Assignment 4: Wish You Were Here

NOTE: this is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback from my tutor. The revisions are predominantly in the cover image and the general presentation.


About the work

The city of Nice has been my second home for the last 15 years or so and I was quite affected when the July 2016 Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I have visited Nice since and seen the memorials still covering parts of the city.

At the time of writing this, three months on, the mood in the city is a delicate balance between grief, defiance and optimism; Nice is simultaneously attempting to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and honour the 86 victims of the atrocity.

I gave myself the fictional brief to produce a calendar for the Nice Côte d’Azur Tourism Board, in collaboration with the victims’ charity Promenade des Anges, with two objectives:

Firstly, to help to restore Nice’s tourism reputation – by reminding people of how beautiful, friendly, welcoming and joyful Nice is; and:

Secondly, to honour, and raise funds in aid of the families of, the 86 victims – by naming all of them in the images, in a discreet and respectful way

The result is a multi-layered ‘magic realist’ piece of work that first of all presents the viewer with traditional ‘picture postcard’ scenes, then reveals itself to be a respectful tribute to the victims. Each the scenes was also selected for its subtle connotations to the city’s response in the aftermath of the attack.

There is a loose narrative to the sequence that says: we’re mourning; we miss people; we wish we had our loved ones back; but we’re resilient; life is a journey; life goes on.

Submission

Prints have been sent to support the assessment submission.

Click on the first image in each set to start a full-screen slideshow. The images benefit from being viewed as large as possible.

“Wish You Were Here”

First as standalone images:

Secondly in the calendar format as requested by the brief, with the addition of a cover page (click the cover image to start a slideshow):

Notes

With the exception of the touristic cover photo, the scenes were chosen to signify aspects of the city’s reaction to the attack:

  • Flowers: a metonymic device to connote funeral arrangements and therefore bereavement
  • Chairs: the couple of the left juxtaposed with the single woman on the right is to signify the loss of a spouse
  • Postcards: a linguistic association, bringing out the double meaning in the phrase ‘wish you were here’ – holidays/bereavement
  • Trees: metaphoric connotations of strength, resilience, defiance, survival (I also felt it important to include a picture of the promenade, the actual scene of the attack)
  • Boats: this is maybe the most tenuous/ambiguous of the associations but it’s intended to reflect the metaphor of sailing for life – an adventure, a journey etc (note: the fact that the boats are moored could be interpreted in a poignant way, as in the journeys are over for these people – this wasn’t my original intention but a potential reading that I realised after the event)
  • Bakery: the French buy fresh bread daily, bread is a metaphor for life, so this image is intended to connote ‘life goes on’

The name of each of the 86 victims is included once in the overall set, and groupings of friends and family who died together have been presented together in the same image.


Self-evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

This assignment was a test of my observational skills and visual awareness as I needed to first visualise and then find locations and vantage points that met my criteria: representative of Nice; contained relevant connotations; had appropriate space for approximately 15 names – which required careful compositional skills at both the shooting and processing stages.

Another important design consideration was the calendar format; I chose to mimic the overall aesthetic of a generic calendar but also to subvert some key elements of the format, in as much calendars tend to be light and positive in tone, and tend not to have additional layers of more sombre meaning. The balance I needed to find was to work within the overall graphic parameters of calendar design whilst still communicating my underlying message.

In terms of materials and techniques, to achieve the desired effect of the embedded names required using Photoshop to a much greater degree than I had previously. I was pleased to see a comment from peer review that asked whether the names were already in place and I’d photographed them, which means that my Photoshop work must have been convincing. I explain my production process in a separate post.

Quality of outcome

I’m pleased with the quality of the content and presentation as these closely matched the conceptualisation of my visualisations. I got comments from other students which reassured me that the communication of ideas and discernment of images worked effectively in what was quite a delicate balance to achieve:

  • “The subtle referencing is emotive, but without being maudlin”
  • “great concept and just subtle enough not to be overpowering”
  • “beautifully done, so evocative and respectful”
  • “a well judged project”

These are exactly the kind of responses I was going for.

Although this isn’t a corporate calendar as implied by the brief, I still wanted to show application of knowledge acquired during the advertising section. I wanted to include symbolism in the images that made them work at a connotative as well as a denotative level, as this is the essence of photographic advertising.

Demonstration of creativity

This is an area where I often judge myself as lacking, but I am more satisfied with this assignment than the previous three. I feel that the concept and execution show a greater degree of imagination and experimentation than my recent work.

In terms of my developing personal voice, I had a realisation recently that my own work is tending towards ‘expressive documentary’, or in John Grierson’s words, “the creative treatment of actuality”. I am attracted to subject matter that is rooted in reality, and often has a societal aspect to it. I feel that this assignment aligns with this evolving style.

I consider this a work of ‘magic realism’, to borrow a term from literature.

Context

This assignment gave me pause for reflection on what kind of photographer I want to be, and having wrestled with other ideas I alighted on this concept. The coursework and this assignment gave me further insight into the application of photography as a visual language, how one can embed intended messages in a visual format for the viewer to ‘read’.

Although as a highly personal project I tried not to directly and consciously base it on any previous work I had seen, I am aware that it exists in a context of related works, and that I have taken some indirect influence from some of them. This is summarised in a ‘context and inspirations‘ blog post.

