Ex 2.1 Press picture analysis

Find an example from your national press where you feel that a photograph (with or without its accompanying caption and text) has portrayed an individual or group as ‘others’.

Use the tools set out below to help you analyse the image:

  • The preferred reading, that is, what the photographer intended at the time, or reflective of the dominant ideology
  • The negotiated reading, which should be understood as the viewers accepting some of the intended meaning based on their world view – perhaps the commonest of readings
  • The oppositional reading, whereby the viewer rejects the intended meaning – how many of us might view Victorian colonial images, or hunting or war trophy images, for example.


This topic coincides with some recent discussions over on Andrew Molitors blog and home to his often contrarian views.  In this post [  http://photothunk.blogspot.com/2019/01/truth-and-stories.html  ] he appears to acknowledge these three readings and then expands on them, identifying five ‘stories’ in any picture:

  1. The ‘ground truth’ of what was in front of the lens
  2. The photographer’s intent
  3. What the viewer thinks the ground truth was
  4. What the viewer thinks the photographer’s intent was
  5. The viewer’s overall reaction to the picture

Item 5 would consist of 3 and 4 but with the addition of the viewer’s own story.  1 and 2 are just about the photographer, they haven’t reached a viewer yet; 3,4 and 5 involve the viewer.

The approach suggested in the course material adds a further reading, ‘oppositional’, but I don’t think that warrants its own category – it is just a function of 3,4 and 5 and is not a binary reject/accept – the rejection may be partial or conditional.

I want to use a photograph which Molitor himself examined – it could inform some useful ‘othering’ discussion and the comments in the arising discussion are cogent. Here’s the picture:



It was taken by Joshua Roberts {JR} for Reuters.  Football players from Clemson University attended a White House dinner where the fare consisted of food from McDonalds and the like.  Let’s look at this photograph via the ‘reading’ matrix.

Reading 1 is the scene as it was.  Although we cannot know for sure whether this picture has been altered in any way it seems reasonable to assume that, given the nature of JRs’ assignment and the agency for whom he was working, the event really did look like that, at that time, from that angle, through that particular camera.

Reading 2 is the photographer’s intent.  JR is tasked to document the activity and it seems fair to assume that his intent, within the limitations mentioned above, was to render an accurate and truthful record.

Readings 1 and 2 seem coherent.  If we examine the nature of the photographer, the task and the event as described by other reporters it appears that 1 and 2 match.

Readings 3,4 and 5 are the difficult parts.  At first glance it seems that the woman in the foreground brings considerable weight to the ‘othering’ effect of the picture.

  • She is a black woman in a ‘serving’ role; she’s serving cheap fast food which adds to the menial inference
  • She is working in a wealthy environment; it seems unlikely that her own home could be similarly furnished
  •  In the portrait above the fireplace sits Abraham Lincoln, whose views on racial equality were progressive but hidebound
  • She is dressed in a uniform which requires her to wear a tie, a masculine symbol – does this subvert her gender?

The oppositional reading (an alternative one in the five step method) may be that she is a valued member of staff in a job which pays better than average for a hospitality worker of any sort, with healthcare and dental cover and a month’s paid holiday each year.  This situation arose as a result of the recent US government shutdown so she may not have been paid at all.