SUBMISSION : Assignment four

Student number 514516     Nicola South

Assignment 4

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis. 

  • If you choose a well-known photograph, take time to research its context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc. Add all this information into your essay to enable you to draw a conclusion from your own interpretation of the facts. 

It’s not enough to write an entirely descriptive or historical account of your chosen image. You must use the facts as a means to draw your own conclusions about what the picture means to you. You may wish to apply what you’ve learned in Part Four regarding translation, interpretation, connotation, signs, punctum, etc., but be sure you get the definitions correct.   

Follow thought associations and other images that relate to the discussion, directly or indirectly. Look at the broader context of the image and its background and specific narrative as well as your personal interpretation of it and what thoughts it triggers for you. Follow these associations in a thoughtful and formal way. Allow yourself to enjoy the process! You may write about personal connections but ensure you express yourself in a formally analytical and reflective manner. 

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

bourke-white_margaret_6_gandhi_india_1946_L_large (1)

Gandhi at the spinning wheel. Margaret Bourke-White (1946) (Gallery M, 2017)


Who is the real subject Gandhi or the spinning wheel? 

The photograph was selected as I have a personal connection to it, having visited the exact spot it was photographed twice. This essay will deconstruct the image to uncover its meaning, as well as the intentions of the photographer. Much of the reality of an image can be redefined by a photographer so the truth of it may be “naive and illusory (for though the lens draws the subject, the photographer defines it)” (Szarkowski, 2009:12). It seems that “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled” (Berger, 1972:7), however through analysing the formal contents and their contexts it will be possible to show the invisible meanings hidden within the image and expose whether it is the spinning wheel or Gandhi that is the subject of the photograph.


The signifiers (material elements) denoted in this photograph are: A spinning wheel, a seated bald or shaven man reading papers wearing a dhoti, floor rugs, a window and white walls. The frame is divided into two areas, the spinning wheel and the figure with the room behind it. The eye is drawn in by the prominently placed spinning wheel and led across diagonally to the top right of the image through the seated person up to the bottom of the window frame. The image is monochrome, grainy with strong contrast, though with a range of tones. The photograph is variously titled Gandhi at “his” spinning wheel or “the” spinning wheel, informing us both of the person’s identity and the foreground object.


So what do these objects connote (mean)? To move to this next level of meaning this it is vital to understand what Barthes terms the studium, the cultural, political and social meaning (Boothroyd, 2015) behind the photograph. There are four main contexts to explore, Gandhi, the spinning wheel, Bourke-White and their relationship to each other.

Gandhi (1869-1948) born in India, trained as a lawyer and developed a personal philosophy of anti-materialism and abstinence, living out his idea of truth force, powerful but non-violent argument (Von Tunzelmann, 2012). “Swaddled in just a shawl and a dhoti, with a long thin arm clutching a long thin staff, Mahatma Gandhi had quickly become the most recognisable symbol of anti-colonial protest” (Keay, 2010:484). He promoted the charka (domestic spinning wheel) as a symbol of penance, self-reliance and non-violence saying “We cannot visualise non-violence in the abstract. So we choose an object which can symbolise for us, the formless” (Gandhi, n,d, cited in: 2017).

The American photographer (1904-1971) began her career photographing industrial architecture with “dramatic use of perspective, light, and shadow on hard-edged industrial shapes, to create photographs that merged fact with the potent language of abstraction” (Johnson et al., 2005:589). She became a renowned journalist for Fortune and Life magazines demonstrating “her singular ability to communicate the intensity of major world events while respecting formal relationships and aesthetic considerations” (Handy et al, 1999:209, cited in: International Center of Photography 2017). She used heavy lighting for industrial subjects which “was obvious in many of her portraits which often looked staged” (Jeffrey et al, 2008:102). Bourke-White photographed Gandhi as part of an assignment covering the prelude to the partition of India.

             Welding-tire-rims-International-Harvester-Chicago-IL-1933             stalin.jpg                      (, 2017)                      (Bourke-White, 2017)

The relationship she had with Gandhi is key to unlocking the signified (invisible meaning) in this image. She was described as becoming “a friend to – as well as a close chronicler” (Time, 2017a). She realised “to understand another human being you must gain some insight into the conditions which made him what he is” (Bourke-White, M, 2016:1746). Passionate about machines she notes “some of his opinions I found difficult to reconcile. One was his opposition to industry and scientific agriculture” (Bourke-White, 2016:3715). However she understood that spinning was completely bound up with his identity (Anon, 2017a).

