Hangout (and reflections) with my tutor 22 June 2017

1.       I am under some time pressure to complete my UVC module. Things should be ok, but I need to

·         Make a timetable for my work

·         Stick to my timetable

·         Send Peter a timetable for my assignment submissions


I still need to reduce the amount of notes I write on each project. I have begun already to prune them a little, but this requires further work.  Peter suggests that if I find an interesting idea that is not strictly relevant then I can mark it to be researched later.


It would also be a good idea to look through your BLOG to see whether you could do an overall summary of some of the learning processes which you may not have clearly brought out so far. This could be done after the Sep 1st deadline when you ve sent your assignment 5 in.


2.       The next assignment


·         This is about decoding advertisements

·,%20Decoding%20Advertisements%20smaller.pdf useful doc.

·         Who’s it aimed at?

·         Don’t make assumptions during the analysis

·         Doing it in an annotation would allow you to work on the clarity of your annotations.


3.       My previous assignment

·         The handwriting was legible ( I sometimes write illegibly)

·         Think about how an assessor will negotiate the annotation- where to start /stop etc….(chronology)

*        For example the Box for my conclusions worked, but make it clearer eg. Bolder outline or colours…..

*        You label where the reader should start

*      Arrows help reader to find the next text……..

             Also perhaps there is a hierarchy of content?? Eg concept/examples

             It is ok to use labels for bits of the annotation eg ‘postmodernism’  ‘structuralism’……..

             A combination of annotations and written points may be useful (numbers refer to the written points….)


4.       Hang-outs

·         The previous UVC hangouts have ended. It would be an idea to post on the forum as to whether anyone is interested in joining you to discuss visual culture ideas…

·         This would be useful to clarify your ideas about visual culture



5.       Next module etc…


·         Peter said that there was currently no level 2 visual culture module.

·         I talked again about  my Painting 1 course which had been disappointing and had reduced my confidence

·         However it is still possible to explore drawing and painting in further modules. Peter said perhaps I was not a ‘painter’ in the way that painters are ( I certainly don’t want to only paint …perhaps I might be a visual artist …who paints …….. perhaps………other sorts of artist……??

·         My painting 1 assessor had some encouraging comments about how to improve my painting outcomes eg…. By using colour more sparingly ?……so I don’t want tio stop further painting learning…

Assignment 2 – Tutor feedback

Annotated feedback:-







fig_6annotatedtutor report assignment 2

 Overall Comments

This has taken me much longer to get to than I intended for reasons beyond my control.  That is why I have put the date you had scheduled for assignment 4 as the next deadline.

I think that your annotations for this assignment have worked rather well but you might want to find some way of indicating where to start for the assessors who have much less time to go searching than I do!

Feedback on assignment  

I think most of what I want to say is in the notes I have added to your pdfs…click if you can’t see the comments in full as you roll over them.

It is a good response to the brief and seems to indicate that you have a reasonable grasp of the concepts involved.

Student name  Philip Hepworth Student number   508858 Course/Unit Understanding Visual Culture Assignment number   2

The questions I have posed in my comments on your documents are to make you think about it and perhaps to write about it in your learning log/blog. I don’t expect an answer to me.

This is an interesting selection of artists and works, see what links you can find between them.

We can discuss these things further if we can set up a video tutorial.


Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical review/essay

This is shaping up well. 

I am pleased to see you have taken on board the things I pointed out last time.

Be careful that the navigation doesn’t get too complex, remember that the assessors don’t have much time to try to find things and anyone else reading the blog will get frustrated if it gets too complex…ok so far though!

 Suggested reading/viewing

For the next assignment:-

As well as the articles The rhetoric of the image and  Myth Today by Barthes a couple of books are key here:

Chandler, D., 2002. Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. Abingdon: Routledge

or the on-line version Semiotics for Beginners at 

Williamson, J., 1978. Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars 

There is an extract from the above book at:,%20Decoding %20Advertisements%20smaller.pdf  which is worth reading if you can’t get the book itself


 Pointers for the next assignment


• Pick an advertisement or campaign that appeals to you and that you can try to unpick in terms of possible different interpretations.   • Try to think who is being addressed and how, what is the message that the advertisers want the audience to at least think they are being given (in reality they are simply being told “buy this”!) • Remember it is your interpretations that must make up the substance of your assignment. • Although you could perhaps do this in a similar way to assignment 2 I think some extended notes at least would be a good thing to do.

