Interpreting images: self-directed learning

This is a self-directed exercise to help me to improve my ability to ‘read’ photographs. I used images from Cotton C (2004 chapter 2).

I am very interested in the idea of telling a story with photography, and, after reading some of the interpretations in chapter 1, I decided to have a go at interpreting some images myself.

Before reading about Tom Hunter’s The Way Home, I made a few notes about how I saw this image.

The Way Home

Image 1

Tom Hunter The Way Home

Here is my attempt:

  • ‘everyday’ setting illustrated by housing/bridge etc in background
  • very unusual image in foreground
  • Unclear initially whether male or female but suggestive of Ophelia – drowned – voyeuristic
  • Speaks of everyday threat – murder? or suicide – distress – suburban lives, misery
  • Makes me want to know what happened to her (think it’s a woman now), what her life was like
  • Did she live in the house? is someone missing her?
  • Daylight. Peace. Will someone stumble across her? Where was she going?
  • Life and death so close.

Next I read the text and analysed my attempt:

Think I did ok here. I didn’t articulate the idea of returning to nature or the mix of urban and nature but I can see that now.

My second image analysis was  of Sarah Dobai’s  The Red Room.

Red Rom

Image 2

Sarah Dobai The Red Room

Here is my attempt:

  • Being a Literature graduate, I found it impossible to separate the title of this image from my knowledge of the significance of the Red Room in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The Red Room was a place of horror to the young Jane Eyre, sent there as punishment for a crime she did not commit, to face the ghost of her uncle who died there.
  • However, although I am unused to looking at photographs like this, it does not seem to have any direct connections to Jane Eyre – the walls are red and there is a sense of domination, but nothing apart from that.
  • Female in dominant position
  • Makes sex ordinary – challenges glossy images
  • Challenges male dominance – she is covered, he is naked. Makes him appear vulnerable.
  • Voyeuristic – uncomfortable for viewer to watch their intimacy.

Next I read the text:

I learned that the setting is unclear/ambiguous – personal effects are missing so it is not clear where the couple is. A blanket disguises the furniture, perhaps suggesting its poor state of repair Faces are hidden, we are unsure of their feelings, whether they have had or are going to have sex, and this creates tension for the viewer.

No reference at all to Jane Eyre!

So, I didn’t pick up on all the points but I found this a very valuable exercise and I enjoyed the learning.

List of Illustrations

1    Hunter, T (2000): The Way Home. [Photograph] In Cotton, C, (2004 p55). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London: Thames and Hudson. Image at:

2    Dobai, S (2001): The Red Room [Photograph] In Cotton, C, (2004 p57). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London: Thames and Hudson


Cotton, C, (2004). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London: Thames and Hudson


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