Our readings this week explored the ways that an image’s meaning can be influenced by the person viewing the work and the context and format in which they view it. John Walker talks about the impact social and physical contexts have, we are introduced to the work of Martin Parr and the various ways in which he exhibits his images, depending on the message he is trying to get across and finally we are introduced to some novel ways of displaying works of art in peoples houses.

Walker presents two different views and ideologies. One largely held by his students who subscribed to the view that everybody is different and therefore any viewing and understanding of meaning of an image is purely individualistic. Walker on the other hand suggested that although we are all individuals there are various groupings and common views and experiences that make us more homogenous than we think. Ernst Gombrich had this to say:

“A viewer approaches an image not with a blank mind but with a mind already primed with memories, knowledge, prejudices: there is a mental set or context to be taken into account.”


“People have different relations to the same image according to the different places they occupy in society, determined by such factors as gender, race, nationality, class, age, education, kinship, etc”

Following on from the presentation about Martin Parr who uses a range of methods to present his images including large fine art prints, photobooks and even cheap photocopier paper, Walker identifies the many and varied ways in which we can view images, such as newspapers and magazines, billboards, in tube stations, galleries or books.

Images by Martin Parr (2000)

All of these contexts have an impact on how the reader perceives the image. He also makes the inevitable reference to Roland Barthes’s Death of the Author where Barthes suggests that the focus is entirely on the reader and their reception of the image.

Walker uses the example of a wedding photograph as a means of demonstrating how context can determine the way an image is viewed. For example, the family of the bride and groom would have a sentimental (or other) attachment to the image and the day, whereas people stopping to view the photographs displaying in a wedding photographers window might pay more regard to the presentation and approach taken by the photographer in the image.

He also talks about the photographs of Jo Spence taken by Terry Dennet over forty years. He refers specifically to two images of Spence in the Evening Standard both nudes – one as a baby and one as a woman. He suggests that taken out of context and juxtaposed in the way they were, dramatically changed the way in which people perceived them as being sensationalist rather than pictures from a family album.

The learning points for me from this week’s readings is that I must be aware of the different interpretations of my images by others (as far as I can), that their upbringing, experiences and place in society all have an impact, and that the way in which my images are viewed and the location or way in which I present my images will also have an impact on the viewer’s interpretation. I think this is all the more important as I start to take more photojournalistic- type images rather than the pictorial images of the past.


Gombrich, E H (1960) Part Three: The Beholder’s Share, in Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, Phaidon Press, London

Obrist, H and Raza A (2015) Ways of Curating, Penguin, London

 Walker, John. A, (1997) Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning from The Camerawork essays: context and meaning in photography pp.52-63, London: Rivers Oram Press

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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