After Theory Now the Yummy Practice

Ok, theory out of the way, I promised I’d plunge into this seedy semiotic analysis. I am selfishly combining pleasure and pain here: I am going to do this with a favourite portrait of mine. Not shot by me and therefore not visible here within this post. You will have to follow this link if you want to see what I am going discuss here.
For the sake of this analysis I will deliberately ignore any hermeneutic knowledge we may have about the sitter himself and the context in which the image was taken. (Believe me – that is extremely hard for me to do – I could possibly talk for hours about him. Well, I can surely look at him for hours *smirks*). I will merely discuss the pictorial elements of the image, taken by Joe McGorty. 

The portrait is part of a promotion shoot.  The sitter is placed in what looks like an outdoor staircase. In the background we can spot buildings that have few windows. This is obviously the yard of an industrial building. We can assume that, too, because of a piece of writing that is visible in the shot, to the left of the sitter’s waist: “No escape” – this seems to be some kind of warning sign in the industrial environment this shot was taken in. The sitter is leaning with his back against a wall. He has folded his arms across his stomach and shows his left thumb sitting on his right upper arm with the thumb pointing up. He is leaning back in a relaxed fashion. 

The shot is most likely lit with available light from the right; the left half of his face is nonetheless slightly obscured by shadow. There might be a bit of fill light from the left – a reflector, maybe, but not enough to cancel out the shadow. The photographer is taking this photo from a slightly higher point than the sitter’s position, thereby forcing the sitter to look up. The photographer has composed the image in such a way that the sitter is not in the centre but takes up space on the right hand side of the image. 

For a portrait the image is unusally composed: Conventionally the most important object/subject of an image will be placed in the centre. Here, the photographer – either on location or during post-production – has framed/cropped the shot in such a way that sitter and writing counterbalance each other. He has also taken care that the colours in the environment match the sitter’s clothes – the blue shirt and denims work well against the blue paint of the wall. The colours of the buildings in the background are washed out due to receiving the correct kind of exposure on the main part of the image – the sitter.

Washed out.


What does it all mean?

We have a number of elements to look at: a) the environment/location, b) the pose; c) the vantage point of the photographer; d) the styling of the sitter; e) lighting.

And that, I am sorry to say, we will do in the next instalment of this semiotic analysis of a portrait. This post is becoming far too long. But hey, feel free to gawk look at the lovely portrait of the even lovelier Richard Armitage. I sure will… 😉

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