For this exercise I will be using the following image:
Haworth Churchyard (1945)
Inventory List – make a list of all you see – animal, vegetable, and mineral in the picture
Trees, houses, roofs and chimneys, sky, church building, stained glass window, gravestones and tombstones, a closed gate, grass, writing on gravestones, evidence of recent rain.
Composition – Actively notice the picture’s elements. How do the individual parts contribute to or distract from the picture as a whole?
Over half of the image is dominated by a “chequer board” of gravestones that reflect evidence of recent rainfall on their surfaces. About two thirds of the way back trees emerge from between the gravestones with the church and other residential buildings in the background behind the branches of the trees. The camera angle is reasonably low although high enough to see the writing on the foreground gravestone and give perspective on the trees and buildings behind.
Visual Cues – Study the visual cues of colour, form, depth and movement within the image. Note how they interact and conflict. How are colours used?
There is great depth in the image given by a narrow aperture focusing from front to back. The reflected light (from a recent rain storm) on the tombstones contributes to the depth of the picture. The glimpse of the church and other buildings in the background also helps to enhance the depth. The gravestone at the front of the image provides foreground interest and helps to lead the viewer into the photograph.
Gestalt Laws – how does the visual communication theory of gestalt contribute to the understanding of the image?
The geometric shapes of the “chequer board” of tombstones provide various routes into the image and the trees in the mid ground and buildings in the background all give the image its depth.
Semiotic Signs and Codes – What are any iconic, indexical, and symbolic signs that can be identified in the image?
The gravestones and tombstones are a symbol of death and the church in the background provide a religious context to the image. The dark black and white rendition adds to the sense of mystery and foreboding. The shut gates in the background close any sense of escape from the scene.
Cognitive Elements – How do the cognitive concepts of memory, projection, expectation, selectivity, habituation, salience, dissonance, culture and words contribute to the image’s understanding?
The graveyard setting and its dark treatment may lead the viewer to recall loved ones no longer with them, previous visits to gravesides or childhood attendance at church. The scene gives a sense of “English-ness” and a quintessential rural village. It is provides a sense of history given the apparent age of the stones in the image and raises questions about the people the stones denote and the lives they might have led. What did they do, where did they live, what sort of family did they come from?
Purpose of the Work – Where do you think the picture was made? What do you think is the image’s purpose? Is it news, art, scientific, a personal snapshot, or some other type of image?
My sense is that the photograph was taken in the north of England and would have formed part of a lifelong project of Brandt’s to capture the English landscape and way of life.
Image Aesthetics – Is there anything about the image that makes it particularly compelling to look at? Does it have formal and/or creative elements that make it particularly beautiful?
This image to me is very compelling. In many ways it is a record of rural village life but the angle that the tombstones have been captured and the geometric layout of the stones come together into an image that is very creative. This has been enhanced still further by the dark rendition and huge sense of depth created through a strong sense of foreground, middle ground and background interest. The light falling on the tombstones is a strong aspect of this image made even more striking because of the recent rainfall confirmed by the darkness of the sky over the buildings.
Revisiting visual analysis has been very useful particularly as I am now at the stage of choosing the images I wish to put in my Work in Progress portfolio for the Surfaces and Strategies module. It is also a useful reminder when evaluating other photographers’ work and trying to contextualise my own photographic practice.
Lister, P M (2012), “Visual Analysis” in Visual Communication: Images and Messages, Cengage
I have visited this churhyard a few times and shall be there again in a few weeks time. Haworth is celebrating the bicentenary of Emily Bronte’s birth who lived at the parsonage and a heroine of Barbara’s. It was good to read your analysis of Bill Brandt’s image, a view I have pondered and now reading your blog will see it soon in a different light.
Thank you for your comments. It would be great if you could try a bit of re-photography by trying to retake Bill Brandt’s image.