It has been suggested that the way a photograph works as a representation is dependant on cultural codes and conventions. Critically discuss this proposition.
Newspaper photographs can so easily appear real, unmediated, appearing as an exact replica of a given moment. But a photograph is a construction and can only be a representation of reality, and as this essay will highlight what is accepted as real depends on cultural contexts, historical contexts, literacy's and ideologies. There are many decisions taken by the photographer such as; focusing, lighting, camera angle that produce various representations and create different connotations. These connotations can be related to each other and to the photograph as a whole producing a combination of signs or a syntagm. This essay will use Ferdinand de Saussure's semiology (which originated at the end of the nineteenth century) as a tool of analysis to understand the attached photograph from the Sydney Morning Herald.
A photograph can only be a representation of reality as distinct from reality itself. Stuart Hall (as cited in Australian Screen Education, 20 Aug, 2002) suggests that " representation is a very different notion from that of reflection. It implies the active work of selecting and presenting, of structuring and shaping; not merely the transmitting of an already-existing meaning." Hall also suggests that nothing in this world has true meaning until we, society, via cultural codes, apply one. This supports Michel Foucault's theory on "regimes of truth" which suggest that truth is controlled not by its realness but by those who have the power to control the truth. In the photograph we can argue that those controlling the power and therefore the representation are the newspaper photographer/editor etc and they consciously portrayed Simon Crean as "small".
A photograph is a representation of a particular moment and situation in time.