Pictures the Real World and what people see

So I’ve been thinking a bit about semiotics and symbolism recently, which has made my head hurt a bit. At school I always ended up getting semiotics mixed up with trigonometry, signs, co-signs, signifiers, tangents..etc. It was all Greek to me. No, the reason for thinking about this is the photography project I’m currently working on, and how things don’t actually live up to their perceived image. This presents a bit of a problem when you’re trying to photography the signifier.

So an example of this is say, a picnic. There’s this and then there’s something like this, or even this this.

Now when is eating outside in a public space a ‘picnic’ and not just people sat around eating a bag of crisps on the grass? Because if I’m after an image that says ‘picnic’ then does it have to be hampers and tartan rugs and Champagne? Or can it be carry bags, scotch eggs and Stella?

This is the issue I found myself up against in the butchers the other weekend… Is it butchery enough? Sure there’s meat hanging around and knives going, and the odd moment with a hacksaw; and for me being there there’s the smell and sounds, but is this what a butchers is? Is this the average butchers? The best butchers? A typical butchers? I guess I’ll find out when the film comes back..

I run up this issue in the day job too, here’s what one of my News colleagues has done. IMAGE to illustrate what? That’s right. . . a story about search engines. Here’s another example of one image, many uses Google Image Search results. (Some one in Yorkshire found the filters in Photoshop judging by this.) So does this mean that the BBC has got no decent ballot box pictures? Or that people expect a a ballot box to look a certain way?

Even worse is what we at work refer to as ‘catchphrase’ pictures (as in the Roy Walker hosted show). Look at this example from CNN. That’s right folks, just say what you see… um, a computer, a pixelated woman in her duds, a NO symbol, and the Supreme Court! To paraphrase Roy Walker*, ‘it’s close, but is it right?’

More on this later…

* Factoid Alert: Roy Walker was a champion hammer thrower for Northern Ireland.

PS. Google Image ‘picnic’ and this is the first result, now that’s what I call a spit roast!

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
July 2004

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