In terms of critical thinking, I got the most useful foundations on advertising photography and semiotics from three particular books: Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1980), Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements (1978) and Hall’s This Means This, This Means That (2012).

I freely admit that I didn’t produce a ‘corporate calendar for a product’ in the way the brief suggests, but I believe that I have applied the underlying concepts of this genre of photography to an intangible cause rather than a corporate brand.

To me the end result works firstly as an art project to communicate an idea, and is still close enough to resembling a traditional calendar that people might actually want to put it on their wall.


Sources

Packard, V. (1980) The Hidden Persuaders (2nd edn). Middlesex: Penguin.

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics (2nd edn). London: Laurence King.

Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. New York: Marion Boyars.

Advertisements

Assignment 4: Wish You Were Here [original]

This is the original version of the assignment as submitted to my tutor. The reworked final version for assessment is here.


About the work

The city of Nice has been my second home for the last 15 years or so and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I have visited Nice since and seen the memorials still covering parts of the city.

At the time of writing this, three months on, the mood in the city is a delicate balance between grief, defiance and optimism; Nice is simultaneously attempting to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and honour the 86 victims of the atrocity.

I gave myself the fictional brief to produce a calendar for the Nice Côte d’Azur Tourism Board, in collaboration with the victims’ charity Promenade des Anges, with two objectives:

  • To help to restore Nice’s tourism reputation
    • By reminding people of how beautiful, friendly, welcoming and joyful Nice is
  • To honour, and raise funds in aid of the families of, the 86 victims
    •  By naming all of them in the images, in a discreet and respectful way

The result is a multi-layered ‘magic realist’ piece of work that first of all presents the viewer with traditional ‘picture postcard’ scenes, then reveals itself to be a respectful tribute to the victims. Each the scenes was also selected for its subtle connotations to the city’s response in the aftermath of the attack.

There is a loose narrative to the sequence that says: we’re mourning; we miss people; we wish we had our loved ones back; but we’re resilient; life is a journey; life goes on.

Submission

Full size images and a contact sheet are available separately. An A3 printed version has been sent to my tutor.

Please note that to get the full effect it is necessary to view the images as large as possible.

“Wish You Were Here”

First as standalone images (click the first image to start a full-screen slideshow):

Secondly in the calendar format as requested by the brief, with the addition of a cover page (click the cover image to start a slideshow):

Notes

With the exception of the touristic cover photo, the scenes were chosen to signify aspects of the city’s reaction to the attack:

  • Flowers: a metonymic device to connote funeral arrangements and therefore bereavement
  • Chairs: the couple of the left juxtaposed with the single woman on the right is to signify the loss of a spouse
  • Postcards: a linguistic association, bringing out the double meaning in the phrase ‘wish you were here’ – holidays/bereavement
  • Trees: metaphoric connotations of strength, resilience, defiance, survival (I also felt it important to include a picture of the promenade, the actual scene of the attack)
  • Boats: this is maybe the most tenuous/ambiguous of the associations but it’s intended to reflect the metaphor of sailing for life – an adventure, a journey etc (note: the fact that the boats are moored could be interpreted in a poignant way, as in the journeys are over for these people – this wasn’t my original intention but a potential reading that I realised after the event)
  • Bakery: the French buy fresh bread daily, bread is a metaphor for life, so this image is intended to connote ‘life goes on’

The name of each of the 86 victims is included once in the overall set, and groupings of friends and family who died together have been presented together in the same image.

Self-evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

This assignment was a test of my observational skills and visual awareness as I needed to first visualise and then find locations and vantage points that met my criteria: representative of Nice; contained relevant connotations; had appropriate space for approximately 15 names – which required careful design and compositional skills at both the shooting and processing stages.

In terms of materials and techniques, to achieve the desired effect of the embedded names required using Photoshop to a much greater degree than I had previously. I was pleased to see a comment from peer review that asked whether the names were already in place and I’d photographed them, which means that my Photoshop work must have been convincing. I explain my production process in a separate post.

Quality of outcome

I’m pleased with the quality of the content and presentation as these closely matched the conceptualisation of my visualisations. I got comments from other students which reassured me that the communication of ideas and discernment of images worked effectively in what was quite a delicate balance to achieve:

  • “The subtle referencing is emotive, but without being maudlin”
  • “great concept and just subtle enough not to be overpowering”
  • “beautifully done, so evocative and respectful”
  • “a well judged project”

These are exactly the kind of responses I was going for.

Although this isn’t a corporate calendar as implied by the brief, I still wanted to show application of knowledge acquired during the advertising section. I wanted to include symbolism in the images that made them work at a connotative as well as a denotative level, as this is the essence of photographic advertising.

Demonstration of creativity

This is an area where I often judge myself as lacking, but I am more satisfied with this assignment than the previous three. I feel that the concept and execution show a greater degree of imagination and experimentation than my recent work.

In terms of my developing personal voice, I had a realisation recently that my own work is tending towards ‘expressive documentary’, or in John Grierson’s words, “the creative treatment of actuality”. I am attracted to subject matter that is rooted in reality, and often has a societal aspect to it. I feel that this assignment aligns with this evolving style.

I consider this a work of ‘magic realism’, to borrow a term from literature.

