated across wide and diverse mediums and progresses through vast audiences. This knowledge can affect and alter audiences’ perceptions of photos. The duel use of images and text can influence any viewer to sway their opinions of the image towards the desired message created by the photographer. Furthermore, some photos may require a caption or title to aid viewers understanding of the photograph presented to them. A further development surrounding knowledge being predominantly transferred by photography is how viewers have become solely reliant on visual arts. There is the concept of ocularcentrism where viewers’ visual perceptions have increasingly become more dominant than any other senses. Through this progression, there is now an intensified amount of visual stimuli that is displayed to all audiences on a daily basis. The bombarding of images is gradually causing messages in each photograph to become limited due to continuous repetitions being presented. 

Moving forward from the previously explained point, it can also be stated that the bombarding of images creates a singular ideology through vision. Mieke Bal expresses this view testifying: “Vision is an essentially unified mode of perception and interpretation” (Bal 1993: 379). From this, the viewpoint that audiences gain the same amount of knowledge, or at least similar becomes more pronounced. Moreover, this also leads on the conclusion that as a society, visual knowledge and the consumption of images has gradually developed into an obsession rather than a necessity. An example of this could be when walking past a shop window, passers by are being inundated with images within the windows, whether they’re related to that shop or not. Many may not be interested in entering the shop, but when presented with a stimulating image, they may be more inclined to enter. This theory in turn confirms the idea that as a society, viewers and various audiences are now becoming dependant on the knowledge and interest that is generated in photography. Because of this dependency, viewers are slowly losing the motivation to question these images, and whether they depict a realistic representation. This can link to Barthes’ earlier statement, it cannot be denied, but if viewers are refusing to acknowledge and question this, then what it the reason behind these images. Relating back to whether the image may be relevant to what is being advertised or documented, Liz Wells explains: “The practice of documentary was and is problematic and, over time, a number of conventions and practices evolved to mark ‘authentic documentary’ from other kinds of work” (Wells, 2009: 72). This statement questions the true term surrounding documentary photography, but can also question the veracity of images themselves. An example of documenting an event that was eventually represented differently in the media is from the politicians march in France after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015. The two images shown side-by-side (see bibliography) demonstrate how certain areas, marked by red circles, were edited before being broadcast across Europe in newspapers and on TV news channels. Sontag deciphers this way of photographic documentation: “Reality has always been interpreted through the reports given by images” (Sontag, 1979: 153). Within this statement, Sontag is expressing the opinion that the ‘reality’ audiences perceive is just an interpretation of what is truly there. In addition to Sontag’s view, Sturken and Cartwright have expressed their understanding, specifically targeting news images: 

“Questions of the verifiability and manipulation of images takes on particular importance… high stakes in the news industry in certain ethical codes of truth telling… the idea that photographic news images are realistic and unmanipulated” (Sturken, Cartwright, 2009: 217).

The photograph that was eventually distributed had been edited to fit a certain version of the truth that had been deemed suitable. With the before and after images being shown together, it’s clear to all viewers how the female politicians were edited out of the final photo. In some cultures, women in tabloids and news images are frowned upon so this may explain the edit. However, it approaches the position of women being in power and disqualifies them as people of importance and influence. It can’t be denied that these events happened, but because the original photograph surfaced, viewers are offered a more truthful representation of the events the occurred. Furthermore, due to the release of the unprecedented image, viewers receive more knowledge behind the event, the veracity of the original photograph; this enables them to make their own opinions on the event and not be forced to accept one that was created and broadcast in the media. 