When shooting she had to observe his rules, he disliked bright lights, be silent and learn to spin herself beforehand (Anon, 2017b). She shot unsuccessfully without flash, then her third and last attempt with flashbulb worked “In the end, she came away with an image that became Gandhi’s most enduring representation” (Iconic Photos, 2017), unusually without his staff and shawl. Curiously this image was not used in that May 1946 life article, but in a tribute to him following his assassination (1948) titled “India loses her great soul…a stirring visual eulogy to the man and his ideas” (Time, 2017b).

The context above reveals meaning in the image: the symbolism in the spinning wheel, the tidy room representing cleanliness and order, Gandhi reading newspapers signalling connections with the world, daylight alighting mystically on Gandhi’s head. The punctum that disrupts the rest of the narrative in the photograph is the spinning wheel; “Once we have discovered our punctum we become, irredeemably, active readers of the scene” (Clarke, 1997:32). Gandhi was a cunning man (Keay, 2010), but the vantage point was of Bourke-White’s choosing, “If the photographer could not move his subject, he could move his camera” (Szarkowski, 2009:126). She gave prominence to the spinning wheel, and interestingly a separation from Gandhi. Interpreting these actions enables us to find the signs and overall meaning of this image.


In any image “the primary frame of reference remains the subject of the photograph (although this in itself can be problematic)” (Clarke, 1997:30). Bourke–White herself admitted “only you would come with just that particular mental and emotional experience to perceive the just telling thing for that particular story” (Bourke-White, 1972:1756). We know “the photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject” (Berger, 1972:10); drawing on the visual gestalt- of the picture” (Shore, 2007:110), and the Intertextuality (background), I suggest the Spinning wheel is in fact the primary subject of this image. It is the wheel that provides the personal connection to other elements in the photograph, revealing its meaning. Whether Bourke-White was simply drawn to the industrial shape of the wheel and pursued her natural style by placing the shadow on it to give it dominance, or whether she intended to illuminate its symbolism, only she could tell us. Whichever, the power of this image to me is her photographing of the spinning wheel.

(1035 words)


Anon, (2017a). [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jul. 2017].

Anon, (2017b) Influential photographs: Ghandi at his spinning wheel 1946 by Margaret Bourke-White. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2017].

Berger, J (1972) Ways of seeing. London. Penguin group.

Boothroyd, S (2015) Context and narrative. Open College of the Arts. Barnsley.

Bourke-White, M. (2016). Portrait of Myself. Kindle edition. San Francisco, UNITED STATES: Lucknow Books.

Bourke-White, M. (2017). Margaret Bourke-White. [Photograph] [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jul. 2017].

Clarke, G. (1997). The photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gallery M. (2017). Margaret Bourke-White | Biography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2017].

Gandhi (n, d) Cited in: (2017). The Tribune…Sunday Reading. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2017

Handy et al (1999) Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography. Cited in: International Center of Photography. (2017). Margaret Bourke-White. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].

Iconic Photos. (2017). Gandhi at the Spinning Wheel. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Jun. 2017].

Jeffrey, I. and Kozloff, M. (2008). How to read a photograph. London. Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Johnson, W., Rice, M., Williams, C. and Mulligan, T. (2005). A History of photography. Köln [etc.]: Taschen.

Keay, J. (2010). India. London: HarperPress. (2017). Master Photographers. Black and White Photojournalists. [Photograph] [Online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2017].

Shore, S (2007).The nature of photographs. 2nd edition. London. Phaidon

Szarkowski, J. (2009). The photographer’s eye. The Museum of Modern art. New York. (2017a). Gandhi: Quiet Scenes From a Revolutionary Life. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017]. (2017b). Gandhi and His Spinning Wheel: The Story Behind an Iconic Photo. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2017].

Von Tunzelmann, A. (2012). Indian summer. The Secret History of the End of an Empire. Kindle edition. UK. Simon & Schuster ltd.


Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2017].

Barthes, R (n,d ) Camera Lucida in: La Grange, A (2013) Basic critical theory for photographers. Uk. Focal Press.

Barthes, R (n,d) Rhetoric of the lmage [online] Available at: (Accessed 2 Jiul.2017)

BBC News. (2017a). How Gandhi’s last day was photographed – BBC News. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Jun. 2017].

BBC News. (2017b). Rare pictures of the last 10 years of Gandhi’s life – BBC News. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Jun. 2017].

Bourke-White, M. (2017). Margaret Bourke-White | ND Magazine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2017].