Context

This assignment gave me pause for reflection on what kind of photographer I want to be, and having wrestled with other ideas I alighted on this concept. The coursework and this assignment gave me further insight into the application of photography as a visual language, how one can embed intended messages in a visual format for the viewer to ‘read’.

Although as a highly personal project I tried not to directly and consciously base it on any previous work I had seen, I am aware that it exists in a context of related works, and that I have taken some indirect influence from some of them. This is summarised in a ‘context and inspirations‘ blog post.

In terms of critical thinking, I got the most useful foundations on advertising photography and semiotics from three particular books: Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1980), Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements (1978) and Hall’s This Means This, This Means That (2012).

I freely admit that I didn’t produce a ‘corporate calendar for a product’ in the way the brief suggests, but I believe that I have applied the underlying concepts of this genre of photography to an intangible cause rather than a corporate brand.

To me the end result works firstly as an art project to communicate an idea, and is still close enough to resembling a traditional calendar that people might actually want to put it on their wall.

Sources

Packard, V. (1980) The Hidden Persuaders (2nd end). Middlesex: Penguin.

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics (2nd edn). London: Laurence King.

Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. New York: Marion Boyars.

Assignment 4: shortlisted ideas

Oh, Assignment 4…

I’ve had SO much trouble landing on an idea for this that I’m happy enough with. I still haven’t. I’ve been thinking of ideas since before I started the Advertising section but have pretty much fallen out with every idea I’ve had.

What I want to do here is to summarise my objectives, the various ideas I’ve had (pros and cons) and where that leaves me in terms of refining what I DO want to do the assignment on.

Brief

In summary, the objective of Assignment 4 is to produce seven images for a calendar (cover page plus 6x 2-months-per-page).

If I’m following the brief (and I usually do, though this is one of my problems…) then there are a few key criteria that should be met:

  • Client is ‘a company that I find interesting which creates a calendar product for a market that I can relate to’
  • With ‘past imagery’ that I can look at and decide its relevance to the current market
  • Calendar is creative and ‘does not revolve around featuring the product’
  • Must also include the company logo and strapline, if there is one

My objectives

I have developed a few key considerations for this that may to may not converge on one idea; I may need to prioritise between contradictory criteria.

  • I want be more creative than I have been in the first three assignments
    • I’m disappointed in my own work so far on this course, it’s a little pedestrian
    • If I’m not wowing myself, I don’t expect anyone else to be overly impressed…
    • So I want to be more visually experimental
  • I want to apply what I’ve learned on the Advertising section of the course
    • I’ve learned things in this section that I’ve found really fascinating – the authorial nature of advertising work, with such deep and well-defined ‘meanings’ embedded in advertising photos – it’s almost an art in itself (or maybe a science…)
    • I’m particularly keen on the notion of implicit messages – the ‘clever’ ads where the viewer has to make the connection between the image and the brand message – the effective use of visual language impresses me
    • I’ve looked at other students’ work and think that for the most part, people have unfortunately missed the opportunity to really apply this kind of knowledge (there are a lot of local cause / charity type calendars are perfectly pleasant but show limited use of visual advertising techniques)
  • I want the subject matter to be something that I am genuinely interested in
    • And I’m trying to think about this as widely as possible!

Ideas so far

I’ve had several ideas that have stuck around for various lengths of time before I rejected them, and it’s in the rejection reasons that I’ve been refining the criteria above. So some of these are closer to being ‘right’ than others (but to repeat: I’m not fully happy with any of them!). In order of when they occurred to me:

1. Rob Townsend Photography

My initial idea was to go all off-piste and instead of doing it on an existing brand, to do it on my (so far imaginary) photography business. I was planning to use it as a showcase for some creative imagery of my own choosing

The visual twist was to be that the calendar text (i.e. month name, days, dates) would be incorporated into the images in-camera, e.g. written in pen on someone’s skin, printed on a t-shirt, on a wall as graffiti, etc.

Pro: creative/experimental; passes the (self-)interest test

Con: ignores large parts of the brief (almost all of it); self-indulgent; kind of cheating

2. Waterstones

Or any bookseller, to be fair. – the concept is really based around reading books and I needed a brand to hang it off.

The idea was close-ups of people holding books (hardback, no dust cover, so can’t tell what the book is), with drawings on their fingers that allude to the title/contents of the book they are reading – so it’s a kind of visual puzzle. The significance of using the fingers is to connote the physical feel of reading a real book rather than an e-book.

Pro: creative; uses some visual advertising techniques; I am interested in books; I like the ‘visual puzzle’ aspect

Con: I’m not sure I can think of enough different executions!

3. Five a Day

For a while I thought a social cause would be more interesting than a company, so I was brainstorming around healthy eating and in particular the advice to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day.

The pitch was that you should ‘reach out for your five a day’ and I planned to set up shots where a piece of fruit or veg would replace a common object that a person was reaching for (e.g. banana for a door handle, a strawberry for a light pull, carrot slices for coins, etc).

Pro: reasonably creative, visually; applies advertising techniques

Con: I realised that it’s VERY similar to my Assignment 2 concept, which also featured food surreally inserted into everyday scenes – so too much self-plagiarism

4. Nice Memorial

The city of Nice has been my second home for about 15 years and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I visited Nice recently and saw the memorials still covering parts of the city.

