4.2 Overall interpretation of the photographic text.
The overall interpretation of the photographic text, which we have seen is essentially subjective, considers the possibility of recognising oppositions that may be present inside the frame, the existence of meanings that shapes, colours, textures, lighting etc., may refer to; the way aspectualisation and focalisation of the photographic text are constructed through the examination of the articulation of the viewpoint and the way space and time are represented; what types of intertextual relations and oppositions (relations with other audiovisual text) can be recognised, and a critical evaluation of the image (where appropriate).
At this interpretative level it is advisable to follow the so-called “principle of parsimony”, which consists of choosing the simplest interpretative hypothesis from the many that can arise, as advocated by certain philosophers of science such as Cohen or Nagel. It is said that “one hypothesis is simpler than another if the number of types of independent elements is lower in the first than in the second” (Arnheim, 1979, p. 75). The aim is to offer a critical reading of the image from a vision of totality. To do so, a synthesis of the most relevant aspects dealt with has to be made, although under one or various perspectives that relate the various hypotheses put forward during the analysis. In order to do this, we briefly explore some of the concepts that may come up during the analysis of photographic images.
The first refers to the concepts of ambiguity and self-referentiality, as defining of the artistic texts, as put forward by Umberto Eco. Ambiguity refers to how open the meanings in the text studied are, as opposed to the singularity of meaning in a reading. Self-referentiality refers to the capacity of the work of art to provoke a reflection on the very nature of the artistic text, the photographic image in our case. Some academics use the expression “mise en abîme” to refer to the presence, within the image, of elements that refer to the very representational nature of the visual text. The term metadiscursivity may also be used. The study of space, time and actions in the representation, together with the articulation of viewpoint, are items of analysis in which the presence has been detected of these structural features that point towards the “poetics of open work”.
We have also referred to the possibility of recognising certain significant practices such as those found in the categories of classical representation versus baroque representation, as defined by Wölfflin. Santos Zunzunegui (1988, pp. 170-172) pertinently applies these to the analysis of landscape photography. The classical conception of the photographic representation consists of the existence of a compartmentalised vision of the world (punctuality, fragmentariness); presentation of the way the world is organised in differentiated planes; symmetry as structural weight; absolute clarity (legibility of space, time and action); and discontinuous temporality (instantaneousness). On the other hand, the baroque conception of a photographic representation is the existence of a joined-up, interwoven worldvision; pre-eminence of the depth of the representation; dominance of atectonic shapes (continuing beyond the photographic out-of-range); prevalence of the idea of absolute unity; relative clarity (Wölfflin said that “the baroque revolution allowed light to spread over the landscape in free patches for the first time”); and temporal durativity (continuity, atemporality). To follow Zunzunegui, the so-called “baroque” images update “narrative programmes that we might term maintenance of state (nature as Eden), while classical images do so with transformation programmes (annexation of territory; the destruction of the original state)” in his references to case studies of landscape photographs (p. 172).
Some photographic analyses may include the use of the term mannerism to describe certain types of representation. This, according to Hauser, is a complex concept in which tension prevails between antithetic stylistic elements. Historically, mannerism was a pictorial style born at the end of the Renaissance, in which artifice, shape, manner were manifest as symptoms of an intellectualised and deformed expression that hides in its depths a profound (and also emotive) drama of the failure to connect and problematisation of the external and the internal. Some photographic texts may thus be described as mannerists.
Omar Calabrese uses the term neobaroque to refer to the rupture of stability in the classical order present in numerous artistic contributions in the post-modern period. Classical canon was upset by “categories that powerfully ‘excite’ the ordering of the system, that destabilize it from all sides and create turbulence and fluctuations” (p. 45). Amongst the characteristic features of neobaroque representation the following may be highlighted: the aesthetic of repetition and variation (concerning the idea of order, originality and irrepeatability of the idealist and vanguard aesthetic); bringing the concept of totality, i.e., the importance of detail or fragment to crisis point; the re-evaluation of the idea of disorder and chaos, widespread in contemporary culture (fractal beauty, the aesthetic of the monstrous or the idea of accidental reception through the influence of zapping in television consumption); the importance of imprecision, of the incomplete and erratic in aesthetic reception; the predominance of the labyrinth as a symptom of taste for the enigma, what is hidden, or the weight of non-linear reading of artistic texts; finally, the perversion involved in a fragmentary distorted reading of the text.
The use of citation or pastiche in artistic production can reach great heights, such as Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, which is based on citations of Adorno, Wittgenstein, Saint Thomas, Conan Doyle, etc., and for Calabrese is a neobaroqueopus. Some of these features can also be identified in photographic texts that are related to the current post-modern sensibility, which is closely linked to the idea of neobaroque.
Concerning post-modernity, Umberto Eco has stated that “is not a trend to be chronologically defined, but, rather, an ideal category- or, better still, a Kunstwollen, a way of operating. We could say that every period has its own postmodernism, just as every period would have its own mannerism”. He goes on to add: “But the avant-garde (the modern) reaches a point where it can go no further, because it has produced a metalanguage that speaks of its impossible texts (conceptual art). The post-modern reply to the modern consists of recognising that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently” (p. 72).
We do not want to end the presentation of our analysis methodology without adding that visual pleasure is a key factor in image reception. It should also be said that analytical activity is not without its own pleasure, as understanding (or thinking you understand) the hidden meaning (or meanings) in the photographic message also brings pleasure. This pleasurable feeling would appear to be brought about by the fact that one has reached the success of the analytical enterprise.We coincide with Roche when he says that on analysing a photograph, “ the question clearly is no longer «what does a photo suggest?» nor «what can a philosopher do with a photo?»...but rather «what is a photograph related to, once it’s been taken?»”(p. 73). We have attempted, to the best of our abilities, to answer this with the proposal of this methodology for the analysis of the photographic image.