Photographic Codes

"Nobody takes the same picture of the same thing"

~ Susan Sontag

I will begin this section by looking at another small, but complex question. Is a photograph, "a message without a code" as Roland Barthes mentioned, or is there a distinct code present therein? I disagree with Barthes in this instance, as I stronly believe that there exists a code evident in photography. In order to identify the photographic code, we must look at the various purposes for taking photographs.

During the process of taking photographs, these purposes are the prime factors in determining the code of the photographic message. Below is a further explanation of these purposes:

~ Making a Record

Making a record, is one of the most popular purposes for the photographic medium. The photographer decides that what he sees and perceives, and determines what is recorded. The photographer follows this purpose - recording - thus photographing events or processes. The final product, is therefore a record of the photographer's initial interpretation of the event or process. A good example of making a record, is the collection of photographs by both Frank Jump, and David Modell found on the picture-page of this study.

Frank H. Jump photographs the building at different seasons, to record the changes that the seasons bring about. He is thus recording a process. David Modell on the other hand is recording social conditions in a particular time period in history. He is recording an event.

~ Aesthetic Reasons

The photographer might take a photograph because he found the subject to be especially aesthetically appealing, or interesting. For example, he might have found the moment to be beautiful [Dr. Daniel Chandler, Notes on Visual perception and Susan Sontag]. On the picture-page, we can again find examples of this. Again the photographs by Frank H. Jump serve as examples of the aesthetic purpose. Jump not only photographs the building and the seasonal changes, but also the advertisements which are painted on the walls of the building. The beauty of these rustic images becomes the photographer's purpose of capturing them as he sees, and perceives them.

~ Self-Expression

The photographer might have taken a photograph because it describes feelings at the time or during the situation. Most of us take photographs of our loved ones, our pets, precious objects, or objects of desire. Whatever the subject may be from time to time, the photograph will always remind the photographer of the object, time, or event.

Photography as a means of self-expression produces an image that is completely individual to the photographer. The resulting image represents the extent of the photographer's feelings while he captures the moment for eternity. The photojournalistic photographs taken by New Yorker Neil Garcia - the photographs of the homeless man named Charlie - are such representations. With these photographs, Garcia expresses his feelings on homelessness ans so the photographs are self-expressive.

~ Persuasion

The photographer may take the photograph in order to persuade his or her audience about something. The intended persuasion can be anything really, maybe political, social, or commercial purposes. In the photograph of the inventor of carskates, the photographer attempts to persuade an audience of possible consumers that the invention is something that they need and can use easily. Not that people really need car skates mostly [unless they are unable to move a car without rolling it], but the photograph may add credibility to the product.

After taking into consideration the purpose for the photograph, the photographer must then decide on how to take the photograph in order to achieve the purpose. The photographer must also take into consideration photographic codes - factors, considerations, and actions which will help form the right image. According to semnioticians, these are the factors which will help in reading the photograph.

These codes include, type [genre], camerawork [lens focus, aperture, exposure, composition, shot size, angle], film [quality, type, colour], and lighting. [Dr. Daniel Chandler, Notes on Semniotics and Photography]

When the codes and their purposes meet and compliment each other, the image has a message with a unique and distinct code of interpretation directly from the artist - in this case a photographer.

Part 3

Introduction To Media Theory ~ University of Wales, Aberystwyth