Writing and Talking About Photographs ( DIE )

In order to be good at writing and talking about photographs we need to Describe , Interpret and Evaluate .


This might include information about the photographer , the time in which the photograph was made or the style , technique , materials , form , context and the social milieu .Even the medium which it is made of can carry connotations . Choosing to work in black and white or polaroid film has definite numerous connotations . These different mediums etc all have different meanings .

Style and form this means how it links into other similar work . Maybe with similar themes eg snapshot aesthetic . Typology directed style formal portraiture , direct , frontal , scientific etc .

To consider a photographers style is to attend to what subjects he or she chooses to photograph . How the medium of photography is used , and the picture is formally arranged . Barret 2006 .


Attempting to understand what photographs mean . In a widest sense this would be informed . So the writer is trying to understand how the work fits into a wider photographic context Eg Dorothy Langs migrant mother fitting it into context with America .

When Interpreting a photograph you can use the following steps : Ask Yourself :

1 What do I see

2 What do I know for certain about this image

3 Your description can be critical

4 Everything is useful

Marks of a professional image are its scale and attitude towards convention .


On a basic level it is making a judgement . On a deeper level it might me to establish a wider context for the work . Eg it challenges the canon or it brings something new to our understanding of it .

What is it about

What does it represent or express .

What does it or did it mean to its maker

What is part of

What are its references

What is it responding to

Why did it come to be

How was it made

What tradition does it belong

What purposes might it of served to its makers or patrons

What pleasures did it provide

Did it solve lessen or contribute to problems

What does it relieve

What does it mean to others

What does it mean to me

Does it affect my life

Other ways of responding to images might be

Analytically ( description interpretation and evaluation . DIE ) .

Critically ( e.g. consider text this might be educational )

Emotionally , to promote a reaction .

A lot of artists set their shots up on an emotional level they strip them back to play with you on this level e.g. Catherine Chalmers , Food Chain . Making people react to your images emotionally is a good thing and is an excellent talent to have .

How we write about photography

Sometimes we review it .

Which maybe interpretive and evaluative . We should consider the context . It could be gallery text .

Interpretive .

May place in a historical professional context .

Artists statement .

Explanatory maybe descriptive but subjective .

Book blurb website etc .

Depends who wrote it but most likely to be descriptive .

Essay .

Interpretive . Will establish a context for the work . Might also be evaluative . Will definitely be analytical .


Social documentary .

Showing you how ” The Other ” Lives . They live differently to us …. In what way ?

The above image is by Richard Billingham taking pictures of himself and his family in their own environment .

It speaks of class and poverty . An act by a lower class individual , does this repulse you ( Uncanny ? ) more than if it was a beautiful upper class person ? Why does it seem more wrong … ? We all do these actions but when we view another person doing it especially under what context we know them , it can be interpreted differently . This shows our contrasting Social attitudes towards different binarys …. Rich/Poor Uglyness/Beauty and how our attitudes/perceptions change towards the subject according to how we view them and which social background we are from .

2 Comments on “Writing and Talking About Photographs ( DIE )

  1. I found this to be extremely helpful when annotating others as well as my own photography pieces.


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