Research Point: Changing an images Context

12th March 2021

Now look back at your personal archive of photography and try to find a photograph to illustrate one of the aesthetic codes discussed in Project 2… find a photo with a depth of field that ‘fits’ the code you’ve selected. Add a playful word or title that ‘anchors’ the new meaning.

OCA EYV (2014)

I’m inclined to think that there is no such thing as a photojournalistic image, only a photojournalistic use of an image.

Campany, D. OCA EYV (2014)

David Campany’s quote above gives thought to how a photographic image can be used and manipulated into fitting into a specific subject matter. A photograph can be taken to illustrate a narrative of a specific situation, a story, but it is how that photograph is presented, where it is presented, whether there is a title or accompanying text that steers the viewer to read the images content in a specific way. An image can be manipulated into being read contrasting to what the photographer intended it to.

In this research point we are asked to illustrate this concept. We are asked to look through our photographic archives and choose an image that is able to illustrate one of the aesthetic codes that we have researched within part 2 of this course which looks at depth of field. Once selected we are to manipulate and change the images narrative by assigning a word or a title to the chosen image which will give new meaning, a new narrative to the visual content.

Image 1: Sunflower seeds

This first image is taken at Hall Place and Gardens in the London Borough of Bexley in the UK. The image shows how I focused on dead sunflower seeds which are laying on the decaying sunflower head. I kept them in sharp focus while everything else is blurred so that they are the focal point. This shot is part of a series that was looking at the plant life in the gardens and their changes from the Summer to Autumn seasons.

To re-invent this images meaning I changed the context by firstly presenting it away from the other images in the series and by giving it a title. The title does two things to alter the perception of the images context. Firstly and most importantly the title is written in Chinese. Although this is connected with the title’s meaning the majority of viewers will now begin to associate the content with China and not the United Kingdom and begin to question it.

The Chinese title translates into ‘Bad Luck’. It was chosen because the sunflower is a positive symbol for good luck in the Chinese culture. Here I was playing on the meaning of a dead sunflower that has lost it’s life and aesthetics and has become worthless. These attributes are sad and negative and bad luck represents the loss of the sunflower which cannot live any longer. Bad luck is the opposite of good luck as death is the opposite of life.

Therefore the image now has a new meaning due to the title and the connotations that it brings with it. The only problem is though, looking at it with fresh eyes, if you do not know the connection with the Chinese belief although the written title in Chinese is a hint, you will not understand the reference to the word ‘luck’ in the title.

‘Bad Luck’
The Sunflower Seed

Image 2: Sunken boat and Image 3: Safety rails

Both image number 2 and image number 3 were taken at the seaside town, now my home town, of Lowestoft, Suffolk. To change these images meaning I have presented them under one title which is ‘The Expectation of Freedom’.

Image number 2 is a photograph of safety rails on one of Lowestoft piers. These rails keep people from climbing down onto the breakwater rocks or vice versa, climbing onto the pier from the rocks. The image shows the rail structure which is on the pier wall, the rocks and the sea. The sea in the image links to image number 3 which is a sunken boat in Lake Lothing which runs into the sea.

By adding the sea into both images we are connecting them visually and by presenting them under the same title we are confirming that they are a diptych, they both belong to the same narrative.

The narrative has changed from snaps taken on a family walk to a stronger narrative connected with expectations of freedom. The questions that the viewer may ask will be involved around, for example,

  • Who has these expectations?
  • What are the expectations?
  • What expectations in freedom?
  • Whose freedom?
  • Who did the boat belong to?
  • Why has it sunk?
  • Why has it been left in the sea broken?
  • How is the boat connected with freedom?
  • Did someone escape to freedom on the boat?
  • Was somebody trying to escape to freedom and they were stopped?
  • Did the passengers make it to freedom?
  • Why are the railings on the wall by the sea?
  • Are the rails keeping people in or out?

If we look at the plight of illegal immigrants that are looking for freedom and using the sea to get to the UK from France or their homeland these photographs could be part of their narrative. Many boats sink and break apart during the escapes from war torn lands, from desolation, poverty and danger. Is this boat one of the less fortunate?

The questions are endless. If these images were presented within a newspaper with this title, apart from the local people of Lowestoft who know these sights, the images could easily be passed off as reporting the journey of immigrants to the UK.

The Expectation of Freedom

As we see from the three examples above ‘…there is no such thing as a photojournalistic image, only a photojournalistic use of an image.’ Campany, D. OCA EYV (2014).


  • Campany, D. (Online) OCA EYV (2014). (Accessed 13.03.21)

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