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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Constructed Images

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

– Ansel Adams

Photographs offer us a connection to the physical world. They allow us to see and investigate the world in which the photograph was taken. All photographs are posed or framed, so does that make them lies? A posed or staged photograph will always only contain what the photographer wanted you to see. Because the photographer has made choices about the framing, all photographs decontextualise the subject. We do not see what was above or below the subject. We do not see what was to the left or right of the scene and we have no idea what happened before or after the shot was taken. All we see is a split second, staged or not.

The basic idea behind constructed images is that the photographer the image in front of the camera. This construction can mean a lot of things.  It could be that the whole scene has been created, including a purpose built elaborate sets to create a fictional image.  It may also mean that the photographer has made slight changes to the scene in front of them.

“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.”

– Ansel Adams

Jeff Wall is a photographer whose images blur the boundaries between fact and fiction.   He uses a variety of techniques to create his images.  His subjects dress up in the clothes and costumes needed to recreate the scene he saw.  Where appropriate he uses props, backgrounds and poses to recreate the original scene.  Wall also uses Photoshop to post process his images.

“Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think that perhaps it is possible to walk like Alice, through a looking-glass, and find another kind of world with the camera.”

– Tony Ray-Jones

In his interview for The Guardian with Sean O’Hagan (2015), Jeff Wall describes his photographs as ““cinematographic” re-creations of everyday moments he has witnessed, but did not photograph at the time. “To not photograph,” he says, “gives a certain freedom to then re-create or reshape what I saw.” He takes months to stage and direct each of his “occurrences”.” Wall is recreating his memory and interpretation of an event. Yet many of his images look just like snapshots.  Roberts (1999: 189) considered this in his book when he refers Wall’s work as ‘a conceptualised realism of the ‘everyday’’.  He further remarks that Wall ‘re-establishes the pleasures of identification and visual ‘mastery’ over an event that the conventional naturalistic photograph brings.’

Gone are the days when we believed everything we saw in a photograph, and photography was about showing the truth.  More and more today photography is being used to create a fantasy. As a photographer, it is my job is to ensure that I not only open the eyes of the viewer to the world that surrounds us, but that I provide them with a view of how it could be.


Adams, A. From BrainyQuote. 2017. You don’t take a photograph, you make it. – Ansel Adams – BrainyQuote. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 March 2017]

Adams, A. From BrainyQuote. 2017. Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art. – Ansel Adams – BrainyQuote. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 March 2017].

Ray-Jones, T. From BBC NEWS. 2017. BBC NEWS | In pictures: The English by Tony Ray-Jones . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 March 2017].

Roberts, J. (1999). The art of interruption. 1st ed. Manchester [u.a.]: St. Martin’s Press.

The Guardian. 2015. Jeff Wall: ‘I’m haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake’ | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 04 February 2017].

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