Project- Deconstruction

Notes on the theory of Deconstruction:

  • People: – Jacques Derrida (main founder), Nietschze, Heiddiger, Marx, Althusser , Plato, Saussure,

Eg. Marx’s “Religion is the opium of the masses” is Deconstructionist,  breaking down the discourse of powerful religion to effect the weaker society.

  • Institutions- works to expose institutions of Religion, Law, Political class, Males, Whites, Colonialists………
  • Era- late 60’s to 1980’s (context -Paris student riots- overcoming government, independence of Algeria over colonial French)

What does it do? It’s a Post structuralist, Post-modern way of reading Texts……. Eg text, images, films…..

Derrida’s essay  “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences”,

It allows us to deconstruct the text and reveal it’s inherent CONSTRUCTEDNESS.

Western thought and philosophy is not a ‘natural’ but is constructed and cycled through society by institutions forming a Discourse. Since PLATO Western philosophy iss dominated by various ideas, inc.  Religion, enlightenment, Binary opposition, Centredness, Hierarchy, unchanging sign-signifier-signified , voice over writing,

  • The binaries are endless – male  v female, young  v old, west v East, Good v Bad, God v devil…………..speech v writing. These dualisms are never equivalent; they are always hierarchically ranked.
  • Queer theory, feminism, post-colonialism are related ……..these are attacks on the stsus quo of powerful institutions.

Deconstruction involves

  1. Technical aspects: voice v writing, graphie (written form) , gram, differance, trace (the originary- but is not original and has no centre),
  2. Revealing the inherent biases and positions of a text: re frozen signs/ bias of one of the binary pair
  3. Allowing an alternative meaning/reading/discourse……where there is a slippery/shifting sign , and a balancing of the hierarchical relationship eg….toward the weaker….. and a recognition that there are no absolute oppositions….

Derrida’s ‘différance’ is both  semiotic and philosophical. The a represents several features in the application of this theory:

  • Différance is the difference that shows there is no origin (Différer =to differ). Something can only differ wrt to something else…..
  • Différance  is written: we can see the a that we cant hear it ( voice has no  hierarchy over writing)
  • Différer [to defer] is to displace, shift, or elude. It means that signification is not static, but always changing. There is no ‘transcendental signified’.


A.V Club (2010)  Lights! Camera! Deconstruction!: 19 movies that double as movie criticism [online at] [accessed 15th June 2016]

Gnanasekaran, R. (2015) An Introduction to Derrida, Deconstruction and PostStructuralism [online at]
[accessed 15th June 2016]

Stanford university (nd), Jacques Derrida-Deconstruction [online at] [accessed 15th June 2016]

The Bubble (2010), An introduction to deconstruction [online at]   [accessed 15th June 2016]


Myth is a type of speech- Some thoughts on Ulysees by James Joyce (replaces exercise on an annotated image)

I was a little uncertain how to approach this annotation based on the given quotation. I therefore decided to replace this exercise with  some ideas about structuralism based on the book Ulysees by James Joyce.

I am currently listening to this book on audible, and thought that the complex nature of the language would make an interesting analysis  with respect to structuralism, myth, and the several layers of meaning which the text might contain……







Project ‘The death of the author’

I made the following notes on 2 key texts

  1. The death of the author- Roland Barthes
  2. What is an author? – Michael Foucalt

The death of the author- Roland Barthes

Paragraph 1

  • Barthes begins with a sentence by Balzac, and says that this sentence sums up the problem… it could be representing Balzac the author, Balzac the man,  a character in the story, ‘universal wisdom’ ….and that all writing has this character…..all the voices- the ideas ‘to which we cannot assign a specific origin.
  • Literature is always like this and the first identity lost is the one that writes ……

Paragraph 2

  • Barthes says that once something is recounted…. and therefore not directly acted out, then it is separated from reality and can’t act upon reality- except as a symbol… once this happens then this death of the identifying voice occurs.

This seems to imply that authorship/provenance can only apply to acts carried out by persons  in reality, everything else is so similar as to be only symbols.

