Exercise 5.2

Exercise 5.2

Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?

Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five.

For this exercise, I chose to look at Francesca Woodman. I have long been fascinated with her work and with the way she explored her own existence, feeling and place in the world within her photographs. Technically, I enjoy the way she used varying slower shutter speeds to create movement within a still frame.

I chose to look specifically at this image:


Internal Context: 

Terry Barrett describes internal context in an image as “what is evident”. It helps me to correlate this by thinking of what is within the frame and what your eyes can tell you about the image.

For starters, I know that Woodman is the photographer, I know the title and I know when the image was taken (1976). When I look at Woodman’s image, I can see she has used a square frame and slow shutter speed. The image is kept simple with the focus on herself and the space around her as the subject. The surroundings are quite un-intrusive, leaving my eye to linger on the person who appears to be falling (or possibly getting up?) and the emptiness around her. The slow shutter speed provides a distortion but not to the point that you cannot tell what the blur is, her feet remain relatively still and you can still see that the blur is that of a person.  Does this provide everything I need to intemperate this image? Not necessarily in my opinion. There is certainly enough to come to your own conclusions on a one level and together with the title “Space²” you can appreciate why she chose to keep the background plain and gives the space around her figure another meaning, but the image is abstract and I believe to fully appreciate it, would mean taking a deeper look.

External Context:

According to Barrett, the external context of a photograph was that in which the image was “presented” for instance, the other photographs which correlated to this image, where the image appeared in publications, how it was received and it’s place in the history of art.

This image was part of a series titled “Space²”  and all the other images in this series, represented by the same title, featured herself in varying interior spaces. We also know that on the contact sheets, she drew in extra details with a black marker pen, with this particular image having a black frame drawn in which gave the impression of the figure stumbling through a door. This gives us some clue of the context of this image and you could argue that this would provide you with enough information. At the time, her work was not recognised but has since been subject to much critical acclaim and appreciation and certainly has it’s place amongst some of the best surrealist artists.

Original Context:

When looking at the Original context in a photograph, Barrett described it as the physical and psychological environment of the photographer at the time the photograph was taken.

From what we know of Woodman’s life and of her death, you can delve deeper into her psychology and what her photography represented of herself and perhaps of her inner turmoil and exploration of her feelings. Committing suicide at the age of 22 after experiencing a broken relationship and failure in succeeding to get her work noticed, her death, in particular, speaks of more behind her images and this gives a greater sense of the place in which the photographer was producing her work from. So I believe the original context of this image combined with the internal context certainly provides the viewer with more information to interpret this image.

In Woodman’s image I get sense of separation from the self or at least a split in views as well as an exploration of what can lie beneath the surface of an individual. I believe Woodman used photography as a way of exploring herself and in many cases, I find myself doing the same. There is usually more going on beneath the surface of someone that we might not always get a glimpse of. Photography for me can certainly be a stress reliever, a therapy and a way to “get my emotions out” and perhaps Woodman did the same. But I come to this conclusion of the image from a place of knowing some of Woodman’s personal “story”. If I did not know the photographer behind this image, my interpretation may be somewhat different.

My Response:

I decided to emulate the internal context behind the image. Using myself as the subject, black and white, a square frame and exploring the use of slow shutter speeds. I chose to ignore the title (and perhaps the meaning?) of Woodman’s image in this case and respond in part to the image from a place within myself and instead represent more obviously with our internal struggles. I believe that my picture tells you everything you need to know from the internal context alone without further interpretation.


  • http://terrybarrettosu.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Barrett-1986-Photographs-Contexts.pdf
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/woodman-space-providence-rhode-island-ar00350