The concept was to produce a calendar with the twin aims of restoring the city’s tourist reputation and commemorating the 86 people who died in the attack. The idea was to produce classic scenes of Nice (beach, promenade, old town shutters etc) with the names of the victims subtly included in each image.

Pro: creative; area of passionate interest for me

Con: no real advertising techniques involved; tricky balance to achieve in terms of tone; if the secondary memorial message is too subtle, it’s just ‘pretty pictures’

5. Leica

I went full circle back to the brief to think about what brands I am particularly invested in. I narrowed it down to Apple and Leica, then rejected the former as it has such a distinctive and long-standing minimalist aesthetic that they are just too well-known. So I settled on Leica.

I intended to produce a set of images that depict the kind of photos one might take with a Leica (street, portrait, photojournalism, abstract etc) and that each one would have a red dot somewhere in the image (red dot denoting the Leica logo). Secondarily, I wanted the content of the images to connote Leica brand values, such as precision, heritage, quality etc.

Pro: fits the brief well; uses advertising techniques; allows me to be creative with the images themselves (very meta)

Con: I’d need to capture or create seven really great images that would do the brand justice, and I’m unsure of my ability to do this in the short time available! and it’s not quite as ‘clever’ as I’d like…

Next steps

I’m still looking for a better idea than any of these five, in particular an idea that lends itself to implicit messaging, my current fascination.

In the meantime, I might throw this out to other students for comment, and/or send this list to my tutor for any feedback and direction…

Research point: Contemporary awareness 4

As directed, I have looked at a range of contemporary advertising photographers, and have picked out half a dozen that I felt were noteworthy.

Looking at advertising photographers is interesting in as much as it’s not always clear how much to credit the creativity of the photographer for the end result. Is it more the concept of a genius creative director, adequately executed by an able photographer? Or is the look of the ad as important as the concept? Or did the photographer contribute to the concept as well as the visual execution? One can draw some conclusions if enough of a photographer’s work is available to see – a consistently engaging visual style, regardless of commissioning agency or brand, is a good sign.

A few words on the ones I didn’t write about in detail, and why. Some had little or no advertising work in their online portfolio. Some were straight product photographers more than advertising photographer. Some had some really interesting non-advertising work in their portfolio but quite pedestrian advertising work. Some had unforgivably bad web sites. Some just didn’t stand out in any way so I moved on.

Final observation: compared to the other genres I’ve been looking at on this course, advertising is very male-dominated…

James Day

As well as working on lots of very clever campaigns (re my point on conceptual credit in the intro), Day has a distinctive and pleasing visual style. He errs towards very clean, light, often pastel-hued backgrounds.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-11-18-20
James Day

His work is a mix of good quality explicit messages and the cleverer implicit work that I find more interesting. He is good at either creating or interpreting the underpinning ideas that make implicit messages work successfully, such as the ‘packed with extras’ VW Golf sinking into the studio floor.

Andy Green

Green works more outdoors, though there is clearly a significant amount of lighting and post-processing used to get the looks he achieves. Some of his work is a little too artificial-looking for me – the kind of shots where I notice the over-processing before anything else, though maybe the aesthetic is intentional.

He produces some visually interesting, often witty, images – but rather maddeningly his portfolio doesn’t state who his clients are, so it’s difficult to judge the success or relevance of the images to the client’s product or brief!

John Lamb

Lamb produces high quality, stylised imagery. His ‘special effects’ work in particular is interesting.

This is the kind of work that I admire but have no real desire to emulate. The bulk of the work to produce such images will be done on a computer rather than with a camera. These are images that are visually striking but not necessarily conceptually interesting.

Peter Lippmann

Lippmann has an distinctive portfolio in that he very clearly delineates his commercial work from his fine art work, while others seem to blend them a little more. Much of Lippmann’s work is editorial rather than advertising, but theres enough overlap in terms of the visual language and intent, especially in the luxury goods markets that he tends to work in.

His is a rich, opulent style that suits the brands that he mainly works with. Now and again he takes on a more everyday commission like the Mikado chocolate one, and the execution is more light-hearted and reasonably witty.

George Logan

Logan is a photographer with a distinctive style in terms of the content of his images: very outdoorsy, often involving wild animals. He’s applied this approach to a number of disparate brands and concepts. It’s only when you see his body of work together that you see the pattern.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-12-43-36
George Logan

He stood out as a great example of someone who specialises in a content type, which could be vey commercially-savvy. If you know you want a wild animal in your campaign, who you gonna call…?

Dan Tobin Smith

I really liked his work, probably most out of all these recommendations. He works in a more formal graphical (sometimes verging on abstract) way than the others. He finds ways of seeing products in interesting ways, using shapes, colours, lines, patterns.

His work appeals to me not just for the pure visual cleverness, but for the way it helps to get across brand messages using semiotics. They are more subtle than the deliberately ‘clever’ implicit ad; they’re more about lending an atmosphere or characteristics to the brand via the visual language, rather than getting across a feature/benefit message.