Golden, R. (2013). Masters of photography. London: Goodman.

Nehru, J. and Khilnani, S. (2004). The discovery of India. Penguin Books; London. (2017a). A New Way of Seeing Indian Independence and the Brutal ‘Great Migration’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017 (2017b). See the Classic Cameras Used by LIFE’s First Female Staff Photographer. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017]. (2017c). ‘Great Lady With a Camera’: Margaret Bourke-White, American Original. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.


ASSIGNMENT FOUR: A picture is worth a thousand words.

Nicola South              Student number: 514516



  • Extensive research.
  • Powerful analysis.
  • Use of a personal connection.
  • The image chosen for the essay.


  • Include more on the composition, my thoughts about it.
  • My tutor suggests that I could have mentioned the way the eye is directed to the main subject, and that I should comment on the light hitting Ghandi’s head spiritually; however re-reading my essay confirms that I have written about the way the viewers eye is drawn across the image, and described the “daylight alighting mystically on Gandhi’s head”. I have considered whether I need to flag this more but I think unfortunately he must have missed these comments which I hope are clear. I could have been more explicit however about the image following the rule of thirds.


  • Remember to consider and comment on whether and how an image could be improved when analysing and reading a photograph.
  • To use my learning from this part of the course on reading photographs as I go forward.
  • As my tutor suggest to carry on learning from “the greats” to take my own practice forwards.


  • Reread the essay, to check whether any changes are needed, though my Tutor suggests I should submit it as it is. Having done so I concluded that I should submit as it is, especially as I found that I have covered the composition points he mentions apart from the rule of thirds (I thought to go back and insert this no would be rather obvious!).

Link to learning log:

This mind map summarisesthe narrative of my brainstorming for the image:

mind map prep







Niki South               Student number: 514516



IMG_6090 2 ps 1500

“The Organiser”

Image 3: Exposure 1/8 sec,   Aperture f/11, ISO 200, Focal length 28mm


IMG_6288 2 ps 1500

The Escapist”

Image 24: Exposure 0/6 sec,   Aperture f/8, ISO 200, Focal length 50mm


IMG_6936 ps sq 1500

“The Peacemaker”

Image 85: Exposure 0/10 sec, Aperture f/8, ISO 400, Focal length 52mm


IMG_6309 sq 1500

“The lover”

Image 25: Exposure 0/3 sec,   Aperture f/8, ISO 200, Focal length 41mm



Niki South       Student number: 514516


The Brief

Drawing upon the examples in Part Three and your own research, you can approach your self-portraits however you see fit. You may choose to explore your identity or masquerade as someone else, or use empty locations or objects to speak of your experiences. However you choose to approach it, use yourself – directly or indirectly – as subject matter.

Keep a diary for a set period of time (at least two weeks). Each day write two or three pages about yourself – what you’ve been doing/thinking. This can be as specific or poetic as you wish. You may wish to pick a theme for the duration. This is an open brief designed to give you freedom to create something personal which suits you best. Use the artists you’ve looked at in Part three or your own research for inspiration.

Select the most interesting parts of the diary (which could also be the most banal or mundane) and interpret them into a photographic project. You don’t have restrict yourself to the diary itself; you may decide to use it to take you into new territory.

Send your finished piece to your tutor by the method agreed together with an introduction of around 300 words briefly setting out your rationale and how you approached this project.



This assignment was a challenge as I avoid being photographed; however I resolved to keep an open mind until I had completed the exercises. I discovered through the directed research that self-portraiture was extremely varied, and the project became more interesting as I began to understand how photographers (initially Francesca Woodman and Elina Brotherus) used it confidently as self-exploration. A turning point for me was the exhibition “Behind the mask, another mask” (National Portrait Gallery, 2017). Their examinations of identity through their images of their multiple selves, as well as their commentaries and quotations such as “You always feel that you are the mask to some degree” (Wearing, 2012), caused me to ponder on my own identity and how I am made of multiple selves.

On rereading my diary, I was struck that though it contained a series of events, sporting, travelling social and domestic, it didn’t reveal the real me, only how I operate on the surface. I then reflected on the hidden me not revealed in my diary. I decided to represent four of these hidden selves in my images: The Organiser, The Escapist, The Peacemaker and The Lover. I expect that The Organiser is easily understood. The Escapist represents how I make space for myself amongst meeting the needs of others. The three peace lilies in The Peacemaker image symbolise members of my family and how I try to pour oil on troubled waters and hold them close. The Lover image is a visualisation of my mood and senses through colour and texture. My intention is to reveal increasing glimpses beneath the surface as the viewer moves through the series, I hope that I have built narrative meaning, despite some elements remaining obscure and personal to me.

