3.4 A persuasive image


1. Find three examples of landscape photographs (or the collective efforts of a set of photographs) that are being used to assert a particular ideological point of view. Look at images that have been used in advertising or other commercial applications, as well as within fine art and documentary photography. This might be a very explicit message, or something a lot subtler. If text is used, consider how this relates to the image. In your learning log, make some brief comments (around 300 words) describing how the photographer or designer used the photograph and how the image communicates its intended message.

There are quite a few useful websites to look at trends in photography for environmental activism. There are also searches on Flickr and

Google Search images


True Activist page of environmental photographer of the year

I chose three set of images:

Greenpeace climate change campaign

from a Google search on ‘climate change adverts’. These combine (but less powerfully I think) elements of the direct Kennard photomontage tradition with captioned adverts and the dystopian digital photomontage of Halso.

Greenpeace Image 1 ‘Survival of the Tallest’: one of three surreal clever photomontage images each showing giraffes, emus or elephants in water reaching up to get leaves from submerged trees. These look like a filmset. Half the frame on the left is taken by the submerged tree under glowering rain clouds (though most of the rise in water level is because of Arctic melting and rise in sea levels). The image of the giraffes has the giraffe reaching for food in the middle. But the eye goes first to the giraffe on the right of the frame whose face is pointing downwards in the rough direction of the caption.

Greenpeace: Image 2 Bomb at first sight attracts attention by what looks like the mushroom cloud of the atom bomb, but is then seen to be an inflated plastic bag – a reference to the terrible blight on the landscape particularly in Africa, caused by all the discarded plastic bags. This advert is clever in its use of analogy.

Greenpeace: Image 3 The Forest Cannot Defend Itself is the most direct showing a bulldozer and one lone tree left at the edge of a forest. The eye goes first to the large bulldozer on the right of the image and then searches for meaning. The caption is over the trees to the far left. Although this is very direct, the large empty space in the middle of the image after initial impact I find quite effective in conveying the image of devastation.

Other images in the series are more gruesome – babies crawling in oil, deer made out of rubbish on the top of rubbish heaps.

Before finding these images I also looked at:

Flickr search on environmental degradation.

Many of these images are more in  the Burtynsky tradition – ‘beautiful’ images that on closer examination show the effects of oil spillages or human activity.

Image 1: Chimneys by David Olsson in Sweden

This image is one of many taken by this Swedish professional photographer David Olsson – all shot with a very long exposure to make the water milky and highlight the objects in the foreground. Some series eg Skuberget and other photos in the Grytudden series  (eg Sunset, Stora Enso) look like ‘ideal’ landscape images on the front of Photography Magazines or film advertisements.  Though the Grytudden series are still intriguing because of the backdrop of chimneys on the skyline and rather puzzling assortment of objects in the foreground.

In Chimneys the image is the same large Grytudden lake with a  large root in the foreground. At very first sight it looks much like the others in his set. It is only through searching through the image that one sees the chimneys – billowing smoke in the background. The image, with its brown and grey colours then looks more like an image from an apocalyptic horror movie. In some ways it is because this image is surrounded by other apparently similar images that are merely ‘beautiful’ that this image has quite a lot of power for me – beauty fatigue rather than compassion fatigue. I cease to look beyond.

Image 2: Reflecting on Climate Change  by amateur British photographer Myles Smith. He climbed over barbed wire fences to take this night shot of dead trees poking out of water. This again is an apparently ‘beautiful’ image. But without the title it would seem like yet one more image of winter trees reflected in water.

Image 3: Brazil Favela by Ricardo Funari is in the social documentary tradition  shows children on an urban waste dump. One half of the image is taken up by the children looking rather uncertainly into the camera – but the sort of image that is common on promotional literature of Save the Children and other NGOs. This contrasts with the left side of the image that is taken up by the rubbish dump. This lacks the power of Lixenberg’s engagement with the community and in-depth documentary.

Of all these images it is the oblique but powerful references in ‘Chimneys’ and ‘Bomb’ that I find most effective. Because the references are oblique and not immediately obvious they establish a new – and thereby memorable – connection of thoughts in my mind.

2. Consider an issue (social, political or environmental) that you feel strongly about. Design an image that you think will have a persuasive effect upon a viewer. This could be a deliberately rough photomontage or something more polished. You don’t necessarily need to make the photograph or tableau; this is an exercise in generating ideas, thinking about communicating an idea and taking an ideological standpoint.

Gifts of Spring : March 22nd 2015

Spring is a time when many people start to use the river again - seeing the ducks and feeding the swans. Walking after winter. On March 22nd 2015 I photographed all the litter left by this sudden burst of activity - like flowers suddenly in bloom.
Spring is a time of colour. On March 22nd 2015 I photographed all the litter left over a 500 meter stretch of towpath by the River Cam by walkers and picnickers as they started to use the river path again – seeing the ducks and feeding the swans. Glinting in the sunlight like jewelled flowers suddenly in bloom or nestling in the shade like young in the nest.

This is an image I have had in mind for quite some time – as part of the images I have been collecting for the Transitions series. In Spring the litter suddenly appears from nowhere – people seem to think it will just somehow degrade and clear itself up. Other times of the year there are discarded beer cans (See my piece for Assignment 3), but in the Spring it is all the chocolate wrappers and bread packaging as people come with their children to see the ducklings and feed the swans. I started to become interested in how some of the articles looked like anguished animals – like the striped plastic bag of dog mess on the middle left of the image.

This image is just a preliminary idea – a photomontage of many (but not yet all) the litter I photographed that day. The aim is to make the image of litter look like a nature photograph – spring meadow and nesting birds.I like the square format –  linking different elements in a cluttered space like litter or a nest. I like the striped plastic bag like an agonised rat on the left and the multicoloured foil balloon that rears up like a snake in the grass.

I need now to leave the image for a while and look at it afresh in the light of feedback. The analogy is not yet there:

  • I am not sure about the title, and whether to caption on the image itself. Maybe just ‘Spring 22nd March 2015’ – the main message is that all the images were taken of litter on the ground in a small area on the same walk/day. And this is far too much and unnecessary.
  • I could make more of the shapes of the polystyrene – some of them look like small models of animals, some could be reduced in size to look more like white blossom on the hawthorn that was in other images on the same day.
  • The little patch of blue sky to the top left is deliberate – but maybe that is where I could put an image with blossom.
  • I wanted to cluster patches of purples, orange, yellow and blue wrappers like patches of the flowers. Possibly also intermingle some of the flower pictures to make things less direct. Maybe also increase some of the saturation on those. Maybe I could include an image of the litter bins at the entrance to the path – but not too prominent.
  • It would probably help also to print the images out and experiment with collage first and then think carefully about how the eye moves through from colour to colour, along plant stems and between parched of tonal contrast. For example I could cut and past the pictures of real flowers on top?

Basically I need to think more.

Annotate sketches and any other work and enter it into your learning log.
If you’re struggling with this exercise, you may find it helpful to read ahead to the ‘Landscape and advertising’ project in Part Four. – I will revisit this image when I do that part.

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