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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Viewers Make Meaning


Figure 1: Sutherst 2017

Their of this exercise was to post an image without comment or title to see how someone viewing it would interpret it.

Comments from my peers and friends on Facebook, included that the image was about “strong self-expression”. The viewers picked up correctly that there was a strong rapport between the model and myself (we have worked together on numerous occasions and have become good friends).  However, there was some confusion about what the image represented.  Thoughts on the subject ranged from an alien creature caged in a white room behind a sheet of glass, to a lively sprite, mythical creature, troll, fairy or elf.  One suggested that the shoot was to portray a subject that was “gender neutral”.  If you refer to the blog post of 27th January, you will see that the intent was to portray strong women.

The comments below and misunderstanding about the intent, are indicative of an image that is not completed; the intention was always to add to the image in the way that my inspiration for the shoot, Mutu, does.  I do like that the comments are not all positive and that there is confusion.  I want the viewer to study my images and really interpret them in their own way.

“I am confused – is he representing good or is their some other dark force at work.”

“It makes me feel as though something is waiting to happen.”

“She looks trapped or in hiding/dazzled in a sphere or box. I think she looks defensive not playful. The knee is covering the major organs as protection and the back is arched like a cat becomes when confronted. This could be interpreted as a warning, like animals to warn off their prey.”

“She looks at us with the same wonder we look at her. Is that malice or fear we see?”

My peers also commented that the gaze was self-confident and direct to lens.

The gaze of the subject was considered a form of communication and the pose considered odd with “a strangely semaphore quality.”

They commented that the shoot looked fun and the image made them smile.  One commented that they liked that “the marks on the floor of the back drop indicate movement and perhaps the contortions that have been exercised to achieve this pose”.

Other comments were “It is most obviously a staged image – designed not to represent truth but a wondrous fantasy. Being a studio shot with careful controlled lighting it has a distinct theatricality to it and the gaze of the model invites us in to join the fun.”

The choice of white backdrop was described as drawing the viewer in and that the subject was saying ” Focus entirely on me as there is nothing else to look at.”

In both the university forum and on Facebook, it was thought that the white paint on top of the other paint was influenced by the aboriginal Australians

Comments were made on the composition and styling. These included comments such as “well posed example of fantasy photography’;  “lovely colours and great use of space”; “very colourful and vibrant tones.”

I thank my peers, tutor and friends on Facebook for their comments. I am sure that if this had been presented as a finished image in a set, then the meaning would have been cleared.  It is really useful to hear what others see in your work.  Sometimes we are too close to it that we do not see all the meanings.

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