Research – Symbolism and Portraiture

Research Symbolism / Portraiture

Symbolism in photography allows us to move our communication made through an image from the purely denotative to the connotative too.  Paul Hill writes, that “there is no point in espousing the cause of political awareness if photographers and photography users do not understand the significance of the images in the first place” (P115, Hill, P, 1982, Approaching Photography).

If semiology is that which will allow us to write an image and to read an image at a level greater than that which is purely denotative then is it not important to include symbolism in photographs that are an exploration of identity which it appears must have a psychological and political reality.

However in the Genius of Photography the potential weight of portraiture is noted. The portrait photograph is described as having the potential to “immediately grab(s) the viewer’s attention and trigger(s) profoundly personal responses – emotional paradoxical and not always rational”(P.169, Badger, G, 2008). This possibility has to be considered when planning a series of self-portraits. If a self-portrait by its very essence is an exploration of identity, the psychological including not just the self but the feeling of the self within a society then there is an inherent risk that symbolism may be too personal, too difficult to comprehend by one who is not close to the artist as Hill states to try may seem “futile, given the objectivity’ of the medium”,( P91, Hill, P, Approaching Photography).

There is a risk to using self-portraiture as a means of self-expression.


Badger, G, 2008, The Genius of Photography, Quadrille Publishing, London

Hill, P, Approaching Photography 1982 Focal Press, London and Boston