IC - 6 Looking at images / by Chris Chucas

interpretation and mis-Interpreting constructed images.

‘The Grotesque effect of the photograph of the movie poster depends on the equivalence of object and it’s representation, of woman and it’s representations, of woman and picture-woman, that photography allows’ - Savendoff,2000, p.51

Savendoff points out that the cropping of the picture changes it’s reading by pointing to the mystery of the original poster, isolating the feeling of terror from it’s source. But the large rip through the image makes us very aware that the image is an image and we are more inclined to look at the image as an object and not an image. 

Walker Evans, Movie Pos

Walker Evans, Movie Pos

Missing, Bronston Jones 2001 NYU Medical Center Wall

Missing, Bronston Jones 2001 NYU Medical Center Wall

In our discussions the notion that a lot photographs have a primary function to record the likeness of someone is to serve a purpose, for example to find a missing person. 

If we were to apply Savendoff's thoughts on recontextualization of the images from before, do we experience a grotesqueness here? I don’t think we do, the way that Jones set up his exhibition ‘Missing’ using images of people that did not come home after 9 / 11.  In an attempt to keep their memory alive and photographing the missing peoples poster in the outdoor environment and their exposure to the wind and rain, symbolising their passing on and the breaking down of the paper symbolises the mortality of the persons depicted. To me, it isn’t grotesque but a sensitive and melancholy depiction of their passing symbolised by the degrading of the materials. 

The Intrusion of the world into the poster, instead of showing up the poster as a mere representation, imparts its own concreteness to the poster’s image’ -Savendoff, 2000 p.86)

Barthes notes…..

‘It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture one of the thousand manifestations of the ordinary’ - Barthes, 1980, p.73

In reference to his mother in the winter garden picture. To him it is very personal and to anyone else it would not hold the same significance when reading it. It's an interesting point surrounding the viewer that as image makers this might be a consideration in the making of the work. Is the audience important, is it a self reflective means of expression? Is it a commentary on a social or cultural issue, if it is then the audience and the context they understand the work is much more of a consideration. 

Interestingly within this work the American flag is used quite a lot in the posters. The American flag has a lot of significance and meaning to Americans . Being born and raised in the UK I don't personally have any deep psychological attachment to the British flag and therefore cannot completely understand or empathise with an American’s viewing of the flag and the connotations it could invoke in them.

Based on other deconstruction of the reading of it it seems that to some the flag (is meant to) be a symbol of, Freedom, liberty, and working hard to make a good life for yourself. I’m not sure which Americans this is for ( white middle class Americans perhaps), but to me the whole ideology seems riddled with irony. Without digressing too much I don’t think any African Americans over the age of 50 would automatically agree with the meanings attached to the flag, neither would any Native Americans. To me the American flag does have embedded connotations and meanings that are probably more ironic but even still these only work based on the wide social and cultural accepted stereotypes of the flag and its meaning to Americans. 

Bronston Jones , M

Bronston Jones , M

In Jones’ work I feel the flag has become a vehicle in which to convey a personal sense of closeness to Americans all over . Perhaps unintentionally and along with the annononymity with the subject ( in this particular image) it reaches all Americans to and becomes a lot easier to feel a sense of loss for those other parents, brothers, sisters, and loved ones. The flag is the one thing that they all have in common, the subject is then transformed into a relationship with the flag and thus Americans. It’s very powerful and works very well. Unlike a lot of work that employs the flag to either sincerely (in this case) comment on ‘America’ in a positive way or if it’s used in a way to criticise it, it is a strangely powerful icon today. 

Another artist that spring to mind that comments on the American ideology but without using the icon of the flag is Margaret Bourke-White. To me it’s a great photograph that looks at the indifference and inequality in America at the time. It is an example of someone questioning these great American ideologies. 

Margaret Bourke-White - At the time of the Lousiville flood 1937, Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White - At the time of the Lousiville flood 1937, Margaret Bourke-White

Interestingly with regards to my work which is looking at the punk rock scene, it’s historically been associated with being anti establishment and anti government in general. I feel that in the earlier days that was one of the main focuses and artists like Edward Culver, they were capturing the energy within the subculture rebelling back and questioning these American Ideals. 

Back flip , Edward Culver.jpg

Back flip , Edward Culver.jpg

Glen E friedman Bad Brains .jpg

Glen E friedman Bad Brains .jpg

It’s been a common theme in the punkrock world, I personally feel that the anti establishment themes were quite simplistic and have since matured with a more balanced POV and looking at the human condition and understanding that there is no perfect answer. It seems like punk rock has matured a lot and this was one of the motivating factors that led me to purse my project, that and how it’s commonly misinterpreted today. 




Lyrics from Spraynard

Ruth Buzzi Better Watch Her Back

My clothes are stained with the blood from my hands as the needle is dripping dry.

It’s resting on the table by my bedside. 

I can feel the fabric within my veins.

I’m sure it's stained by now.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get out.

Father told me this would feed the family if just for a little while.

He said, "We’re needed by the Americans and their ever changing style."

He used to be the strongest man my eyes had ever seen.

Now he lies in a shallow grave thanks to faulty machinery, fuck this machinery. 


American Heros Stamp.jpg

Back to our interpretations of these symbols and their connotations. This image of ‘American Heroes’ postage stamp re creates the scene of 3 fire fighters that apparently constructed the the flag at the top of the ashes as a monument after 9 / 11 .


