• josutherstphotography

Positions and Practice – Critical Theory in Practice – What do others think of my work?

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

Figure 1: Sutherst 2016

I used the above images to research how other people interpreted my images.  The idea was that I can use their interpretations alongside my intent to further inform and improve my practice.

Image Intention

To create fun images that questioned the notion that fairies should predominantly be female. Male fairies are generally depicted as a patriarchal figure. I wanted to challenge this with images that raised questions about gender stereotypes and that crossed over.

My thoughts about how the images could be interpreted – these were written before I asked others for their opinions

Reflection – The imagery of the way that the fairy is dressed gives a sense of feminity and happiness. Some viewers will react in a negative way to this image with a man portrayed as a fairy.  The subject is being quite provocative in one image with the way his finger has been placed in his mouth. The subject is making eye contact with the photographer and there is a definite connection between the two. There is a sense of campness in the image which makes the image almost amusing.

Formal Analysis – the choice of a male subject used to represent a female fairy creates a dialogue between the viewer and the photographer as to the use of stereotypes in the portrayal of fiction characters. Fairies are traditionally female. I wanted to explore this notion.

HEDONISM – this was founded on the basis of intellectual pleasure. This image goes against this perspective as it is promoting physical pleasure. The image has a sexual element to it.

Culturally this image would be unable to be displayed in certain countries due to the open sexuality of the images.

To help me understand and appreciate how my images would be viewed by others, I asked 30 people for their comments and thoughts. This was a mix of genders and ages. They have different life experiences which affect how they view the images. Feedback was given anonymously.

General comments

  1. Images seem contrived – what is the reason behind them? Why did you take them?

  2. Images are playful and great fun

  3. ‘In my experience it is always the boys who want to play dress up’

  4. Images go someway to breaking down gender barriers and depict these men as new romantics – more feminine that we are used to.

  5. Really interesting images, with great composition

  6. Reminds me of 1980’s Athena posters in a sweet and sour way – the images are double edged in their meaning

  7. I love the blue backgrounds. It reminds me of taking my children to get their portraits done in a small studio – happy times

  8. Would like to stay in a B&B with these on the wall – it would be a cool place

  9. Images are slick – they look like advertising type images that have lots of production put into them

  10. Images are planned not accidental

  11. The subjects are playing a role and we do not see who they really are – was this scripted and acted or spontaneous

  12. Images are very suggestive in nature

  13. I see gender roles being merged and the viewer is challenged with a juxtaposition which may be contradictory or difficult on the eye. They also challenge the male role in our society and how sex is portrayed and challenged today.

  14. Subject in photos 1 and 2 is far more comfortable in the role than the subject in photos 3 and 4 – why is this?

  15. All images seem to contrast femininity and masculinity – I personally like them as the conflict really challenges you and your perceptions

Image 1 Comments

  1. There is a joyous element to this image

  2. Subject appears to love innuendo

  3. Posing because he enjoys it

  4. Comfortable in his own skin

  5. Cheeky image – animated model

  6. Exaggerated features – I like this

  7. The longer you look at this photo the less uncomfortable it is to look at

  8. I love the contrast of the tattoos and beard to the childish costume

  9. Lots to focus on in the image

  10. I do not like this image but it is interesting to look at and it is eye catching

  11. I love this image – it is my favourite. It is comical and has a great sense of humour. It shows someone who does not care what others think of him. The colours help emphasise this.

  12. It is disturbing and he looks like he is weirdly flirting with the viewer

Image 2 Comments

  1. Most dramatic image and seems the most real

  2. Looks like a scene from a dark and seedy Disney film.

  3. Represents Narnia or a fairy tale but with a dark and seedy element

  4. Should be on the wall in the toilets of a hotel

  5. Introduces nature into the images

  6. Homo-erotic implication in image with pose and black and white – removes this image from the playfulness of the others

  7. Too dark – image does not pop for me

  8. My favourite image of the 4. I really like the background and black and white effects. I do find the facial expression uncomfortable to look at though

  9. Dark and gloomy image – quite haunting

  10. I like that the background has little detail so the emphasis is on the model.

  11. I love the detail of this image and how the background interacts with the model.  I like the sense of humour the image gives off.

  12. Confident pose

  13. Reminds me of a new profile picture for Facebook

  14. Looks like the start of a really bad porn film

  15. Making a connection with the outdoor elements in a scary way

Image 3 Comments

  1. Interesting portrait – I really like this image

  2. There is a real story behind this image

  3. It has an almost Pierrot clown feel to it – sad and happy

  4. Very Charlie Chaplin in nature

  5. Plays the most with the gender issue

  6. Pensive and slightly uncomfortable in what he has been asked to do – this adds a layer of interest. Did he pose like this because he was asked to not because he wanted to?

  7. Successful as a portrait but uncomfortable to look at as the subject looks uncomfortable

  8. I don’t like the pout – I would have preferred a happier looking model with a smile

  9. Unusual image due to the facial expression

  10. I don’t like this photo as it creeps me out. It reminds me of nightmare I once had. It does not make me feel good.

  11. I feel as though the image is portraying a mix of beauty and disaster. I do not personally feel comfortable looking at the image as the pose and costume are disturbing

  12. Tackles stereotypical issues

  13. Exaggerated make up

  14. Provocative clothing

  15. Contrast between dark and light

Image 4 Comments

  1. My favourite photo. It displays a lot of power but in a simplistic way.

  2. I would prefer a background scene on this image.

  3. I feel like there is a story behind the man. Why is he wearing this and why are there petals on the floor?

  4. It is like there was some sort of celebration but now he is full of regret and doesn’t want to be there.

  5. Looks like he doesn’t want to be there

  6. Man in a girls world

  7. Trying to look both evil and effeminate

  8. Very weird

  9. Contrasts neo-Nazism with gay pride

My thoughts following the survey 

I had not anticipated some of the comments I received.  Whilst I quite like the idea that the viewer questions what the intent was and why I took the images, I do want to ensure that my work is not misinterpreted in any way.  I was surprised to learn that one of my images was compared to neo-Nazism.  This was so far away from my intent, that I am going through a process of re-evaluating the aesthetics of planned shoots.

Most of the comments were positive and picked up on some of the points that I had intended to portray.  There were a few negative comments that have encouraged me to look at the composition and framing of images to ensure that the fun and playful aspect I intended is maintained.

I found it particularly intriguing that my understanding of critical theory that everyone interprets images differently appears to be evident from the survey.  I intend to repeat this process as my project progresses.  However, this test survey had its limitations.  As all results were collected anonymously, there is no way to correlate any particular comment to an individual in terms of gender, age or life experience etc.  In future surveys, my intention is to collect this information alongside the comments. This will assist my categorisation and analysis of responses and help me reduce misinterpretation of my future images.


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