I’m going to bend this brief right at the start because I don’t want to have to purchase physical newspapers, cut tiny parts out and consign the remains to recycling. It’s needless expense and environmentally frivolous (sorry).
There’s an almost unlimited availability of picture/caption combinations available online so I will look there for examples. The use will be for reasonable comment or parody so I’m happy to do screengrabs. OK, here we go.
This is a straightforward illustrative picture. It is useful because it shows us what kind of tents are being used; they’re quite big, you can walk upright in them and they look pretty robust. How unlike the camping experience we endured as children. But the picture tells us more than that – it looks like it might be quite hot, what with the clear blue sky and the dusty looking ground and there are no air conditioners in sight. It looks like individuals are walking in file, escorted by people in hi-vis tabards – so I will bend the text a bit like this:
Child detainees marched in searing heat through ‘tent city’
This is a good example because the picture could be of anyone, in any context, so the caption must anchor the meaning. Having seen the headline we already know that this man is a gang member and the caption nails him down further. But without the other contextualisation it could easily be a picture of, say, a Maori community leader:
Maori community leader Atutahi Riki risked his life to save 12-year-old Hannah
With this caption it’s almost possible to detect a slight modest smile on the brave public spirited individual.
Sometimes the nature of the picture contents makes a credible subversion impossible:
Dagenham housewife Vicky Street denies theft of giant pearls
I’m going to leave it at that with the examples because I think I’ve managed to grasp the general idea. Most pictures can be affected by accompanying text in ways which follow reality or conspire against it. The extent to which the result is credible will depend on:
- The viewer. The less familiar the viewer is with the content the easier it will be for the text to subvert the ‘truth’.
- Internal contradiction. The picture must bear some believable relationship with the caption.