Sources

James Day http://www.jamesdayphoto.com/advertising (accessed 14/09/2016)

Andy Green http://andygreenphotography.com (accessed 14/09/2016)

John Lamb http://www.john-lamb.co.uk (accessed 14/09/2016)

Peter Lippmann http://www.peterlippmann.com (accessed 14/09/2016)

George Logan http://www.georgelogan.co.uk/#Portfolios/Commissioned/ (accessed 14/09/2016)

Dan Tobin Smith http://www.dantobinsmith.com/commissions/ (accessed 14/09/2016)

Exercise: Implicit and explicit, pt 2

Brief

Part 1 is here.

Use the analysis techniques that you’ve developed during this course to produce your own images for a product of your choice. The images must have a message that this is delivered through interpretation of the image. How will they do this?

  1. Produce an image for a product of your choice that is implicit. Choose a product that has currency and a history that can help feed your ideas and approach to the project.
  2. Produce an image for a different product which is explicit. Choose a product that is quite new and has a very limited history, preferably none. Develop your idea for an explicit message-based campaign.

Do some research into the market for your chosen products and include this in your learning log or blog. Provide evidence of the development of your ideas and the decision-making behind the final images. Produce one image for each product.

Response

Implicit

Perhaps one of the best-known users of implicit advertising at the moment is Specsavers, with their ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’ campaign. They employ humour to imply that the subject of the ad has poor eyesight.

My attempt:

Specsavers

Explicit

I went with the Leica Q, a relatively new (2015) camera with no current advertising material. When Leica does advertise, it tends to emphasise its heritage and engineering quality.

My attempt:

Leica Q

 

Exercise: Implicit and explicit, pt 1

Brief

I’ve split this exercise into two parts: the analysis of existing ads, and the creation of my own examples.

Take a look at recent advertising that involves photographic representation of the human body. Choose two ads where the message is explicit and two where it is implicit. Can you find any that are a combination of the two? Analyse these images in your learning log.

Response

Explicit examples

The ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign caused an understandable stir when it hit the London Underground in 2015. Accused of ‘body shaming’, the ad went for a very straightforward message of implying that women need to look like this to go to the beach.

By comparison, the Harley Medical Group ad is uncontroversial but also unremarkable. The advertiser is aiming to reassure the viewer, though this is mostly done with the text. The photo is there simply to depict a satisfied customer for the viewer to identify with.

Implicit examples

Both of these ads employ sexual imagery, specifically erect body parts, but for quite different reasons.

The Skoda ad is one of those very ‘clever’ ads that car makers are known for, implying a feature of the product without showing the product at all, rather by showing an outcome that stands in for the product. It’s cheeky and subversive, if objectifying. To be overly pedantic though, the imagery contradicts its own internal logic – it implies that one seat in the car can have two temperature zones (which is not the case), or that the cold air from one side of the car can impinge on the other (which diminishes the feature message). Yes, I’m overthinking this, but it becomes a negotiated reading – I look at it and I think “so as a passenger in a Skoda Octavia I’m going to be half-cold?”.

While the Skoda ad chose to use sex to sell an unrelated product, the Lloyds Pharmacy ad is a very unsubtle attempt at overcoming the fact that the ad is about erectile disfunction, something that can not be depicted directly and must be implied by whether or not one has to hold onto one’s hat…

 

Exercise: What are they selling?

Brief

Take a range of advertisements from magazines or billboards and see if you can attach them to any of the above groups. You may find that some of the images you’ve chosen fall into two or more of Packard’s categories.

  • What are they selling?
  • Who are they selling it to?
  • How are they selling it?
  • How does the advert work in semiotic terms? What is denoted? What is connoted? What gestures are used and how does this contribute to meaning?

Write no more than 250 words for each advertisement.

Response

I tend to pick ads from my wife’s magazines for these kind of exercises, as I’m not a big magazine buyer myself. So for this I made an effort to research beyond the usual and I bought a copy of GQ for the first time in many, many years. My goodness, what a load of alpha male nonsense that magazine is! Anyway, a few ads caught my eye for different reasons.

GoPro

IMG_3482.JPG
GoPro
  • What are they selling?
    • Ego gratification: viewer as extreme sports dude
    • Creative outlets: viewer as cameraman
    • Sense of power: viewer as winner
  • Who are they selling it to?
    • Men up to and including middle-aged (mid-life crisis)
    • Competitive ‘extreme sports’ fans (whether they participate in such sports or not)
  • How are they selling it?
    • Identification/mis-recognition: ‘viewer creates themselves in the ad’ (per Williamson 1978)
    • Placing viewer in position of powerful, masculine, winning sports hero
  • How does the advert work in semiotic terms? What is denoted? What is connoted? What gestures are used and how does this contribute to meaning?
    • Angle = edgy
    • Vantage point = I am leader, they are followers
    • Crowd = I am popular
    • Shadow bottom right = viewer as rider
    • Studium: the sense of excitement and danger
    • My punctum: the shadow that places the photographer into the shot

The graphical use of typography is interesting: the slogan ‘Capture Different‘ (which is ungrammatical and most likely a clumsy ripoff of Apple’s old ‘Think Different‘ line) is contrived to be ‘behind’ the foreground tyre, which slightly overlaps it. This has the visual effect of delineating the foreground rider (/viewer) from the background subject – further emphasising the ‘winner / hero’ impression. It also serves to identify the foreground character as a ‘creator’ and the background riders as their ‘subjects’.

