Week 8 - Exploring Contexts

The context in which an image is shown greatly affects the interpretation of the image by a viewer as well as the meanings assigned to that image. An image seen via a social media platform like Instagram I feel is seen very quickly, a viewer may spend no more than a few seconds looking at it. Whereas an image in an art gallery invites viewers to spend longer amounts of time viewing, and reviewing, an image.

To date I have really only shared my images via Instagram as I felt they were not worth sharing via a dedicated website or in any other format. I felt that by using this method it was “ok” if they weren’t the best subject matter or technically good images as “it’s only Instagram”, and the value associated to an Instagram image doesn’t need to be high. The fear of inviting criticism from others prevented sharing them in any other way.

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I’ve recently visited several photographic exhibitions; “The Radical Eye from The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection” exhibit at the Tate Modern and the “Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize” at the National Portrait Gallery – both in London; the “Diane Arbus In the Beginning” and the “Japanese Photography from Postwar to Now” exhibits at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in California; and the “American Photographs” and Robert Frank exhibits in the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, USA.

I was struck by the diversity not only of subject matter but also scale of the images on display – some postcard sized and some poster sized to fill a wall. I suspect that this was partly due to some much older pictures having only been made in a small size, but more recent images I wonder whether the size of the image was a conscious choice. One image in particular, a portrait by Richard Avedon of a former slave named William Casby, was printed so large it filled a wall. It really made you look at it and as a viewer, the larger than life size forced you to really look at the lines on his face and wonder about the look in his eyes. It was powerful and emotional to view and for me this was in part due to the size of the image. I wonder whether it would have had such an impact if I’d seen it for the first time in a smaller size or in a photobook rather than on a gallery wall.

Something my husband said to me in the Portland Art Museum when we were looking at another of the images on display, was that he liked the picture we were looking at and he thought it was good, and that “it must be good if it’s in a museum”. I don’t recall the photo we were looking at but his words did make me think about the effect a photo being displayed has. Someone at one point thought that image should be displayed so do viewers automatically consider it as a good piece of work and as something valuable? I wonder if the general public are less critical of a photo displayed in a museum or gallery because they feel they are being told it is good, therefore it must be good, and the image is then something to look at and enjoy but not really think about? It also made me think about my images and whether because I’ve taken them I can’t view them objectively, I only see flaws in my work and can’t help but compare it to other work – so maybe it is time to put my work out there and see what other people think…..good or bad?

I felt so inspired on my recent travels by the new places I was visiting that I did make quite a few images – including the ones in this post - that I actually do want to share so a dedicated website for my images is on the way……link TBC!

UPDATE 01May2017: I did create a website for my images and it turned into this one (sophiebradleyphotography.com). I later moved all my CRJ posts from the old site to this one, partly so I could just have one place to work in, and partly as I found this hosting site easier to work with.