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Photography Analysis Essay by Jade Leech Infamous photographer, Cindy Sherman once said, “If I knew what the picture was going to be like I wouldn’t make it. It was almost like it was made already… the challenge is more about trying to make what you can’t think of.” Known for her conceptual photographs, where the themes and ideas control the models and props used, Sherman has always raised awareness of the role of women in society and the importance of challenging the stereotypical views. Before I even started my photo shoot, I had to decide whether I wanted the futuristic theme option or to do the iconic route. Inspired by Sherman’s strong view on women empowerment, I decided to choose to do the icon perspective. For my personal interpretation, the future always seems to have silver tones and although this would have been achievable, I wanted to do something more risky and controversial. After choosing to do the iconic theme, I first researched the basic definition of the term “Icon” and all the different icons in history. “An icon is a very famous person or thing considered as representing a set of beliefs or a way of life.” I examined Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. All these women were focused on the typical “pin up” look, which I thought was very predictable and over focused on. I really liked the idea of having my photos with a clear message and realistic view on icons in general. I looked at the idea of creating two versions of the photo, the good and the bad. In my eyes, this would make the themes seem more interesting and more realistic. The idea of “Wonder Woman” came to me after watching Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns film. Having “Catwoman” as the conflicted antagonist and protagonist made me think about having this concept for an iconic female who has always been seen as pure and righteous. Wonder Woman came to mind instantly. To me, she is the epiphany of a female role model and icon. Once I had chosen Wonder Woman as the main icon, I researched the costume look I wanted and how I could make her seem troubled and conflicted. There are hundreds of adaptations of how Wonder Woman looks, so I decided to create the typical look of a “superhero” including a cape. I made all of the outfit myself from scratch, with the help of a very old sowing machine. The fact that I made the outfit with such detail really helped create the right atmosphere that I wanted for the photo shoot. I even included a lasso, which Michelle Pfeiffer as I spray painted gold and a tiara. All these details really helped create Tim Burton’s Catwoman a “heroic” look and I think the costume really made my idea look more professional and created more depth and meaning towards the signifiers. After reading chapters from Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, I definitely understood what I needed to portray in the photos. On page 35, Barthe explains his theory about signifiers and when a person views a photo, a “mask” has been used for it, to somehow exaggerate the original meaning meant for it. Barthe explains that the reason for this is because camera does not capture movement or an atmosphere of a surrounding, so a more obvious and “stereotypical” view much be created to show the viewer a clearer idea of what is happening in the photo. This is what Barthes theory of the signifiers and signified relates to, the fact that certain theories and messages have been purposely inserted into a photograph, gives an image more depth and meaning than just a visual enjoyment for the viewer. For example, a common signifier could be shown in photographer Nan Goldin’s photo below:

Jade Leech

Analysis Essay

Honey Salvadori

Magazine Photography

1 Level 2


This photo is a perfect example of Barthes theory because there are many different signified examples shown in this image. The first signifier in this photo that can also be described as a punctum (something that draws you into a photo instinctively), is the white flower dress worn by the model. Although this image is originally advertising the dress, the fact that there are cigarettes, beer cans and a dark environment surrounding it, helps create a more effective signified meaning. The reason why this image is a perfect example of explaining the meanings of signified and signifiers, is because the stereotypical meanings of the what symbolises the white dress and it’s surroundings, contradicts itself to the extent of creating a more memorable and unique analysis than other photos. The stereotypical thought of a white, flowery dress is usually innocence. This key word helps create an entirely different meaning for a photo that is surrounded by signified adult themed representations. Youth, innocence and vulnerability are being represented in this photo, but it is being mixed with a strong and hard adult environment. When two different meanings and messages are mixed together, it creates a deeper significance for that specific photo. For the photos that I took, I wanted to have the same effect as Nan Goldin’s photography. The fact that two different signified meanings interact with each other creates a larger impact for the viewer. Wonder Woman is a dominate icon for female empowerment and strength, so the angle that I wanted to show through my photography, was a deeper and corrupted point of view. The fact that we see the model dressed as wonder woman with many different signifiers, such as: crying hysterically with make up all down her face while addictively binge eating with sweets and chocolate surrounding her, shows an enormous signified meaning for the viewer. The signifiers in the photos are the chocolate and sweet wrappers surrounding her, the smeared make up and the actual stereotypical wonder woman outfit. These all have strong signified representations connected to them. The first photos that I took were showing the powerful and iconic side of the wonder woman icon. As the photos went on, it developed into an inevitable downfall of her once proud composure and level of her surroundings. The ironic term “fallen hero” can be used to describe the photos and in some way, it is quite relevant to society today, because the manner of how the photos were taken, (using the angles of close up shots and high angle shots) to create a sense of invasion of privacy, similar to how celebrities are surrounded by media paparazzi. It shows the good and “untouched” side of this icon but also the corrupted and depressed side. Barthes developed a theory about how cultural beliefs and historical morals should be changed to be more realistic. I looked at Barthes book Mythologies, to see his detailed definition of his “myth” theory.

