“Interpretations of visual images broadly concur that there are four sites at which the meanings of an image are made: the site(s) of production of an image, the site of the image itself, the site(s) of its circulation, and the site(s) where it is seen by various audience” ((Rose 2016)

Rose also proposed that the meanings created from these four sites of production are affected by what she calls modalities: technological, compositional and social. These three modalities she suggests contributes to the critical understanding of images.

However, this structure for the interpretation of images suggested by Rose can be simplified into methods and meaning and used in much the same way as she proposed. In this case, methods stand-in for the combination of the site and the modalities.

It follows that, in interpreting a visual image at its site of production, one must look at how it was made? The genre? Who? When? Who for? And Why? Against the technology used, compositionality, and a range of economic, social and political relations, institutions and practices that surround the image and through which it is seen and used.

The figure below shows the structure of the Sites and Modalities proposed by Rose.

Sites and Modalities

Fig 1: Sites and Modalities for interpreting visual materials

To put this principle into action, I’ll look at an image from Daisuke Yokota.

Daisuke Yokota

Fig 2: Daisuke Yokota 2016. Matter/Burn Out

Daisuke Yokota is an artist whose work explores the very nature of the photograph to reveal that the photograph is not static but an unstable medium driven by his constant desire to record, destroy and recreate. After exhibiting his series Matter 2013 at Xiamen in 2015, 70 years after the war between Japan and China. Daisuke burned the work, and the ‘burn out’ process was documented in 4,000 photographs to create the new body of work called Matter/Burn out.

By examining this work, it is clear that Daisuke created new meanings from all four sites. Firstly at the site of production, which has a very strong historical link with the Japan-China war. Subsequently, the process of burning and documenting an existing work gave rise to a new meaning for this work. Whereas Matter existed as an exhibition piece, Matter/Burn Out was circulated as a book, which changes the way the audience read the images.

This process of creating, destroy and recreate as executed in Matter/ Burn Out is similar to what I intend to use for my latest project, Fragments (Conteh 2021), which explores litter in our landscape. Rather than ‘burn out’ the prints from the exhibition, I plan to rephotograph them with all the damages acquired from exhibiting the prints. The new creation, I hope, will explore and provoke a discussion on recycling.

Daisuke is also an artist who creates works by rephotographing images multiple times or sometimes using chemicals to destroy and recreate new work. These are methods worth investigating to see how new meanings can be derived from existing images and perhaps from found objects.


  • CONTEH, Alan. 2021. ‘Fragments - Alan Conteh Photography’. [online]. Available at: https://www.contehfotos.co.uk/fragments/ [accessed 2 Oct 2021].
  • ‘MATTER / BURN OUT - Photographs by Daisuke Yokota | LensCulture’. 2021. [online]. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/daisuke-yokota-matter-burn-out [accessed 2 Oct 2021].
  • ROSE, Gillian. 2016. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. 4th edition. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.