November 6, 2021

Week 7: Words and Pictures

Positions & Practice

Fig. 1: Conteh 2021. Fragments

“Although we see with our eyes, most of us think with words.”
(Lester 2021: 60)

This statement by Paul Lester takes on added significance, especially when reading images because seeing is mainly the result of thinking clearly (Lester 2021: 5). This is particularly important for image producers because, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you don’t read enough” (Tod Papageorge cited in Ritchin 2013: 30). Furthermore, words like memory and culture affect our understanding of images. Therefore as Lester argues, “one of the strongest forms of communication is when words and images are used in equally respectful ways”(Lester 2021: 60).

This sort of representation, which presents words and images side by side, is commonly seen in magazines, newspapers, websites and advertisements and the like, where captions are used to explain what has been shown. Here, “the text most often simply amplifies a set of connotations already given in the photograph. Sometimes, however, the text produces (invents) an entirely new signified which is retroactively projected into the image, so much as to appear denoted there”(Barthes and Heath 1977: 27).

Several contemporary practitioners like Keith Arnatt have used both words and images to the effect described by Barthes to amplify connotations already given in the photograph or invent an entirely new signified. Arnatt developed the idea of a performative situation, where performing something in language was a way of making it exist. The self-portrait of Trouser-Word Piece is reminiscent of other works in circulation at the time. However, Arnatt used a quote from the linguistic philosopher J.L. Austin (1911-60). The quote said, “I’m a real artist”, which implies some ‘fake’ artists (Bate 2021: 116).

In The Plastic Problem(2021), I used texts to amplify the connotations given in the photographs by pointing to specific facts that described the impact of single-use plastic on our natural environment. Also, in Fragments ( 2021b), I used title caption to give unique names to the images that described the item shown and the GPS coordinate pointing to where I found the object. This naming convention tied the photograph to a specific place or physical location.


  • BARTHES, Roland and Stephen HEATH. 1977. Image, Music, Text: Essays. 13. [Dr.]. London: Fontana.
  • BATE, David. 2021. Photography. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc.
  • CONTEH, Alan. 2021a. ‘The Plastic Problem’. Alan Conteh Photography [online]. Available at: [accessed 13 Nov 2021].
  • CONTEH, Alan. 2021b. ‘Fragments’. Alan Conteh Photography [online]. Available at: [accessed 13 Nov 2021].
  • LESTER, Paul Martin. 2021. Visual Communication: Images with Messages.
  • RITCHIN, Fred. 2013. Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen. First edition. New York, N.Y: Aperture Foundation, Inc.