Deconstruction 2

Having reached the end of my ‘Deconstruction’ studies I can can now break down the elements even further.


The French Philosopher Jacques Derrida coined the term ‘Deconstruction’ and beleived language to be polysemous.  He thought that to understand how something is made, you have to take it apart before putting it back together.

In photography language the tools for deconstruction were produced by Roland Barthes, through his study of semiotics.  In this study of signs of language that, Barthes provied us with the terms and tools that can be helpful in interpreting photos.

Using the above advert as a focus point, I have deconstructed it as follows:


Signifiers (whats in the photo)

A baby dressed in pink in a ballerina pose looking towards the sky.

An adult ballerina mimicking the pose.

A baby’s nursery.

A blue teddy bear.

A blue footstool.

Product images with nutrition information.

Signified (what it means)

A healthy start in life provided by Aptamil with aspirations of becoming a ballerina.  The baby is pointing to the milk with her toes suggesting its what she wants.  She is also looking and pointing towards the sky meaning the sky’s the limit with this formula.

Aptamil helps the baby become a professional ballerina who’s healthy, fit and happy.

A milky coloured nursery full of milky dreams.

The blue bear placed next to the cot reiterates this milk is also for boys.  The blue footstool is sending the male message across whilst offering support to a vulnerable new walker.

Its a healthy formula and full of all those important nutrients.

Denotation (objective translation)

A baby of standing age in a ballerina pose with an adult ballerina in the background. Both situated in a baby’s nursery with baby formula shown and text saying ‘Their future starts today’.

Connotation (subjective interpretation)

If the baby drinks this formula she can be healthy and strong enough to fulfil her dreams.

Punctum (disrupting elements)

The UK Law prohibits advertising and promotion of infant formula only (marketed for use from birth). Follow-on formula (marketed for use from 6 months of age) and milks for older babies can be advertised and promoted – BUT this must not cross-promote infant formula through similar branding or by it not being obvious the product is for older babies.

This advert states that breast milk is best for your baby, in contrast some of the products made by Aptimil.

Stadium (cultural, political and social meaning)

This is a baby who lives in a nice home and is cared for.  She has nice furnishings in her room which suggests that the consumers of Aptamil formula are working/middle class families.  The advert also suggests this baby was breast fed up to six months old in line with the governments efforts to promote the benefits of breastfeeding.  The furnishings look quite neutral but predominantly British or of a Western Culture.  We can see beyond this frame and imagine the family of this baby with a professional father and caring mother.

Intertexuality (individual perception)

Memories and experiences of my own upbringing and bringing up my own children will will fill in all the gaps in this advertisement.  I can picture mum and baby going to baby yoga classes and being strapped into the latest car seat of the latest mpv to get them there.  The baby smells of Johnsons baby powder and her clothes all smell of it too.  All these things from my own experiences filling in the gaps of the story even though they’re not present.



I found this advertisement in BBC Good Food magazine and chose it because it’s not a typical ‘good food’ item.  The mere nature of using BBC good food magazine for this product is suggestive of a good quality food product.


This particular product (not the brand) has a caveat of advertising restrictions due to the governments promotion of breastmilk for newborn babies.  Currently in the Uk the guidelines for advertising formula milk are:

The UK Law prohibits advertising and promotion of infant formula only (marketed for use from birth). Follow-on formula (marketed for use from 6 months of age) and milks for older babies can be advertised and promoted – BUT this must not cross-promote infant formula through similar branding or by it not being obvious the product is for older babies.

Despite this law I can see a less obvious sign of promoting formula for newborns within the photograph.

A neutral background was used which is typical of the colour choice of expectant parents who don’t know the gender of their unborn baby.  This is a contradiction to the product on offer ‘follow on’ milk’.  The colour of the room suggests a product in readiness for a newborn baby.  As subtle as this suggestion is, it’s still there.  We can see small print at the bottom of the page in line with the UK Law of ensuring it’s clear that the advertisement is strictly for older babies.  What do you see first?  The neutral suggestive colours or the small print?

When deconstructing the elements of the photograph in greater detail I noted the following:

  • Although the background is neutral, the baby is suggestive of a girl.  This image isn’t very clear but she’s actually wearing pink, the ballerina is pink and also the netting on the cot is pink.  This is consistent with the story and could be in danger of creating a female brand.  To counteract this blue items have been added, and are more prominent so they’re noticed,  and there seems to be a gender balance.
  • The story is about a little baby girl who starts to dance like a ballerina and with the help of ‘Aptamil’ her health and good start in life she will fulfil her dreams.
  • The babies head an hand are pointing to the sky suggesting ‘the sky is the limit’.
  • The adult ballerina is a picture of health (thanks to aptamil), physically fit, very happy, successful.
  • The story is strengthened by making the adult ballerina opaque suggesting she’s not real but a representation of the future meaning the baby has aspirations.
  • In case were not clear on whats making the baby so healthy and lively, her toes are pointing to the product in the advertisement.

Theres a lot going on in that advert but ultimately it’s promoting a good quality product for babies to make them healthy and turn them into fit, happy and successful adults.

