Terms of meaning

The course material discusses meanings that go beyond the literal into the metaphorical as a ‘richer mode of expression’. I’m asked to consider a number of terms and think how I might apply them to my own or another photographer’s practice. I’m considering my own work (even if I’m stretching things a little) to help me reflect on how it might be interpreted. This is an interesting exercise for words that are easily expressed and demonstrated in writing but are less familiar to me in the visual domain.

  • Metonym – a single characteristic of something substituted for the whole but they are so closely connected that the whole can be understood (eg calling business people ‘suits’). I’m not sure that this works so well visually as many different objects can have similarities and don’t have the same precision of meaning as words. One example in my BoW are the posts in the overgrown field. The posts can be understood as a game of football, even in the absence of people. In that image the game would be ludicrous because of the overgrown grass. If it was just a fence post in the field, it would have had little meaning or interest.
  • Rhetoric – in language this is concerned with speaking or writing effectively to communicate a point of view persuasively. In my BoW I aim to show the idea of the canal as a world within a world; separated from the outside but a reflection of it nonetheless. While it is a work in progress, it conveys the idea of a place apart from its wider environment and the range of human activity played out within the separated place.
  • Symbol – this is where one thing represents another, even though they are not directly connected (so different to a metonym). Still water is present in many of my images. It is a symbol of tranquility and somewhere we can feel safe; there is water to sustain us (though I wouldn’t drink from the canal) and likely to be food nearby (there are fish in the canal). Like a waterhole on the savanna.
  • Connotation is where an idea or feeling is invoked beyond the literal meaning of a word. In my images, the cracked open safe on the canal side connotes robbery or criminal activity.
  • Innuendo – often hints indirectly at something impolite or negative, without naming the thing itself. Perhaps in a way that is intended to be rude. There is no intended innuendo in my BoW. I mostly associate this with sexual innuendo in advertising and fashion images.
  • Euphemism – hints similarly to innuendo but in a way that is polite and not intended to be harmful. I wonder if photography has a general tendency to euphemise through its aesthetics and safe distance from the actual. In particular in my BoW, I think about the discarded possessions dumped along the canal. One individual asked how I feel about them and a short version of the answer was a mix of disgust and disappointment and fascination. However, the photograph euphemises them because we can look dispassionately at a distance and be interested in the form of the discards and what their stories might be.

These kind of words help us explain the visual. This isn’t always helpful – words risk distracting from the visual, when I prefer to enjoy the ambiguity of the visual. They have their place but should, I think, be kept well away from the visual experience itself. Unless of course, one is wanting to illustrate with photographs.