  • In ancient times narratives were told only by special people like shamen, but they were not admired as geniuses…….
  • at the end of the medaevil times and with movements like  the Reformation, we began to identify more with ’the human person’-the individual.
  • This then developed through phenomena like Capitalism to produce the importance of the author as a person.
  • The author still dominates all literature – who he is, what he thinks, what he likes and does……,
  • Van Gogh is a good example… his work is inseparable from his madness…….
  • ‘the explanation of the work is always sought in the man who has produced it’ ….. the author.

Paragraph 3

  • Certain people have begun to question this state of affairs, the first in France was probably Mallarmé, who believes that language speaks, and not the author.
  • Mallarmés poetic works supressed his authorship and increased the status of the reader.
  • Valery made fun of the author in his writings
  • Proust blurred the lines between literature and authorship by allowing his words to be written not by those who experiences, or one who writes, but one who ‘will write’ when it becomes possible……. (this seems to me distance words from author a further step)
  • Surrealism allowed language that was not edited by the author’s ‘head’ (in automatic writing…. Or painting)  This is said by Barthes to ‘ secularize’ authorship with respect to language……. to reduce its importance over language……..
  • Linguistics also, does not require any knowledge of the writer to function.


Paragraph 4

  • An author is ‘supposed’ to precede his book on a timeline- Like a father the child
  • Barthes believes that the modern writer must exist only alongside the text, and that rather than as a recording of something , the text is’ uttered’ and has no content other than by that utterance.
  • Like much of Barthes’ writing, the language is poetic, but becomes rather self-consciously prosaic in parts, and a little repetitive.


Paragraph 5

  • Writing is not like God’s text- one theological meaning- it is full of hundreds of ideas and these come from all of culture

Paragraph 6

  • When the concept of author is discarded the idea of ‘deciphering’ a text is redundant. This idea of deciphering can be left to critics, for whom it is eminently suitable.
  • Here we have thoughts which appear very structuralist, that the text is everything, the context of the text is disregarded (see ‘Some worries about structuralism…’ in my BLOG)
  •  The author was also the critic historically, and we need to rid ourselves of both.
  • The new writing should not contain a ‘secret’ divine meaning, and is thus counter-theological and revolutionary.

Paragraph 7

  • Returning to the original example of a speech in Balzac, Barthes states that no one person utters it- but that it is in the reading that it is located…. In every reader…… reversing the usual hierarchy of importance into Reader-writer.
  • Using another example of the double-meanings found in Greek tragedy (upon which the tragedy is often based),  the  meaning of the  text is only truly understood by each reader himself (ie. How they interpret it). This idea is a lot like the idea of grounded theory -building up a meaning through foundation layers -which I mentioned in ‘Some worries about structuralism…’ in my BLOG)
  • ‘The unity of a text is not in its origins but in its destination’
  • ‘the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’.



Barthes, R ( no date) The Death of the Author  online at [accessed 29th may 2017]


2.  What is an author?

What is an author?


  • The rise of the author (and the work) came into being at a moment of individualisation in fields like science, literature, and philosophy, and became the fundamental unit..
  • The author’s name allows functions such as classification of the text, and grouping with other texts …..    (meta- information?)



  • Mentioning the authors name puts the text in a ‘discourse’ which is not for common consumption but expects to be given a certain status
  • The concept of the author began when discourses were able to become ‘transgressive’ and therefore authors needed to be punished.
  • Not all writings have an author……… a letter , graffiti, a legal document has a writer , but not an author ……
  • The ‘author function’ therefore characterises ‘the mode of existence, circulation and functioning of certain  discourses within a society’.
  • Characteristics of the author function
  1. Authored works can be appropriated
  2. Authorship can effect different texts differently eg literature in former times (dates unmentioned) literary stories needed no author to be accepted as true and worthy, in contrast Science in the middle ages needed a name in order to be recognised as ‘true’
  3. 3 c.In the 17-18th C the  functions in b.  were reversed


  • Literary texts were valued according to questions about the author and the writing ….and if a text had no author, scholarship was introduced to find it.