From the aforementioned points, it can affirmed that photography as a medium is making an object, or event, present that is now considered absent. John Berger explains this by declaring: “A photograph arrests the flow of time in which the event photographed once existed” (Berger 2013: 62). When exploring this statement, it is possible to link this to the idea of photography making past events present. Documentary photography and street photography explore this heavily. Director and photographer Larry Clark completed a photographic series, eventually creating his book Tulsa, a compiling of images taken between 1963 and 1971. Clark’s chilling image ‘Accidental Gunshot Wound’ (see bibliography) from the series delves into the realms of capturing a prominent moment in someone’s past and having the opportunity to exhibit it to other audiences. Through the authentic aesthetic created in this series, and this particular photo, the visual aids form pieces of information about the subject, which equates to knowledge for the viewers. The referents within each photo, in Barthes’ terms are as follows, “I call “photographic referent”… the necessarily real thing which has been places before the lens, without which there would be no photograph” (Barthes 1993: 76). From here it can be determined that without the subject, which cannot be displaced, the photograph would hold no knowledge for a viewer to interpret. Through their personal access of cultural references, viewers generate an individual interpretation. Another aspect of viewers gaining knowledge through visual stimuli is that it ultimately creates the impression to a viewer that they know all the information provided. This could contribute to the term panoptic, or the phrase all-seeing-eye. The term panoptic derives from Bentham Panopticon design, where there’s a predominant position placed in the centre that can view its surroundings without limitations or interruptions. This in turn can be combined with Barthes’ statement “I can never deny that the thing has been there” (Barthes, 1993: 76), as it’s possible to view the whole image and the viewer cannot deny that the referent wasn’t present. By placing the viewer in the centre of the image, it allows for their full attention to focus on that one image. Furthermore, this surrounds them with the information being perceived from the image, creating the illusion that they’re becoming more knowledgeable about the subject presented. 

To summarise this essay, the points discussed can all relate back to Barthes’ statement. When exploring the veracity of images, it can question whether what is being photographed is a true representation. In addition to this, the mass production of photographs begins to lessen the truth-values within the medium. Furthermore, through the staging and manipulation of images, it makes it more difficult to find the connections between what was photographed to the final outcome. Moreover, exploring the traditional aspects of photography and photographers from the period, it can be said that they were able to keep more of the indexical naturalness within their images. Exploring the unified perceptions and the social dependency on photography opened up the questionable concepts behind photographs and the importance of images. The discussion about how an image creates a lasting representation of something that is now absent fits Barthes’ statement well. The reason for this is that using photography as a tool for documentation, anything placed before the camera is more likely to be represented in its truest form. In addition to these points, the perception of viewers becoming all seeing or all knowing creates the perception that they’re able to make connections and know whether photos truly represent what is within images. To conclude, all images can be linked to Barthes’ statement from Camera Lucida. Some may depict a more truthful or realistic approach, and some may not but both options confirm that you cannot deny that the object or subject photographed was not present at the time. 


 Bal, Mieke (1993) His Master’s Eye. In ‘Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision’, edited by David M. Levin, 379-404. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Barthes, Roland (1993) Camera Lucida. London. Vintage Classics. Bate, David (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London. Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd. 

Berger, John (2013) Understanding a Photograph. Ed. Geoff Dyer. London. Penguin Classics. 

Krauss, Rosalind. 1977. “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America”. October 3. The MIT Press: 68–81. 

Lindsey, Matt (2015) Traces and Indexicality. Farnham. [Lecture at UCA, 06 October, 2015]

Sontag, Susan (1979) On Photography. London. Penguin. 

Sturken, M, Cartwright, L (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (Second Edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press 

Wells, Liz (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (Fourth Edition). London. Routledge. 


 Fig. 1. Talbot, WHF, (1843-44) A Scene in a Library [Photo] At: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/h2/h2_2005.100.172.jpg (Accessed 20.11.15) Fig. 2. 

Charlie Hebdo Rally Couldn’t Escape Politics (2014) [Blog] At: http://annamariacom.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/charlie-hebdo-rally-couldnt-escape.html (Accessed 28.11.15) Fig. 3. 

Clark, Larry (1971) Accidental Gunshot Wound [Photo] At: https://mcachicago.org/Collection/Items/Larry-Clark-Accidental-Gunshot-Wound-1971-1983 (Accessed 01.12.15)