Category Archives: 1B

EYV – Square Mile – Research and Reading

Chris Gravett

Gravette: The Heart of Hometown America

In 2010 Gravette abandoned his job with a communications company and at the age of sixty enrolled on the BA Photography course at the University of Westminster.  After graduating he was casting around for project ideas when, as a result of Googling his own surname, he came across the eponymous small town in Arkansas which was to become the subject of his first book.



Gravette and Boots © Chris Gravett

Gravette’s primary interest is documentary photography.  During his visit he had hoped to meet and get to know some of the townspeople, allowing this to inform his work.  He discovered that his expectations were optimistic and it wasn’t until he returned to the town several months later at the invitation of an uncharacteristically outgoing resident that he managed to meet some of those he considered to be the ‘real’ residents.


Steven Martinez © Chris Gravett

Gravette’s colour work is pure documentary record.  No attempt appears to have been made to enhance, light or contrive the scene he saw before him at the point of exposure. Had I been standing behind his shoulder at the time I would have seen exactly the same thing.  Where figures appear he sometimes uses a shallower depth of field to seperate them from the background but he generally departs no further than this from the ‘straight photo’ aesthetic.


David Vaughn © Chris Gravett

I’m inspired rather more by Gravette’s life-planning than his images in this series although I do get the impression that the work turned out very much to his satisfaction.


The Barrett Principles

Observations on Terry Barrett’s “Principles for Interpreting Photographs”  [1]

Due to time constraints the heftier tome referred to in the preceding post has been set aside in favour of this lite version!

Terry Barrett (1945-) is an art critic who has written extensively on the processes amd mechanisms of interpreting visual art.  In this chapter of  he has turned his attention to photography, particularly the interpretation of the photographic print. 

Barrett makes a fundamental assertion straight away – he maintains that “all images require interpretation”, a direct challenge to the belief that ‘art speaks for itself’.  He bases this viewpoint on the claim that because all art is about something  it has to be interpreted to function as such.

He adds a further four broad clauses to his definition of art:

* A work of art projects a point of view
* A work of art projects this view by rhetorical means
* A work of art requires interpretation
* A work of art and its interpretation require an art historical context

These basic tenets are expanded and explained in the remainder of the chapter. 

I recognise that this is but one point of view, albeit with a sizeable following. Some of the concepts feel rather slippery to me and the conclusions which must be drawn from the assertions appear somewhat precarious.  Can art be defined as an artifact with meaning?  Is the meaning imparted by the intentions of the artist?  We are warned about the falseness of Intentionalism, to the extent that the artist’s intent is worth considering but should not be afforded any preferential treatment. Indeed, the photographer may often produce work with a meaning of which he was unaware at the moment of exposure.  Has Barrett defined art as that artifact which is capable of responding to the five general conditions he describes?

For me, this doctrine of interpretation raises more questions than it answers so after reading the chapter through for a third or fourth time I’m going to select an image and subject it to the Barrett treatment, just to get a feel for how the principles perform under my hand.

In my online enquiries I came across  a video featuring Barrett [2] and was heartened to learn that he never really wanted to be an art critic; he was following a career as an artist but took a job as a teacher to avoid the VietNam war draft.  As the only white teacher in an all-black school he found he enjoyed educating and has taught ever since.

1.  “Principles for Interpreting Photographs” [Terry Barrett; In: The Weight of Photography: Photography History, Theory and Criticism. Johan Swinnen and Luc Deneulin, Editors. Brussells: ASP 2010 pp 147-172].

2.    Terry Barrett interview_part1. 2009. AHKBVO Available at: <; [Accessed 19 Sep. 2016].

Photography Criticism

I had a look through the course materials for Expressing Your Vision and it appears that looking at, studying and criticising the work of other photographers will be a significant part of the course.  I have no experience of photography criticism so I thought I’d better get a head start.  Google obliged as usual, turning up what appears to be a favoured text, published relatively recently:” Criticising Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images”  [Terry Barrett.  Mayfield Publishing Company, California, U.S.A., 2000.

It’s a lengthy but interesting read and it seems pertinent to the course as a whole.  I also found a ‘get-you-started’ extract by the same author, “Principles for Interpreting Photographs” [Terry Barrett; In: The Weight of Photography: Photography History, Theory and Criticism. Johan Swinnen and Luc Deneulin, Editors. Brussells: ASP 2010 pp 147-172].

This is my course reading for the moment and I’ll add my observations on them both, here, when finished.