The vantage point, added to the visual delineation described above, allows the viewer to effectively see themselves in two positions at once in this ad: this is both a photo of the second rider (who the viewer can identify with) and a photo of the first rider filming the second (who the viewer can now imagine as themselves, resembling the second rider but – crucially – being in front of them).

Hive Home Automation

IMG_3483.JPG
Hive Home Automation
  • What are they selling?
    • Emotional security: look after the home even when you’re not there
    • Reassurance of worth: luxury item / early adopter
    • Immortality (metaphorically): look after the home even when you’re not there
  • Who are they selling it to?
    • Male homeowners
    • Gadget geeks / early adopters
  • How are they selling it?
    • Identification/mis-recognition: ‘viewer creates themselves in the ad’ (per Williamson 1978)
    • Idealised, minimalist – almost-blank canvas to allow viewer to project themselves onto the ad
  • How does the advert work in semiotic terms? What is denoted? What is connoted? What gestures are used and how does this contribute to meaning?
    • White elements = purity, goodness
    • Orange elements = positivity, extroversion, energy, taste
    • Hair straighteners = homeowner has a partner
    • Guitar = homeowner is creative / artistic / cool
    • Shoes = viewer, put yourself in my shoes
    • Studium: how much of your house you can control with Hive
    • My punctum: the cat climbing the curtain (probably the intended punctum)

The overall visual style is a little 2001: A Space Odyssey I think, quite retro-futuristic. This harks back to old 50s/60s depictions of ‘the home of the future’ so I think they may have been aiming to evoke this particular trope.

It also references the automation that 2001 introduced into popular culture with HAL the ship’s computer; the irony however is that HAL turned on its humans (“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.“), so it may turn out to be an unfortunate allusion. I think I’ve found an example of a negotiated reading!

Dolce & Gabbana

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Dolce & Gabbana
  • What are they selling?
    • Reassurance of worth: via tribalism
    • Ego gratification: via a sense of superiority
    • A sense of power: via a sense of superiority
  • Who are they selling it to?
    • Young, affluent, fashion-conscious males
  • How are they selling it?
    • Totemism / social differentiation: ‘viewer takes meaning from the ad’
    • Interpellation: ‘viewer is created by the ad’ (use of ‘U’ on shirt, signifying ‘you’)
  • How does the advert work in semiotic terms? What is denoted? What is connoted? What gestures are used and how does this contribute to meaning?
    • Street photography style = ‘keeping it real’
    • Gang youths = the in-crowd
    • Man at back looking on admiringly = reinforcing how ‘cool’ these lads are
    • Nun = authority figure
    • Nun’s white wimple = goodness, purity
    • Youths’ black clothes = bad boys
    • Bowing youth = pretending to respect her (it’s a very mocking gesture)
    • Height of youth to far left = emphasising superiority over nun
    • Shopping bag from ‘trendy’ store = nun is trying to be fashionable
    • Old photo next to nun’s head = she’s comparing these youths to real gentlemen
    • Studium: a bunch of pretentious dicks mocking a nun
    • My punctum: the man at the back, most ridiculously dressed of them all

Unusually for a fashion advert, this uses a street photography (or maybe snapshot) aesthetic: blown highlights, cropped body parts, uneven focus. It is however clearly staged. Not unusually at all for a fashion advert, the main figure is very skinny – emphasised by the pole next to his identically-proportioned legs.

Of all the ads I looked at, I found this the most distasteful. It’s very sneery and superior, and borderline menacing. It says ‘be in the in crowd, take the piss out of old people’. The way they are surrounding her is vaguely threatening. The way the man at the back looks on, smirking, making him complicit.

So for me this becomes an example of oppositional reading – to me it comes across as if it were designed for me to think badly of the brand. If I had ever been inclined to buy Dolce & Gabbana, this ad would put me off.

Philipp Plein

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Philipp Plein
  • What are they selling?
    • Ego gratification: appealing to aggressive masculinity
    • A sense of power: via weapon imagery
  • Who are they selling it to?
    • Young, affluent, fashion-conscious males with low self-esteem
  • How are they selling it?
    • Identification/mis-recognition: ‘viewer creates themselves in the ad’
  • How does the advert work in semiotic terms? What is denoted? What is connoted? What gestures are used and how does this contribute to meaning?
    • Tattoos = hard man
    • Smoking = hard man
    • Gun = gangster
    • Smoke, juxtaposed wth gun = he’s just shot someone
    • Halo = good guy (contradicts rest of imagery)
    • Shooting being acted out behind him = a memory of a real shooting
    • Women acting out shooting = male fantasy
    • Studium: alpha male oozing power
    • My punctum: the halo, only because it’s so laughably incongruous

This is the most hilariously over-the-top ad I found, to the point where I wondered if it’s deliberately parodic (it’s so hard to tell sometimes). It comes across like they got a randy undergraduate to direct the campaign.

The signifiers of ‘bad boy’ are highly stereotypical – young black male, tattoos, smoking, gun. The juxtaposition of the smoke and the gun in particular seem to signify that he has just shot someone, and the scene being played out behind him implies that this is what he is thinking about. Given that the advertiser couldn’t show this in a realist setting, the stylised, sci-fi setting and retro ‘laser guns’ are clearly standing in for the real thing.

