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CAN 4 Exercise 0.1

Can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication?

I would say that many photographs taken for purposes other than expression or communication can be seen as falling into the broad category of photographs as records. Some of these are made as a record that a particular object, person or situation was a particular way at a particular time for use as a benchmark, baseline or aide memoire, and many scientific, technical and clinical photos fall into this category. A dentist might take photos of a patient’s teeth to help in creating a treatment plan and as a record of the starting point, for example, or an environmental scientist may take a series of photos of a geographical area over period of time to track the effects of climate change or other factors. Others, such as police mugshots and passport photos, are made for the purposes of recording and/or verifying identity. Photographs of a crime scene or evidence are made to provide an enduring record which may include clues whose significance is not yet apparent. Some images are made as inventories, providing a record of the items present in, for example, an archive or collection, and perhaps also their condition. It could be argued that all typologies, such as Bernd and Hilla Becher’s images of industrial buildings, also fall into this category.

Another broad category could be defined as photographs that are taken to enable people to see what they can’t access easily with the naked eye. X-rays could be considered part of this category. And people often now take photos with their smartphones to help them see things ranging from parts of their own bodies to views over walls and anything else that can be accessed more easily by a handheld phone than the eye. Similarly, it is now common for shortsighted people (like me) to take photos of things they can’t see clearly, such as the printed text on a supermarket product or the consumption reading on a gas meter, so that they can blow the image up to read it.

CAN 4 Exercise 1.1

Look carefully at Erwitt’s image and write some notes about how the subject matter is placed within the frame. How has Erwitt structured this image? What do you think the image is ‘saying’? How does the structure contribute to this meaning?

Erwitt has framed this photograph so that the small dog is directly centred on the vertical plane and aligned against the right-hand third division on the horizontal plane, a location that naturally invites the eye’s attention and makes the dog the main focal point of the image. He has positioned his camera at the dog’s eye height, so that we are seeing the world from the dog’s viewpoint. This means we cannot see the full extent of the two pairs of legs to the left of the dog in exactly the same way that we can’t see the whole height of a skyscraper if we’re close up to it, so we don’t just meet this little dog eye to eye and see the world as it sees it, but we also experience the world as the dog experiences it. In this small creature’s eyes there is negligible difference between the two pairs of legs to the left of the image, so we share its experience of the world being divided into tall vs small beings instead of humans vs dogs as we usually would. Our identification with the dog’s worldview is further reinforced by the fact that it is wearing a woolly hat, which gives it an anthropomorphic appearance and makes its face seem almost human in its quizzical alertness. The parallel stance of the row of feet planted firmly along the lower third baseline informs us that their owners are calmly static, their park walk held on pause while we and the small dog examine each other, equals in our mutual curiosity.

Elliott Erwitt: New York, 1974

CAN 4 Exercise 2.1

Rip out an advertising image from a newspaper supplement and circle and write on as many parts of the image as you can. Comment on what it is, what it says about the product and why you think it’s there.

This advert was issued by McDonalds in 2017 against a background of franchise closures worldwide and ongoing criticism of the burger chain for the poor nutritional values and damaging ecological effects of its products. Apparently aimed primarily at its existing customer base while simultaneously reassuring franchisees that the chain is responding to the challenges it faces, the entirely wordless advert manages to convey the message that McDonalds’ products are natural and healthy, and that the dining experience is a playful and light-hearted experience for the family.