  • St Jerome proposed 4 criteria for grouping works by the same author
  • These essentially relied on the works being of similar value, style, subject, and in the right era of time.
  • Modern literature is analysed along the same lines, and any variations in works by the same author (style, subject etc…..) , are made to appear logical through reference to the author and his life (biography, maturity and development etc….)


  • Definition: valorize

o   To establish and maintain the price of (a commodity) by governmental action.

o   To give or assign a value to, especially a higher value: “The prophets valorized history” (Mircea Eliade).

  • Foucalt suggests it’s time to assess discourses via ‘modes of existence’ eg. Valorisation, attribution, appropriation, circulation (but does not clearly elaborate further- don’t some of these imply an interest in exactly the author function?
  • There follows a rather difficult long paragraph which I cannot fully understand. The author suggests ‘re-examining the privileges of the subject’  and to grasp ‘its points of insertion, modes of functioning and system of dependencies’
  • Nevertheless…..the paragraph ends by suggesting that the subject should be deprived of a role as an original and given a value via its role within a complex discourse
  • Although we are used to thinking of the author as one who produces ideas ad infinitum, he is not! And in fact we use this author idea to impede free flow and recomposition of ideas.


  • The author goes further by saying that the author’s function set out in the preceding bullet is exactly the opposite of what we think him to be, and so he is ‘the Ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning’
  • The author might like to see a time when the role of the author to control the free flow of ideas and use of texts will disappear, but thinks it’s unrealistic that there will never be a constraint on ideas……
  • The Author suited the times of capitalism, industrial revolution etc…. but when society is changing (as it is) , authorship will begin to disappear.
  • It will be replaced by another concept to constrain….. but what that it we don’t know, and he doesn’t hypothesise.
  • Can I think of any ways that authorship has been diminishing in the last few years (which has seen the great digital revolution) ??


ü Digital media have made it easy to sample and reform text (in its broadest sense). This has been used by recording artists (the famous court case of U2 against a small band who sampled them).

ü More traditionally the work of Sherry Levine, a visual artist, has used direct photographs of other artist’s copyrighted) works to produce their art.

ü The ability of the controlling powers of publishers to detect ‘illegally’ appropriated art (especially music via You tube, streamed music…)  has become greatly diminished. This has inevitably reduced the value of ‘authorship’.  This also applies to the ability to detect reused works……

ü However, are there good points to copyright laws??


Foucalt clarifies  his vision in the last paragraph, by stating several questions which are more easily digestible than other areas of the text. He suggests that in future he’d like us to be asking the following (non-author) types of questions about discourses:

  • What are the modes of existence?
  • Where has it been used, how can it circulate, and who can appropriate it for himself?
  • What are the places in it where there is room for possible subjects?


Foucalt, M. (2003) . ‘What is an author’ 1969   In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 949-953


Epilogue- some worries about structuralism…..

Whilst completing the previous projects, and reading the texts ‘Rhetoric of the Image and ‘Myth today’ (Barthes, 1999 a and b), I realised that I was having some misgivings about the nature of the structuralist arguments. After reading the second half of Don Slater’s text ‘marketing mass photography’ (Slater, 1999), I have realised that I am not alone.

In the text Slater critiques the structuralist-semiotic tradition, and structuralist analysis -a development of structuralist linguistics. He suggests that because  Structuralist theorists in the 1960’s wanted to escape from the overpowering  influence of Marxist theory on texts, they essentially excluded any discussion of external forces when discussing meaning (Slater, 1999 p. 302), and ‘Decoding became an end in itself,…..’ (Slater, 1999 p.303). . They essentially threw the proverbial baby of common sense out with the Marxist bathwater !

Slater argues instead that the task is ‘…. to analyse how the economic, institutional, ideological and political forces, strategies and dynamics have constructed the social relations within which material cultural practices are carried out’ (Slater, 1999 p. 305).

My main concerns during reading resided in just this sort of closed structuralist system of analysis which Barthes was pursuing. For example, he contests that ‘myth is a type of speech chosen by history: it cannot possibly evolve from the nature of things’ (Barthes, 1999 b; p.52). I wondered if this was true, and that surely concepts are universally important and by their very nature more likely to be mythologised? Slater explains that although based on semiotics, which promised ‘to return the captured moment of reading to its determinations…’ , in structuralist analysis  these determinations have ‘ been indefinitely postponed and then utterly forgotten’ (Slater, 1999: p.302). Barthes unrealistic assertion above seems to be evidence that much of the political, sociological and historical context of Barthes’ debates seemed to operate in a vacuum and that these were never really discussed.