The halo is what made me laugh – it’s almost as though they got as far as the finished ad and thought ‘Hang on, we haven’t made this guy look too sympathetic, have we? What can we do to say that he is really a good bloke?‘.

So the whole thing is saying: ‘Wear Philipp Plein and you too will be a gangster! A nice one though‘. Hilarious.

Moncler

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  • What are they selling?
    • Tricky one, this! Emotional security? Reassurance of worth?
  • Who are they selling it to?
    • Fashion-conscious, affluent outdoorsy types, male and female
  • How are they selling it?
    • Identification/mis-recognition: ‘viewer creates themselves in the ad’ (per Williamson 1978)
    • Via surreal, evocative imagery
  • How does the advert work in semiotic terms? What is denoted? What is connoted? What gestures are used and how does this contribute to meaning?
    • [Left hand ad first]
    • Red = danger
    • Blanket = Moncler clothing (= warm, protective)
    • Snow = outdoors
    • Cage = protection
    • Tree in torso cage = ‘I have tamed nature’ (or ‘I am at one with nature’?)
    • [Right hand ad]
    • Tree = umbrella (= protection)
    • Dress = Moncler clothing (= warm, protective)
    • Rock = alone in vast wilderness
    • Pale skin = coldness
    • Studium: Nordic fairytale
    • My punctum: the face I can see in the left hand pic

This double page ad really jumped out at me. Compared to the rest of the ads in the magazine, it’s so surreal and ambiguous. No copy, just the logo and URL. It intrigued me. I searched online and discovered that the campaign was photographed by Annie Leibowitz.

The combination of the snowy landscape and the surrealism evokes an overall feeling something like a Nordic fairytale. The left hand image in particular is striking: the red blanket partly resembles a hood, making the body resemble a face. Once you start seeing it like this, the snow separated by the cage bars starts to resemble gritted teeth. It reminded me a lot of Charles Fréger’s project Wilder Mann (2011).

This was the hardest to analyse using the Packard categories and the Williamson list of techniques. Maybe the world of advertising has become more sophisticated in the last few decades, and the list of ‘selling’ approaches can be expanded to include more ambiguous, conceptual executions.

Sources

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics. London: Laurence King.

Packard, V. (1981) The Hidden Persuaders. London: Pelican

Williamson, J. (1983) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising (4th ed). London: Marion Boyars.

Exercise: Making the message clear

Brief

Imagine that you’ve been asked to create a public awareness campaign about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and that you’ll be basing your campaign around this image. You want the image to do as much of the work as possible.

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Look carefully at the image. Identify the signifier, the signified and the sign. What is the punctum? What is the studium?

Does this image do the job? How might you modify it to put the health message across more effectively? Try to give your answer in semiotic terms.

Response

If I was asked to base a campaign around this image, the first thing I’d do is challenge that and ask for a reshoot.

If the intention is for “the image to do as much of the work as possible” then it is difficult with this image as the message is (in my opinion) very vague and weak. The only way I can conceivably see this working successfully is with some anchoring text.

At first I thought I was missing something. Was there a pattern on the dress that signified something? In the end I came to the conclusion that the only real signifier was the hand on the bump – as though this is supposed to signify concern about the unborn baby. But how does that work, if she has a glass of wine in her other hand? Are we supposed to infer that she’s just been told that drinking in pregnancy is bad for you? This might have made more sense if there was someone else in shot. And there’s no discernible facial expression to signify a thought process or emotion. She is clearly nearing the end of her pregnancy – are expected to believe that she’s just found out that drinking is bad for pregnancy? The whole thing just doesn’t ring true.

The studium is simply ‘pregnant woman drinking’. There is no punctum for me. Maybe other people think that the hand on the stomach is the punctum.

So no, I don’t think it does the job as it stands.

The more interesting part of the brief is therefore the closing question: How might you modify it to put the health message across more effectively?

If I had to work with this image

I’d fire up Photoshop and create a composite image. Maybe something like an illustrated overlay on the bump to depict the baby holding up a glass of wine? In semiotic terms this signifier (albeit fictional) would produce the signified of the connection between the mother’s drinking and the effect on the child’s health.

If I could reshoot

(and was working with a purely photographic image) I would carefully set up the shot to incorporate signifiers – what kind of signifiers would depend on the objectives, audience and tone of the campaign. (On the question of the audience, one might think this is obvious: pregnant women – but this is not necessarily the case, as a campaign could equally be targeted at those around pregnant women. One could target the campaign at friends, partners, parents of pregnant women – making it about influencing the influencers, if that makes sense).

Anyway, some suggestions:

  • If the tone is one of ‘alerting to the dangers’, use symbols of danger, risk, ill-health – for example the dress could be red (a classic signifier for danger), or the pattern on the dress could be symbolically significant (something harmful like barbed wire, maybe)
  • If the tone is more judgemental, vilifying pregnant drinkers as ‘bad people’ then imagery signifying ‘bad’ could be employed, such as background props (cigarette in ashtray, junk food, messy room), clothing (a black hat?) or body adornments (tattoos, piercings, hair fashioned into devil’s horns…)

By the way, before I get any grief for the stereotypes in my second example above, please note that they don’t reflect my own views but are indicative of some elements of advertising imagery over the years!

An odd exercise, this. I’ve come away from it thinking that whoever set the exercise knew that the image was less than successful and wanted us to improve it. Either that or I’m being very harsh (sorry).