Elliott Erwitt – Dogs

Elliott erwit 4Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974

The first things that me about this composition is the symmetry.  It makes full use of the rule of thirds in both horizontal and vertical.  I can almost picture a measured grid with an important element in each square.  It has a good equal balance and is very pleasing to look at.

Erwitt has chosen to shoot this scene from the viewpoint of the dog with places him (the dog) as the main focus.  From Erwitt’s introduction to his book Dog Dogs, he says that his images are “not pictures of dogs but pictures with dogs in them” and this is evident when we look at what is also included in the frame.  Next to the dogs is two pairs of legs, similar in size and equally spaced apart.  Its takes a while to see that the legs on the left are of another dog and the balance is suddenly even more symmetrical.

Whats interesting with this crop is that we can start to imagine what sits beyond the frame due to the clues given within it.  We can see a pair of dogs front legs but his body and hind legs must be attached even though we can’t see them.  It’s a big dog too, do people see him from their natural eye level and fuss him first before noticing theres a small dog way down there, close to the ground.  The look on the little dogs face is quite telling as he’s looking directly down the camera lens in a quizzical way as if to say, ‘what you are doing down here, this is my world’, adding humour to the narrative.

The way this image is structured makes me think that the story is about how dogs live and how they see things, almost like they live in a different world to humans.  Of course the size of the dog alters their perspective so theres an endless stream of variations.  With a dog so small Erwitt would have had to lie flat on his stomach to gain the perspective of his little world.

What links this little dog to the human world?  His clothing of course.  Dogs have fur to keep them warm however this little dog is wearing a hat and coat.  It’s clever to see that Erwitt has include the bottom part of the ladies coat in the frame too which gives them a connection.  This also gives more of the story away too as it indicates it was cold and we can start to imagine at what time of year this photograph was taken.  Does the big dog also have a hat and coat on?  Thats left to our imagination.

Expression and communication

I’ve been asked to think of any photographs that aren’t used as a means of expression or communication.

I immediately decided that such photographs can’t exist.  I have undertaken a similar exercise previously in the guise of discussing objective photography and even then concluded that this cannot exist.  For a photograph to be taken it requires an action and actions are born from responses to feelings or emotions.

I feel the same about the subject of a photograph without expression or communication.  If we look at non art types of photographs then were we have candid, commercial and radio graphical to name a few however, they all have something to say within them.  Theres a communication between photograph and viewer.  The viewer is gaining information from a photograph no matter what it’s subject matter.  The only photograph I can think of that doesn’t communicate or express anything is a blank one.

Assignment Three : Self-Portrait

I wrote a diary over two weeks and it said nothing about me.  It was basically a list of chores I do every day in my role as a mother.  This gave me the idea to base my self portrait on a subject I’ve been battling for years and that is, ‘loosing my identity’.  Making the transition from having a great career into becoming a full time wife and mother has been an eye opening experience.  I used to be the face of an entire team of professionals but now I feel completely faceless.

Over time I have become unrecognisable.  Power dressing has been replaced with bleach ridden jeans and sweaters.  Nights out are too exhausting to organise.  Adult conversations have become few and far between.  I talk to the dog so much he always knows my next move.  Passion for music has diminished with the desire for peace and quiet.  Slowly but surely my identity as I knew it has slipped away and been replaced with fatigued robot.  My identity that had naturally evolved with me is becoming a distant memory, even my name has changed!

People see who I am now and not what I used to be.  I struggle with this because I’m an evolution, I’ve been educated, I’ve travelled, I’ve achieved, all these things make up who I am.

A close friend told me they were jealous that I got to ‘potter’ around the house all day as a housewife.  In reality I run the house, look after the children, look after my husbands business finances, run a photography studio, make handmade jewellery and study Photography.  However, I’m seen as pottering.

The faceless feeling is carried throughout my journal entitled ‘A change of scenery’.

I wrote this journal whilst on a family holiday as I wanted to show that it’s not just a normal day to day issue, it follows me around.  A holiday to me is no longer a holiday, full of relaxation, fun and frolics.  It’s just a change of scenery, hence the title.

The journal is made up of a written diary with accompanying photographs.  The photographs are either auto biographical or self absent but never with my face on display.  Omitting my face is my way of getting across the feeling of being faceless.  The individual photographs themselves are a reaction to a feelings I’m having relating to identity loss.  Each photograph is captioned to give a hint to the feeling that spurred its being.  Whilst doing this I’m giving clues to my true identity, the personality that resides inside.

‘A Change of Scenery’





Nigel Shafran


‘CC I was wondering about this with the Washing-up 2000 series because it is such a simple subject, almost too simple. I wondered if the series is an example of where it wasn’t a concept when you started but a close-by subject that developed into something

NS It’s a very close-by subject and a lot of my work and the subjects I choose are because of this. It’s what I know.

CC These are photographs of things that only you saw and inpart that means that these inanimate objects read like a diary of the events of your life – of what you eat, who you meet, what these places look like.

NS Sometimes I see old photographs and what’s interesting to me are the things on the edges that are not meant to be there -the soap packet, the bit of litter, the things that we can relate to and hold that everydayness. I like it when something has been photographed in a simple way.

