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Guidelines for analysing photographs.

Write down the following information:    

Name of the photographer Date of the work. Name of the work or series of work. Genre – e.g. Documentary, Fine Art, Editorial.

Research a little about the photographer and their work You could do this after you analyse the work and then alter your writing if you discover anything about the artist, their techniques or intentions that change your interpretation or ideas about their work. Describe the subject of the photograph in detail, including the main and secondary elements.

Where When





This photograph shows an elegant looking woman wearing a long coat, a hat and high heeled shoes. She is standing by the corner of a brick wall in what looks like a street in a French town at night. There are shops behind her with signs written in French and the lines of the paving stones on the ground can be seen fairly clearly..…………………….

Discuss the lighting in the photograph: Direction

Quality (hard or soft) Intensity

High key / Low key Natural /Artificial

Dim / Bright

This is a very low key photograph with mainly dark tones, it was clearly taken at night. The light is coming from behind and to the left of the woman, this can be deduced from the shadow of her form that is cast in front of her and to her right. The shadow is very hard edged which indicates that the light is probably from a street lamp. The light is rim lighting the edge of the woman’s head and shoulder creating a dramatic effect. The pavement is bathed in light with the highest contrast between shadows and highlights being the woman’s lower body and legs. There are other areas of high contrast which draw the viewer’s eye to different areas of the image…………

Discuss the techniques used: Camera

Film / Digital ISO Shutter speed




Colour / Monochrome

This photograph would have been shot on monochrome black and white film using a large format camera. A fairly fast shutter speed must have been used to avoid motion blur although if the woman stood extremely still a shutter speed of around 1/30 second or even slower would have been possible. It is likely that Brassai used a tripod to avoid camera shake, especially as the large format camera he used would have been very heavy. There is a fairly great depth of field in this photograph which means that Brassai must have used a smallish aperture, possibly f11 – f16. This would not have let in much light so a slower shutter speed would have been used to allow sufficient light in to form the image. A ‘fast’ film with a high ISO, e.g. 1600 was probably used as this would be sensitive enough to record the image in this dark environment…………………..

Discuss the composition of the photograph: Balance Harmony Focus

Depth of Field

Discord Repetition Quality



‘Rule of thirds’







The composition of the photograph looks as though it has been carefully considered and probably staged. The ‘rule of thirds’ has been used with the woman placed on the vertical third on the right hand

side of the picture. The main subject, the woman is balanced on the left hand side of the image by the white reflections in the shop windows to the top right hand side of the image. The use of lines in this photograph is important: the converging lines of the brickwork, paving, shadow and shop kerb and signs all help to draw the viewer towards the woman who stands at the corner of a right-angle created by the foreground horizontal paving line and the brick wall vertical line.……………

Interpret the mood / meaning of the piece: Ambiguity


Link composition and technique to meaning

The woman’s identity is hidden through the use of backlighting which emphasises the femininity of her legs and feet. The lighting with deep, hard shadows is reminiscent of early ‘Film Noir’ cinema in which the woman was often portrayed as a dangerous ‘femme fatale’ or as vulnerable and in need of the care of a man. Brassai would have taken this photograph at around the same time. Her face cannot be seen as she is turning away from the camera and she appears alone. At the time this photograph was taken it is likely that not many women, other than prostitutes would have been out on their own at night. The shop signage makes it clear that this is France and the staining on the pavement suggests a gritty, urban, possibly run down environment which ties in with the interpretation that this is a prostitute waiting on a street corner. The rich, deep tones that hide detail emphasise the mysterious element of prostitution rather than leading the viewer to a moral reading of the image. The woman stands very close to a deeply shadowed area of the scene giving her a way to disappear out of view, invisibility is just one step away but what dangers might she face if she were to turn the corner.……………………

Could the image raise any equality diversity or inclusion issues: Gender


Religion / Belief


Sexual orientation

This image could raise questions about the portrayal of women. If the photograph showed a man alone at night on a street corner would the viewer think that he might be a prostitute or in danger? On the other hand, the fact that the woman is alone at night in the city could be seen as a positive representation and that she is an independent woman enjoying the same freedom as men.

Analysing artists guide with image and e and d  
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