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EYV group work – The Physical Level of Photographs

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this tutorial, I had expected it to be like many of the other meets I’d attended with many students involved, where I would just listen in pondering the content quietly. However I was pleasently suprised to find it was a very small group and very interactive, which allowed me to really engage with the content and really helped me grasp the concepts being discussed. I came away feeling inspired to think about photographs in a different way, and excited deepen my understanding of this area.


  • Three levels of photography:
    • Physical
    • Depictive
    • Mental
  • Physical Level of photography broken down into various attributes:
    • Edges/Framing – the image is made up of what the photographer chooses to include in the frame. A photograph has edges, the world does not.
    • Base material – what the image is displayed on affects our portrayal on the image. An image viewed on rough, coarse paper would have different attributes to an image viewed on a digital screen.
    • Time – The photographer has the ability to both freeze and extend time, affecting what is displayed within the image.
    • Depth of Field – The photograph itself is always flat, but the image can portray depth through many planes, or flatten the perception of a scene.
    • Colour – The colour palette of an image will affect the context and understanding of an image.
    • Tonal Range – What details can be seen in the tonal range affects the way the image is perceived. Details can be omitted or highlighted from within a scene through the use of dark and light.

The Physical Level

A photograph has edges; the world does not. The viewer can only see what the photographer puts within the frame.

A photographer has the power of what to choose to include and exclude.

A photo – however we encounter it – is flat. Always. The world is not.

A photograph portrays a depth of field; it appears 3 dimensional but it is a 2 dimensional object. It portrays a 3D object, but is in its own flat existence.

It is not a window into the world, but it is an illusion of a window into the world.


The edges of a print bring boundaries. They exclude information, but also allude to information.

We make assumptions about outside of the photo. In real life we would simply move our head to view more of the scene, but we are restricted by the frame when viewing a photograph.

The edge of a frame can lead the meaning down a particular path. We don’t just frame an image because its pretty or it fits, but sometimes we frame actively to include and exclude certain elements and information. Sometimes this is aesthetically, sometimes this is narratively.

It is the photographer that makes this choice of what can be viewed, not the viewer.

Framing can mean we miss context.

  1. Graciela lturbide (1086) fifteen. Can’t see what is happening out of frame. Focus set on the women Nothing to take our attention away.
  2. the photographer choses what the primary concern is.

Trace your eyes across the depth of field – front to back. all the way through the window. Traced the depth of field. The image is very deep, but actually the image is flat. Only alludes to 3d image, through it’s depth of field.

We are painfully aware of the edges of the photograph – longing to see what’s around. We would also be able to move forwards through the space in which the photo depicts.

  1. image is based upon what the base material is. The base material determines the texture of the image. If your screen is dirty, the image is distorted. Photographic paper has different finishes which gives different attributes of the image.
    Jo Ashe. Handle with care (silver gelatine emulsion on glass)

by changing the base material we can change the base
So the marks in the image are viewed with the image, but they are not actually part of the base material.

Anton Guilio Bragaglia (1911) Change of position

Actually an indecisive moment. The camera records the movement. It supersedes actual observation, it’s not how we actually see the movement, It can cause confusion, can create interesting images. Time accumulates in our photograph. We can not only freeze time, but also extend time.

Its a physical attribute as part of the mechanical nature of photography.

Time has manifested as a physical representation of time, not visible to the naked eye.

John Haynes 1999 becketts act without words.

Jumping, moment is frozen. we couldn’t see that moment as we can’t freeze the time with our eyes. nor can we extend time like a long shutter.

hard to actually tell if he’s jumping due to the flatness of the image, its actually flattened the perspective and if we viewed in real life we would be able to see the depth of the scene and know he’s not stood on the black line. We cant’ see the depth of the physical plane

the decisive moment is not actually the moment something interesting happens. what’s the most decisive moment, the moment the photographer chooses to make the photograph

in this example if the image was made a fraction a second later he would have landed and the discussion about the movement would not be had .

tonal values – also effect the image on a physical level.

dimitris sofikitis 1991 oneirema

the screen dictates what you can see on the image by it’s brightness. i could not see anything in the darkness.

with a brighter screen you could make out pinpricks of light, but its not actually light, its scanned from a watercolour paper print and the white dots are actually bits of paper showing on the scan. However could be taken as light.

ten zone, white with details, to black with detail. and middle grey.

If we could see beyond the bridge, it would create a completely different image.

we are in charge of the tonal value and we can use this technical decision to make our image. It affects both the success of the image, and the representation of it.

can make a simple scene quite other worldly.

tony worobiec 1982 soft whiskey

the affect of colour on cultural specificity. the colour scheme makes us think 50s. black and white photo that has been hand painted.

it is actually a studio photo.

a photo with images stops us knowing that it is in the studio. Its an illusion~!

it is entirely manufactured. all the physical attributes come together to give us an image of a scene that wasn’t there.

the colour hues are really important to this 1950s feel and what is depicted. the photographer wanted us to feel it was an old image of an old time. but it was all an illusion

its transporting people to a different world and its easier in a photo as it has edges. compared to a theatre for example where there are distractions and we can see the environment. Studio photography particularly good at creating this illusion. Studio films. Create fantastic worlds within the frame on a set. We believe they are in a street when actually on a set.

dimitris sofikitis 2003 the weeping meadow.

its actually a colour image, but also a black and white image.

the background is actually a backdrop – a photographic backdrop, a photo within a photo – its a still from a film. its surrounded by crew etc. outside of the frame is not countryside as we might suspect.

this is all a very selective view on the wold – and it is what the photographer CHOOSES to portray.

All these physical attributes that we control, whether by choice or not, all have impact on the interpretations of the photograph. The way the photograph is viewed and understood is defined by its attributes.

The physical level is directly correlated to the depictive level

what to include

what to excluse

depicts a physical dimension, but it is not a true plain.

it will either appear flat or as a deep space.

the base material will become part of the meaning because it is flat.

photographs are there to be manipulated. you can trust your eyes but not the photographer!

analyse photographs physically.

base material




more image analysis required – you know what to do#1



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