Research Point 1


We were asked to read chapter 4 of the Charlotte Cotton Book The Photograph as Contemporary Art, I read and reviewed this book when I was studying The Art of Photography, but in deference to the course module I picked it back of the shelf and sat reading it armed with a set of highlighters and a note pad.

The second pass was far easier than the first time, having learned a lot since that first pass the book made far more sense this time although it still seemed like a relentless torrent of photographers with a very light touch on their practice, I see this as a good resource for gathering the names of photographers in context, but as students we need to pick each one up and take a deeper look at their work. (Cotton, 2014)

The chapter headed Something and Nothing, in the words of Cotton deals with showing  “how non-human things, often quite ordinary, everyday objects, can be mad extraordinary by being photographed.She states that “the stuff of daily life ostensibly counts as the subject, ‘something’ of the pictures.(Cotton, 2014)

Further she states that “With this type of work, the practitioner fosters our visual curiosity by subtly and imaginatively encouraging us to contemplate the stuff of the world around us in our daily lives in new ways.” (Cotton, 2014)

 The Research point asks: “To what extent do you think the strategy of using objects or environments as metaphor is a useful tool in photography? When might it fall down?”

To answer this it is probably important to define a metaphor so that we are talking along the same lines

Definition of metaphor in English:


1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
1.1 A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else.

(Oxford Dictionaries | English, 2017)

The use of metaphors is a common practice in photography, indeed as Ba students we are actively encouraged to think outside the box and push our images to less obvious places, in the old TAOP module the first assignment was to create a set of images depicting contrasting pairs of words such as light and dark sweet and sour, this always felt like a set up to enable the tutors to wag a finger at us and say no no far to obvious, almost everyone did a lemon and a sugary cake for sweet and sour and the point was always to look beyond the obvious. This is not to say that the obvious is not a metaphor but the obvious is often regarded as a cliche. Metaphors are useful tools that allow us to represent concepts that may otherwise be difficult or even impossible to frame in an image, it opens up the possibility of pictorially representing emotions that may not have external imagery. There is also the ability to depict subjects where the topic itself may be unpalatable in an image but the metaphor may be more socially acceptable. On the other end of the spectrum metaphors can be used where it is easy to photograph the real concept but the metaphor depicts a humorous or more striking image that is more easily retained in memory, this is a technique often used in advertising to make a brand rise to the top of your attention, I am particularly reminded of a TV advert from the 70’s or 80’s which depicted an aborigine throwing boomerangs which did not come back, the add ran for several weeks with no clue as to what was being advertised, when eventually they ran the add where a Kangaroo hopped up to him with a can of Heineken Larger in its pouch the aborigine promptly drinks the larger resigned to loosing all the boomerangs when every boomerang he threw come flying back and buries him, the Heineken slogan “Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach” is splashed across the screen it must have been powerful as I still remember it 40 odd years later. (YouTube, 2017)

The second part of the question asks when it may fall down, this I think becomes relevant when looking at the metaphor and realising that it is so obscure that only the creator gets it,  there is a danger of being too cleaver, and too obscure and even fro drawing from your personal sphere of experience such that the metaphor only works in your own tight personal world. For instance if I sit under a tree and an apple falls on my head cracking my skull and causing intense pain, I then forever see an apple as a symbol of pain, but no one else does so making a work on pain and using apples as the metaphor would work only in my own head. The point here is that the use of metaphor relies on the viewer to understand and decode the iconography of your metaphor. This suggests there is then a fine line between cleaver metaphors, cliches and obscure unreadable messages.


Cotton, C. (2014). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, pp.115-135.

Oxford Dictionaries | English. (2017). metaphor – definition of metaphor in English | Oxford Dictionaries. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Jul. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). Heineken Beer boomerang. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Jul. 2017].