Interestingly this image was used in varying ways.  While some called it a tribute to those who died, CNN called it a summons to renewed pa and renewed triumph. This is really interesting because it’s one image that's being interpreted in a few different ways. Although one could argue that CNN’s motives may by commercial and political, perhaps they are trying harder to see this image in this way. They're a news station that makes money from (supposedly) reporting the news. It seems that the more emotion they can pack into the story they are covering, the more attention it gets and the more emotional the response they get, making it viral and in their eyes more successful. I feel like its a problem and it furthers the manipulation of images and situations that perpetuates this news cycle culture that seems to be about making an impact emotionally over reporting simple facts.



On America’s obsession with the flag and the ideals that goes with it. If you notice the emotive use of the flag against the back drop of moving music, to me it’s this framing of the object albeit this time it's footage that's being framed a political propaganda piece. This makes me refer back to Savendoff …


‘The Grotesque effect of the photograph of the movie poster depends on the equivalence of object and it’s representation, of woman and it’s representations, of woman and picture-woman, that photography allows - (Savendoff,2000, p.51)

For me I can apply this reading of the image but swap out the women in Savendoff’s image with the American ideologies presented in the political commentary from the Glen Beck Video.

I’m glad to see that i’m not alone in my reading of this manipulation of these icons, especially on America and the use of its flag. Although we started with the flag and how it's used as a symbol of American idealogy, which I think there is truth in, the American dream to work hard and succeed etc, but I feel it has been hijacked for political purposes and in the above video is destructive to its own values by being a caricature of a champion fighting for those 'values'



‘The most significant indexical power of the photograph may consequently not lie in the relationship between the photograph and it’s subject, but in the relationshop between the photograph and it’s beholder, or user’. 

(Olin, 2002, p114)

Olin’s comments perfectly describe how the power of the photograph lies within it’s meaning and not in the relationship with the subject. I agree with the view that we must decode the image before and make sense of it. Each reader's personal history and cultural relationship with images and the subject matter within it has it’s own set of rules which I liken to lens that the image is viewed through. 

“A photograph is not necessarily a lie, but it isn’t the truth either. It’s more like a fleeting, subjective impression.”  ― John BergerUnderstanding a Photograph
Cindy Sherman untitled film still.jpg

Artists like Cindy Sherman with her ‘Untitled film stills’ work plays with these conventions that art, society and culture have embedded in us the viewer. Her work is multilayered and works by imitating the conventions that Hollywood movies use to build their narrative. Framing, wardrobe, lighting and other stylistic choices all mimic film stills of the time. Sherman was playing with ideas of identity and how women were represented at the time. It’s a really interesting idea. I think of it almost like an inside joke, you need to know extra information in order to understand and with that extra information and deeper meaning the context evolves and you both view it and appreciate it in a different way to those who may not know all the information or may be presented with no information at all. So if the work was presented at a gallery one would think; why has this artist done this? Is it mocking another art form? Is it trying to say something about the culture and society it was born out of? In this case, yes it was.

Barthes also notes- 


I cannot reproduce the Winter Garden Photograph. It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the ‘ordinary’; it cannot in any way constitute the visible object of a science; it cannot establish an objectivity, in the positive sense of the term; at most it would interest your studium: period, clothes, photogeny; but in it, for you, no wound -Barthes Camera Lucida 1977 (p73).

I agree somewhat with what Barthes elaborates on from the quote. As photographers we make images for some sort of reason, whether its for a personal family album, or if it is an art project exploring time or space where the actual finished image is irrelevant but the actual taking of it is the purpose, the end photograph has been undertaken by ourselves and means something to the owner. This can also mean something to other viewers but it is possible for some images to be solely for us. Our personal relationship with the image with the reasons that motivated us to take them can affect the image maker in a way that cannot affect other viewers. I think there it is not a polarised idea that either an image is or is not but it simply can be. 

First Night in Korea, Chris Chucas

First Night in Korea, Chris Chucas

I'll try and demonstrate the idea using the above image. I'm going to attempt to deconstruct the image as if I'm viewing it for the first time. Initially I can see that composition and lighting as well as the final colour produced at the end seems to be of a fairly decent standard. This makes me think ( some might say tricks me) that it is not of personal relevance but for an illustrative or journalistic / advertising purpose. We can see city lights amongst the twilight sky, with cars on a 4 lane road travelling towards and away from the camera. The buildings and large road are signifiers that signify we are looking at a city. The City is the signified, the socially agreed place we expect to see all of these things, the City. With the city comes a vast array of the signified, what we expect the city to be, loud noisey and busy dangerous etc. All of these connotations are going to be different for different people but with some overlap for everyone ( at least in similar cultures). When we add up the semi otic deconstruction of the image and the visual conventions we have the last piece of the puzzle in which we can look for meaning is in the context and or environment that the image is produced. If this image was on a gallery wall with no accompanying material one would assume that it is a nice picture of the city. It's purpose , for aesthetic pleasure and nothing more. If it were in a gallery with some accompanying text that would offer some sort of post modern exploration it would be thought of as art, and the same goes if this was seen in a magazine or a news paper with a product and text next to it.  The truth of the image ( my truth anyways) is that I wanted to take a picture of the first night I spent in Korea. I went to live and work there for 2 years as an English teacher. I wanted to take a picture of the city as a record for myself. When I look at it I remember the excitement I had, I remember all the sights and sounds of the new city. I remember looking forward to my first day in work and not knowing exactly where I'd live or how I was going to get about. All of these feelings I get from looking at this image don't exist for anyone else. So in that sense Barthes notion that some images exist only for the maker is true.