Positions and Practice PHO710 Topic 4: READING PHOTOGRAPHS

Updated: Sep 4

Shaun Parkes MA Student

Jesse, the course leader, led the group in considering an image entitled 'Taliban, 2001' by the French photographer, Luc Delahaye.

So how do we read photographs? A simple answer to an easy question, right?

Well, no, not at all.

We were asked to look at the image "Taliban, 2001" which depicts an apparently dead Talib fighter, laying on his back, no shoes, with a wound to his neck. We were asked to consider the image; what could we glean from it, what did we know from it, and what were the photographer's intentions?

The image was shot in colour, in large format and landscape. The victim had an apparent wound to the left side of his neck, either a gunshot wound or more likely a knife wound, which prompted some discussion as to whether it was a combat death or an execution.

So we were asked to view the photograph and say what we saw. Answers included -

Dead guy.

Dead Taliban fighter.

Is he actually dead?

He's got no shoes on.

The photographer has created a fine art image out of a death of a human.

It's staged.He's been dragged into position.

He's got a chest rig on (holds ammunition / magazines, grenades etc).

Looks like he was shot in the neck.

Actually looks like a knife wound not a gunshot wound.

Was he killed in the ditch or the body dumped there.

There's not much blood, was he killed there? And so on......

How did we feel?

Sorrow for the loss of life.

Glad it was a Taliban and not one of my mates who served.

Sadness for his family.

Anger that the photographer has created art out of this violent death.

A waste of a young life.

What do we KNOW from the image?

Absolutely nothing in isolation. Everything could have been staged to steer us to a pre-determined conclusion by the photographer.

We can infer a lot from the photograph, but without further information we can not be certain of anything.

The lessons I learned from this are ;-

Don't let your own preconceptions inform what you see;

Look at the whole image; the content, the framing and composition, the negative space; the size of the print, is it mounted, has it been framed:

Look at what ISN'T there as well as what is there;

Work out what the photographer's intent was- what do they want you to feel / see?

FEEL the image - how does it make you feel?

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