The project took me out of my comfort zone, performing is not natural to me, and the shooting was challenging as I composed and then recomposed myself in the frame. In retrospect I may have lost myself in the performing slightly at the expense of some technical aspects; I hope I’ve addressed this somewhat in my final submission by reshooting “The peacemaker” in a purer light and reprocessing “The organiser” to improve the colour balance.

Ultimately I enjoyed exploring and expressing my identity and hope that it manifests as self-portraiture with a sense of ownership as I truly think that “the “I” in self- portraiture is truly comprehending an “other” (Sobieszek? 1978).


National Portrait Gallery (2017) Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask. London. National Portrait Gallery.

Sobieszek, R (1978) “Other selves in photographic Self-Portraiture” in: Sobieszek and Irmas (1994). The camera i. 1st ed. Los Angeles: Los Angeles county museum of art.

Wearing, G (2012) on the wall at: National Portrait Gallery (2017) Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask. London. National Portrait Gallery.



Niki South Student number: 514516




  • The “bold” concept
  • My communication
  • The images chosen for the concept
  • Use of the square format for the images
  • The research and commitment to the subject


These were technical as I had expected: in my self-reflection I had said that I was pleased with my images as concepts but knew that they could be technically improved:

  • Lighting: experiment with diffusers, bouncing the light, reflectors and sources such as soft boxes.
  • Be aware of shadows and reflections and how to overcome them
  • Consider the colour balance, the peacemaker has a slightly yellow hue


  • Consider the type of lighting that is best for the subject, whether it should be direct or soft for instance.
  • Be alert to colour balance
  • Continue to make use of a variety of formats for effect
  • Continue to compose with some ambiguity
  • Continue the use of sketches pre shooting


  • Reshoot “The Peacemaker” in a purer, softer light.
  • Reprocess “The organiser” to improve the colour balance

Link to learning log:

These mind maps summarise the narrative of my brainstorming, preparations and post shooting thoughts contained in the learning log.


Putting yourself in brainstorm 1500


Putting yourself in shooting 1500


Putting yourself in editing 1 1500

 Notes on reshooting “The peacemaker”:

I recreated the same composition as in my draft shoot but experimented with the lighting. Before shooting I set up the shot in various locations with daylight from different positions. Having found the best location for light and minimal reflection I then shot the first 4 images without flash, the next 5 with a speed lite and then decided to shoot with only natural light.




Niki South   Student number: 514516


a-lr-0755-ps-crop-1500The bustling high street”

Image 56: Exposure 1/160, Aperture f/8, ISO 100, Focal length 39mm.



“Castle reopens after £11 million restoration”

Image 51: Exposure 1/160, Aperture f/7.1, ISO 100, Focal length 20mm.



“State of the art theatre and 3 screen cinema complex”

Image 20: Exposure 1/250, Aperture f/10, ISO 100, Focal length 35mm.



“One of many centres offering exciting outdoor activities

Image 39: Exposure 1/60, Aperture f/11, ISO 200, Focal length 46mm.


e-lr-1001-crop-1500“Brand new sustainable, solar, social housing”

Image 76: Exposure 1/80, Aperture f/11, ISO 100, Focal length 16mm.



“Booming local yacht building business expands again”

Image 25: Exposure 1/100, Aperture f/4.5, ISO 100, Focal length 16mm




“The supermarket that was never built”

Image 6: Exposure 1/100, Aperture f/5.6, ISO 100, Focal length 17mm.



Even Penny Pinchers could not survive the downturn in retail sales”

Image 72: Exposure 1/60, Aperture f/4.5, ISO 100, Focal length 16mm.



Traders complain that charity shop’s exemption from business rates make them unfair competition”

Image 20: Exposure 1/100, Aperture f/6.3, ISO 100, Focal length 22mm.


f-lr-0517-crop-1-1500“The site of the once booming cattle market is now rusting”

Image 13: Exposure 1/60, Aperture f/5, ISO 100, Focal length 20mm.



“The housing market here is stagnant”

Image 35: Exposure 1/80, Aperture f18, ISO 125, Focal length 57mm


e-lr-0836-no-crop-1500“The once busy boat builders, no longer have work”

Image 56: Exposure 1/250, Aperture f/8, ISO 100, Focal length 70mm.