Jade Leech

Analysis Essay

Honey Salvadori

Magazine Photography

2 Level 2


"Myth is a peculiar system, in that it is constructed from a semi logical chain which existed before it: it is a second-order semi logical system. That which is a sign (namely the associative total of a concept and an image) in the first system becomes a mere signifier in the second. We must here recall that the materials of mythical speech (the language itself, photography, painting, posters, rituals, objects, etc.), however different at the start, are reduced to a pure signifying function as soon as they are caught by myth" The way that the “myth” theory can be applied to my photos is the way the camera angles are used in very common and popular similar to how the paparazzi shot celebrities. Another way is how the signifier of the box is used to stand on for a higher status, but then the model is on the floor binging on a large amount of food. The fact that the model has nothing to stand on, to create a higher status and significance, shows that she has in some way, been “brought down to our level”. She has nothing to make her appear above us, superior. When the signifier of the box and strong positioned body language is taken away, the “myth” is now achievable because there is nothing reassuring the model to inherit power and status. The definition of the word studium is said to mean the “main message” or point of the photo. To see the studium of my photos, can be interpreted in many different ways; personally I like to think that the photos show a strong female icon, being caught at her moment of weakness, similar to celebrities and their relationship with the paparazzi. Relating back to Barthes theory of “myth”, I included elements of binge eating and depression to the photos, because I think these are realistic and human downfalls that everybody can understand and relate to. The definition of the word icon made it seem almost perfect and flawless, so I think doing a controversial set of photos that show the Wonder woman icon in pain and distress makes the photos more realistic and unique. As a society, we expect that stories about heroes always end up with a happy ending; we never expect to see the “human side” and the vulnerability of a hero and icon. The myth for my photos can be seen as heroic and powerful but the other photos showing the model binge eating and crying can show a myth that represents depression and binge eating. Although food has a lot of stereotypical views on it, I purposely created a negative effect on the model to make it clear that the food being used was a negative signifier. This is a photo taken by photographer Cecy Young; it is using chocolate and sweets to signify innocence and a sense of sophistication. It is a very feminine photo and this shows one side of the myth about this certain stereotype of sweets and chocolate.

Now if you look at chocolate being used as a signifier in this photo, you can see a completely different representation. This photo implies guilt, sadness and gluttony, which, helps reassure Barthes theory on myths and how I have applied specific myths to the iconic photos. “This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the

Jade Leech

Analysis Essay

Honey Salvadori

Magazine Photography

3 Level 2


dice. A photographs punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” Roland Barthes theory about punctum is basically how an aspect of a photograph, captures your interest. There can be many different punctums for one photo, just because different elements appeal to each individual, although some punctums can be more eye-catching than others. For my photos, the punctums can be described as the smeared make up down the models face, the actual wonder woman outfit or the junk food surrounding her. The reason why I describe the smeared make up as an object, is because I think this is such a strong representation of depression and sadness and I think without the pictures being edited at all, the make up would still be such a strong signified message without having to be pointed out in any type of way.

For this specific photo, taken by photographer Thierry Van Biesen, I would say that the main signifiers in this photograph would be the pink stiletto heels and the model in general. The fact that the models body is slightly at an angle while walking down the steps, makes the picture seem quite out of place because she seems to be leaning forward without falling. The angle of the model against the solid building makes the signified meaning suggest that wearing these clothes will make you stand out and appeal so much, that in a way, you are “defying gravity.” Combining the signifiers with the background again, makes the clothes seem more unique and controversial because they are at a horizontal angle. The signs that are used in this photo help reinforce Barthes theory of the “myth” because of the created angle used in this image and the fact that this building has such masculine connotations attached to it helps challenge the myth about female and male stereotypes. For example, men are usually shown as masculine and athletic but women are usually shown as feminine and delicate. The fact that this model is positioned in such an unusual position in front of the large building, contradicts the boundaries that have stereotypically been set for women as a gender. The studium of this photograph could be interpreted as the building cannot move whereas the woman can, which is changing the stereotypical myth of women having certain limitations that men do not have. The clothes are being advertised in a way that gives women freedom and empowerment against her usual surroundings and it can be perceived before this photo, there was no amount of this type of freedom before. The

Jade Leech

Analysis Essay

Honey Salvadori

Magazine Photography

4 Level 2


punctum of this photo again, could be the woman because of the way her body is angled and because the colours stand out against the grey building. I think the punctum for my photos such as the food and outfit, makes the viewer wonder why she is so depressed and miserable when she is a hero adored by millions. The fact that the photos are similar to aggressive paparazzi pictures that invade people’s privacy makes the myth more realistic and relatable to viewers and creates a more complex view on this icon. Instead of just showing a model wearing a costume, I wanted to show a depressed and more believable side to the assignment. I think overall, doing this assignment has really made me understand how many complex layers are actually related to just one photograph. The fact that nothing is placed into a photo shoot without there being a specific purpose and meaning to it, shows how many different theories are necessary when analysing a photo. My personal interpretation of Wonder woman as an icon is really inspired by real life icons that suffered with insecurity issues and overall depression behind closed doors, such as Marilyn Monroe and Edie Sedgwick. I don’t like the thought of an icon or anyone being completely perfect and content with themselves everyday. I know that many people see celebrities and icons as god like, which I think is a very untrue comparison. Exposing an icons weakness and vulnerable state, creates a much more unique and memorable photograph than just “pretty” poses to show their appearance.

Jade Leech

Analysis Essay

Honey Salvadori

Magazine Photography

5 Level 2

Photgraphy Essay  

This is an essay about the Wonder Woman photography I made, it anaylses different theories to do with photography.

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