Similarly, after reading the example of Latin grammar as mythical speech (Barthes, 1999 b.: p.54), I wondered whether decisions made during the analysis of meaning were too arbitrary, and whether our conclusions were likely to be affected by other undiscussed factors- not least of which was that the sentence is initially said to be in a latin grammar. Once again the context of the text seemed to have been ignored by  Barthes.

I became even more disquieted during the second example of the language of myth:  a picture on the cover of Paris Match magazine, of a negro boy saluting (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 54). Acknowledging an interesting analysis, my main  thoughts were

  • what right does the author have to analyse the text and conclude that this meaning is dominant?
  • Would all French citizens interpret the image the same way?
  • Might it be more simply interpreted as This black boy is saluting a superior ?
  • Who determines the amount of semiological coding within an image or sentence – is it the author or the viewer, or both?
  • Is this the way the magazine wanted it to be interpreted?

After reading Slater’s text I now realise that this sort of ‘structuralist analysis is ‘hegemonic’ in left cultural theory (Slater, 1999: p. 301), and tends to analyse texts (including images) in a vacuum. I feel somewhat happier to know that I was not being overcritical, though Dick Hebidge in his excellent ‘The Bottom Line on Planet One: Squaring up to the Face’ (1999) had already hinted that post-structuralists had many bones to pick with the Bourgoise structuralist method. Surely as well, the answer to any meaning within the text should depend upon how the reader interprets it, which involves both external issues of history, internal issues such as one’s own psyche, and finally (but not exclusively) elements within the text.

In fact here I disagree with Slater, who later remarks in passing that ‘the worst form of empiricist sociology’ is one where we ‘ask what did individual A actually think that film X meant, then aggregate all the individuals surveyed….’ (Slater, 1999: p. 304). On the contrary this seems a very democratic and scientific method and at least a helpful start in textual analysis (akin to Grounded theory in science and social sciences).

I’ll leave this Epilogue with two further reassurances which I gained through Slater’s article. The first is that I have often thought how outdated some of these texts on semiology and photography are, written in an age before the digital revolution, global communications, and a certain amount of democratisation of  communication.  Pierre Bourdieu’s text ‘The social definition of photography’ written in 1965 seemed very outdated in its assessment of mass photography. This view is shared by Slater who finds Bourdieu’s definition ‘outdated’ and ‘local’ (Slater, 1999: p. 289).

Much more importantly though, is that Slater reassures us of the ultimate vision he has for social photography, and one that has proved prescient I think.

In contrast to the restrictive practice of social photography in both Pierre Bourdieu’s and his own day (writing in 1985), he sees that it will need to break away from the  exploitative capitalist control of  the photographic industries, and instead look towards ‘feminism and other movements within politics, in collective practices of photography, and alternative social relations such as  community groups, campaigns, community arts, etc……’ (Slater, 1999: p. 305).

Testament to the way that social photography (and visual culture more generally) has moved on is found in the Visual Culture Reader (Mirzoeff,  2013). This book discusses many contemporary examples of how the battle between the controllers and the politically controlled is being fought out using Visual methods in the present world of global communications, includeing the use of photography and Facebook during the Arab Spring uprising.

More generally one can read about the use of Architecture used for the good of both the Oppressor and the oppressed, for example by the Israeli colonisers in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and in a more democratic way in Mexican neighbourhoods.  It also includes analysis of how ‘differences’ are represented in Virtual Reality games, and in visualising ‘queerness’ (Mirzoeff, 2013).


Barthes, R (1999 a.).  ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Barthes, R (1999 b).  ‘Myth Today’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p 51-58

Bourdieu, P. (1999) ‘The social definition of photography’ in visual culture: a reader.    Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.      p. 162-180

Hebidge, D (1999 b) ‘The bottom line on planet one: squaring up to the face’ in  visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.      p. 99-124

Mirzoeff, N. (ed.)  (2013) The Visual Culture Reader Third edition. Routledge, OXON.

Slater, D (1999) ‘Marketing mass photography’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p.289-306