Sunday, 9 December 2012

Exercise 43 : Illustration by symbols

Using symbolism in photography to illustrate a point or concept appears at first glance to be easy, but as I have proved to myself when thinking this through for the first time, it is very easy to slip into well worked clichés and be tragically unoriginal!  However, there has to be some give and take with clichéd images as to get too far out in the search for originality would be to ensure that the viewer misses the point of the image.  I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong with images that are clichés, and as photography accelerates through the digital era more such images will develop, as long as there is some attempt at originality of approach.  There must be many great advertising and marketing minds working on this, so I would think it unlikely that I will come up with anything that has not been done before!   It is suggested that there is no specific need to take photographs for this exercise.

The project here is to find symbols for a number of concepts, and the course notes suggest growth, excess, crime, silence and poverty.  They propose the cracking of an egg from the inside as one example of a symbol for growth and it is one that has been much used by financial institutions advertising interest rates on accounts and the like.  Other examples that come immediately to my mind are seedlings emerging from soil, new shoots growing, children growing (maybe against a height measurement stick) and the building of a brick wall.  However, I bet it would not take me long to find advertisements which have used all of these, and in fact my own employer has used two of them to advertise growth potential to investors in the recent past.
Symbols for excess made me think of greed, gluttony, waste and any symbols associated with the “good life” like champagne, drunkenness, super cars, jets etc.  Excess has both positive and negative connotations of course and therefore attracts a range of differing symbolic devices.  Excess leading to giving, charitable donations etc. would be examples that would be symbolically different to those I quoted earlier, often exemplified by hands dropping money into receptacles or cupped hands of a recipient.

Crime brought to mind images of prison bars and cells as indicators of the results of crime and broken windows, shadowy figures running and police activity as evidence of the crime having taken place.  There is always the age old image of the thief in his stripy shirt carrying a swag bag of course, and that is well used.  Symbols for high tech crimes are far more difficult to illustrate in single shots and it is interesting to see that many advertisements encouraging security with personal and bank data indeed go little further than the traditional villain with his mask and striped shirt sitting at a computer or lurking by the cashpoint, or maybe the occasional padlock image.  I think this illustrates the point that although it would be desirable to avoid clichés it is also a requirement not to be so obscure as to miss the point.
Silence made me think of still lakes on misty morning, exams taking place, libraries, an index finger placed against lips in a silencing gesture, monasteries and even a gun silencer.  Different symbols are appropriate depending on whether the intention is to encourage silence or whether it was a symbol to show an existing state of silence.

Poverty suggested empty pockets and wallets, people in rags, beggars, people in benefit queues and people in poor accommodation as examples of human poverty, but there is increasing use of images suggesting poverty as a consequence of human effects on the environment such as the effects of deforestation, war, disease etc.  One should not of course forget spiritual poverty and the many symbolic expressions of various forms of religious damnation portrayed throughout history such as flames, floods, curses, and probably the most frequently used, darkness.

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