Visual Communications


Terry Barrett

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This weeks task was to evaluate two images within the theoretical framework of Terry Barrett’s system of criticising photographs.


This refers to an image whose job it is is to show something ‘as is’. It could be argued that every photo and no photo is a descriptive one, in that all photography is interpretive; by both photographer and viewer. However, some photographers have tried to take a purist approach when it comes to capturing images, like Walker Evans for example. Evans held the notion that “A still photograph is the illusion of a literal description, of how a camera saw a piece of time and space… I like to think of photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium by letting it do what it does best, describe. And respect for the subject by describing it as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both.” Aperture, 112 (Millerton, New York: 1988), p. 53. This image below could be seen as simply the church structure that it is, or it can be taken as an example and commentary on the nature of life, religion and race in the south of the United States and all that that invokes and embodies. I suppose it could easily fit into the ethically evaluative category as well; it’s all about interpretation.


Negro Church, South Carolina. Walker Evans, 1936

Ethically evaluative
This refers to an image that makes an ethical judgement in some way about something. This image from 2008 by Jose Cendon shows a boy in a feeding camp in Ethiopia.


Jose Cendon, 2008

This image appeared in the UK Guardian and within this context it’s intent was to evoke feelings of compassion and empathy for the subject as a commentary on the current state of famine in Ethiopia at the time. As Barrettes explains, images such as this one attempt to instil a certain feeling or desire for feeling from the photographer or publication, rather than serve a purely descriptive purpose.


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