CC I’m very suspicious of the idea of ‘non-subjects’ in photography, I don’t think there are such things. As in the case ofWashing-up 2000, there are subjects that are not very obviously subjects until they are photographed, regardless of whether that was the intention of the photographer or not. There is a feeling that the significance of our lives is implanted in these subtle and everyday occurrences.’

Nigel Shafran and Charlotte Cotton interview  [2004 ]

nigel shafranFig 1. Washing-up (2000)

Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? why?

Was this question written by a man?  The question is implying that wash-up is a woman’s subject and therefore the viewer may be surprised to find that it is the work of a man.  That certainly isn’t my thought at all.  I’m wondering if the photographs are viewed in a different way because they are taken by a man?  I’m trying to think back to my first thoughts when initially viewing the above photograph and I was trying to find the artistic merit.  This didn’t come until viewing ‘washing-up’ as a complete project when I could see the shifting changes of time.  The tinsel, a subtle indication of christmas time.  I didn’t assign a gender to the subject of ‘washing up’ in my initial thoughts and I wasn’t surprised to learn it was the idea of a male photographer, I see it as genderless.

In your opinion, does gender contribute to the creation of an image?

I’d like to think that gender isn’t a contributing factor as we are all capable of the same things whether they are physical or emotional, we are all capable.  However, society has assigned these roles to specific genders, women deal with emotions and men deal with physical aspects.  This notion can be further encouraged by the elements so far studied in this section of the course.  We’ve looked at Francesca Woodman, Elina Brotherus, Gillian Wearing, Trish Morrissey, Nikki S. Lee, Tracey Moffatt and I’ve written a feature on Dita Pepe.  All female photographers or artists who’s works are a response to feelings and emotions they’ve experienced with the exception of our opening autobiographical self portraiture feature of a former OCA student.  Keith Greenough’s self portrait shows three images of himself in the same pose, same background with different identifying clothing which as a series culminates into the fact he is an ironman.  This leads me onto a male stereotypical representation as in Greenough’s self portrait the only other male, Nigel Shafran has chosen to photograph ‘experiences’ i.e. washing-up, a physical representation of an experience.

I would say that women are more open and don’t have the emotional restrictions that most men seem to suffer.  More women photographers expose their inner most thoughts through their photography than men do but thats not to say it doesn’t happen.  Charles Latham created a series of photos that showed him harming himself and posted them online causing a string of heated debates.  This was in response to a relationship breakup which evoked such strong emotions to want to photograph the harm and expose himself to the world.  This resulted in a project ‘Cyrus’ in 2006, where Latham included an alter ego in his self portraits which represented his self loathing.

Fig 2. Cyrus (2006)

So in response to the original question, I don’t see how gender plays a specific role in catergorising photographers work.  As with all art it’s an expression of the individual and  not their given labels.

Gender can be used as an advantage in certain genres and in that case will contribute to the creation of an image but not always.

What does this series achieve by not including people?

When we view portraits we tend to judge the person based on how they look and the environment they are in.  By removing people from the washing up series were able to look more at the inanimate objects for clues on the narrative.  It gives us the ability to make some unbiased deductions about the person or people who are washing up.  For instance we’r not making assumptions on how old these people are but instead where looking at how they live, what do they eat and drink, what other clues are present to suggest an occasion or activity.  Without people present we are forced to look deeper and use our imaginations until we decide what the photograph is about.

Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

I wouldn’t really think of the washing up series as still life compositions due to the nature of the activity.  Washing up piled up indicates life, someone used the dishes, someone put them there, someone washed up and they’re waiting to be put away.  The photo taking is bringing life to the mundane and telling a story about what happens in that space.  As a series the shifting changes of washing up, different day, different lighting, different crockery, gives the illusion of things moving, objects be put away and different ones used.  I don’t see anything still about the series at all.

Fig 1. Shafran,N. (2000) washing-up At (Accessed) 23/05/17.

Fig 2. Latham, C. (2006) Cyrus At (Accessed 24/5/17.)

Nikki S. Lee

Nikki S. Lee’s ‘Projects’ (2011) saw her transform herself into members of different social and ethnic groups where she explores the way photographs represent our relationships with other people.

Fig 1. Hip hop, Hispanic and Seniors

In the above images from Lee’s projects you can see that she the extent of the transformations and her ability to infiltrate different ethnic groups and seamlessly fit in. What’s interesting is how she’s chosen to use snapshots, even including the date on the photographs to backup the validity of the ‘snapshot’ theme.  Also it’s important to note that Lee doesn’t physically take the photograph herself, this is done by a member of the group who doesn’t have any photographic experience.

Lee herself has never claimed to be a photographer but explains that she uses photographs as her medium for her projects.

‘Just because I use the photographic medium, that does not mean I am a photographer.  I am not talking about a hierarchy between photography and art.  I can be a photographer or an artist, whatever really.  I use photography now but that does not mean I will forever…….’
Nikki S. Lee
(Bright, S. 2010:41)

Bright, S. (2010) Art Photography Now. London: Thames and Hudson