Research: the Grammar of the Ad

The course notes ask us to read and comment on ‘The Grammar of the Ad’ by Anandi Ramamurthy in Wells (2009: 221–236), in particular its analysis of the transfer/attachment of meaning and the commodification of the body.

After giving us an example semiotic analysis of a telecoms ad, the essay gets more interesting when it discusses the ‘transfer of meaning’. I was reminded of a similar explanation and several examples in Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements (1983: 20-39) that helped to illustrate how advertisers perform this ‘correlation’, such as colours, shapes, gestures and even simple juxtaposition – just placing a perfume bottle alongside a celebrity will suggest that the perfume shares characteristics with the person, although the arbitrary nature of the connection is apparent under any remotely questioning analysis.

‘Transfer’ is an interesting and highly appropriate word, as there is a movement of ‘meaning’ from encoder to decoder, and sometimes the intended meaning can get lost in translation.

Ramamurthy’s essay quotes from Stuart Hall’s ‘Encoding/Decoding’ essay of 1993, which posits three potential readings of an image (Hall 1993):

  • Dominant (or preferred, or hegemonic): read as intended and ‘encoded’ by the creator
  • Negotiated: read partly as intended but with some slippage/contradictions, often down to cultural context and norms
  • Oppositional: in total conflict with the intended meaning

As Hall puts it in his original essay (my emphasis):

“It was argued earlier that since there is no necessary correspondence between encoding and decoding, the former can attempt to ‘prefer’ but cannot prescribe or guarantee the latter, which has its own conditions of existence. Unless they are wildly aberrant, encoding will have the effect of constructing some of the limits and parameters within which decodings will operate. If there were no limits, audiences could simply read whatever they liked into any message.” (Hall 1993)

What I took from this is that the tricky task of the advertiser is to make the correlation between the elements of the advertisement sufficiently clear, without being too overt. The ‘rails’ on which the message needs to run must be consensually understood by the audience.

Examples of negotiated and oppositional readings often occur when an advertiser misjudges the prevailing norms and inadvertently offends a portion of the audience – which sometimes happens when global campaigns are insufficiently localised, but also can happen simply due to the cultural ‘blindness’ on the part of the ad producers. Who, with an ounce of diversity awareness, could have approved the UNICEF ‘blackface’ and the Nivea ‘afro’ executions below?

In other instances, events overtake the production of the ad and new connotations arise that are contrary to the original intention, such as the Dior ‘Sauvage’ ad above produced before but viewed after Johnny Depp was accused of domestic abuse.

Ramamurthy notes that commodity culture imagery exacerbates the voyeuristic gaze by objectifying women, including a highly interesting analysis of the trend in advertising over the decades to objectify parts of the female body, in a way that further depersonalises the subject.

In these ads, women aren’t ‘people’ but collections of bottoms, legs and breasts.

Linking the concepts of body fragmentation and meaning transfer gives us some great examples of where the cultural norms of the (predominantly male) image producer are completely misaligned to a significant portion of the viewing population. The ad producers may argue that the legitimately offended female viewers are ‘not the target market’ but that stance is disingenuous in an environment where ads are viewable by a wide demographic.

Body fragmentation has quite rightly led to something of an oppositional backlash, as collected in the graffiti photographs of Jill Posener in Spray it Loud (1982).

Born Kicking, 1982 by Jill Posener

To summarise: what reading this chapter has brought home to me is the polysemic nature of advertising imagery, and the accompanying care that advertisers must take to ensure that the message they have encoded is appropriately decoded by the recipients. It has shone a light on the underlying cognitive processes that lead to what the digital age calls ‘advertising fails’.

Sources

Wells, L. (2009) Photography: a Critical Introduction (4th ed). Abingdon: Routledge.

Williamson, J. (1983) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising (4th ed). London: Marion Boyars.

Hall, S (1993) ‘Encoding/Decoding’ in The Cultural Studies Reader (ed: During, S). London: Routledge

Exercise: the strapline

Brief

Your brief to is to illustrate photographically three different advertising strap lines of your choice. The images are for use as a double-page spread magazine advertisement and also in a bus shelter campaign. You can use existing slogans but, if you do, you should avoid replicating the imagery that currently accompanies them – do something quite different. Alternatively, you could make up your own slogans – or ask someone to make some up for you. Or use a combination of the two. The important thing is to get the imagery and the text to work with each other.

Response

For reasons too dull to go into here, I’m stuck indoors at the moment and so unless I wanted to postpone this exercise I had the choice of either shooting new pictures indoors, or using archive shots. I chose the latter.

Red Bull

  • Signifier: extreme sports
  • Signified: energy
  • Studium: general scene of diving board and young people
  • (my) Punctum: how far away the jumping figure is (Photoshopped BTW)

Illy

  • Signifier: continental cafe scene
  • Signified: simple, relaxed lifestyle
  • Studium: customers enjoying their coffee in a relaxed ambience
  • (my) Punctum: the far away look in his eyes

Tumi

  • Signifier: lone, static man in busy scene
  • Signified: the moment a journey starts
  • Studium: the bag stands out clearly as the subject of the ad
  • (my) Punctum: slight rightward tilt of his head (looking where he’s moving towards)