Part five – Project 1 – 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.”


The image I used for this exercise is a photograph I recently saw as part of The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection at the Tate Modern , Man Ray’s photograph of Max Ernst taken in 1938.

(Note: You can find my review of The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection exhibition under the Exhibitions section of this blog or by following this LINK)

It is a straight forward portrait which looks as though it has been in a glass picture frame and subsequently smashed to pieces; the shards of glass represented by pieces of the photograph which look shattered and separated.  The photograph is almost reconstructed but not fully, however, your brain reconstructs it for you so that in your mind’s eye you can see what the original image looked like.  

This image was included in the exhibition section covering Experiments and it is this element of the photo that I am responding to.

After writing my interpretation above I found out that the original Man Ray glass-plate negative was intentionally broken by Max Ernst, who then stuck together the glass splinters with tape.

Early photography had been used mainly to record and document, however, artists and photographers in the early twentieth century started to experiment with abstract intervention to distort visual perceptions and create new realities in their images. Photo-montage was a large part of this experimentation as well as tinting and transfer.

I do not have access to a glass-plate negative so I used what I thought was the next best option for distortion, a digital manipulation tool.  

So my initial response to this exercise, using Man Ray’s image of Max Ernst as my influence, was to use Photoshop to deconstruct a portrait image.  I selected slices/pieces/segments of the image, from the middle out, using the marquee selection tool and then pulled the pieces apart to get a more abstract look to the image but not pulled apart enough that the mind’s eye couldn’t reconstruct the image, see figure 1.  


Figure 1

On carrying out a comparison of the original image and my image, my image seemed too clinical/clean and I didn’t like the way the face had disjointed and made the subject look unreal.  I then realised the reason for this was that I hadn’t kept the integrity of the frame.
So I had another go…


Figure 2

This time, again in Photoshop, I used the free-form pen tool to draw the separation lines by hand which gave less of a clean bit more of a haphazard ‘by chance’ look and feel to the pieces separated, see figure 2.

I could have stopped there but then I thought, the original photograph was a photograph of the post image distortion so I decided to print a photograph use a blade to cut the original and then make an image of that, see figure 3.


Figure 3

This third attempt actually looks and feels more honest.  You can see the white edges of the photo paper which gives more authenticity to the image as a physically altered image.  So it is this the third and final photograph that is my final response to the brief.

The second part of the brief asks what information in Terry Barrett’s essay titled ‘Photographs and Context’ provides context to this exercise.

On reading the excerpt of Terry Barrett’s essay titled ‘Photographs and Context’ (linked to as part of the course reading material) he talks about ‘how an image is interpreted’ and that this is dependent upon; 1) what is within the image – the ‘internal context’; 2) where the image is being viewed – the ‘external context’ and 3) what the photographer had originally envisaged the image’s use to be – the ‘original context’.  

So to analyse these 3 contexts above in relation to the original and indeed my response image, I believe:

1) the internal context is the image of a portrait of a man (woman) which has been deconstructed and then reconstructed.

2) the external context is the image was part of a collection being exhibited.  Hundreds maybe thousands of people will see it and by being in an exhibition suggests it is of value. (my image is displayed on the internet as part of my degree coursework and will be seen by my tutor and maybe a hand full of other people than happen to read my blog).

3) the original context is that Max Ernst intentionally broke the Man Ray glass-plate for the purpose of presenting it as a reconstruction (my image was produced solely in response to Max Ernst’s reconstruction).

To take this experimentation one step further:

“In a further act of appropriation, Ernst wrote on the tape with India ink and exposed the plate so that the light-colored tape came out black and the writing white. The new plate, now a self-portrait photomontage of sorts, was used by Max Ernst as the invitation to his 1935 Paris exhibition, Exposition Max Ernst, dernières oeuvres.”

but the response to this is for another day…..

(Note: you can see the original images that I took of Alice on my other blog HERE).


Collectif,, Mavlin Shoair (2016) Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collec, : Tate Publishing, Limited.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s