In the second lecture of Media History and Culture, we went over John Szarkowski’s Introduction to the Photographer’s Eye in which we learn about the element a photo is composed of. These elements are: The Thing itself, the Detail, the Frame, the Time and the Vantage Point. Being able to understand the different elements of a picture are important while analyzing a photograph.
Starting with the Thing Itself, you observe exactly what is in front of you. The thing itself is something/someone that is present at the time of the photo shoot; it is tangible. It is also what you primarily see before reading into a picture.
The Detail of a photograph is something that represents a whole. It can be a part of something or the whole thing. A small object in a picture can tell a whole story.
The Vantage Point of a camera is point of view of an image. It is the position of the camera at the time the picture was taken. The Vantage Point allows the photographer to control how the viewer sees the subject.
The Time of a photograph is the time period in which the photo was taken. It is most useful in documentary photographs since is it automatically lets the viewer know around what time in history the photo was taken and therefore gives it some background information.
The Frame is everything you see in a picture, everything the photographer wants us to see. To be able to understand what is happening inside the picture, we need to understand what is happening outside the picture.
We also learned about semiotics, being able to understand an image in two ways using denotations and connotations. Denotation is analysing exactly what you see in front of you, and connotation is analysing the signs in the image, including its meaning and emotion evoked by it.
Looking over a picture using all elements in analysing a photograph helped me understand the message the photographer wants to convey.
Mother and Baby of Family on Road- Dorothea Lange
The Thing Itself- A mother and a baby sitting in a car and a child behind them. The mother is holding her baby with a bottle in her hand. The baby’s clothes are rather dirty. There is also another car visible and a woman standing by it.
The Detail- The mother is wearing glasses indicating a weakness. The subjects are dirty indicating their lack of hygienic supplies and clothes to change into. The box in the back of the car indicates that they have moved out of somewhere and are on their way to somewhere new. The woman in the background at her car indicates that there are several people on the move.
The Vantage Point- The camera is situated straight on to the subjects, keeping us all on the same level.
The Time of the Photograph- This photo was taken during the Great Depression.
Annotation- A mother sitting in her car with her baby. They are both wearing dirty clothes and look desperate.
Connotation- The dirt on their clothes and the look in their eyes symbolises their desperation for help. The child in the background means that there are more family members that just the two in the foreground. The way the subjects are holding on to each other can be seen as them clutching on to their last few precious possessions. This photo successfully evokes a sympathetic feeling through its connotations.