The purpose of this Exercise is to find symbols to depict a number of concepts.  Symbols are used widely by those who wish to influence others, particularly in advertising but also in fields such as politics and magazine production, to create certain mind sets or reactions from viewers which the advertiser hopes will influence their perception of the product and its desirability.


Figure 1.  The Tate and Lyle ‘Lion and Bees’ logo

Examples of symbols in product promotion are numerous, from the early Tate and Lyle logo (Figure 1 above) which was designed to suggest the concept of strength (the lion) and sweetness (bees which produce honey) to the more recent golden arches of the McDonalds logo (Figure 2 below) which suggests a welcoming entrance to an exciting experience as well as implying a promise of sensory delight with the Mmmmm suggestion.


Figure 2.    The ‘M’ golden arches logo of McDonalds

When the Liberal Democrats were becoming established as a new political party they chose the golden ‘bird of freedom’ motif as their logo (Figure 3a below) in order to create an impression of a new golden dawn, of taking flight and leaving behind the earth bound practices of traditional politics.  Sadly, the meaning and impact of a logo can be changed by those who seek to put on a negative spin as the Lib Dems subsequently discovered (Figure 3b).


Figure 3a.  The Lib Dem’s Logo


Figure 3b. The potential downside of a logo!

Symbols can be an important element of an image in photography as they can create an impact or an ambience, whether subliminally or more directly, which draws the viewer into the image in a more engaged way and influences their perception of and response to the image.   As they reflect the experiences and collective psyche of people and cultures, symbols and their impact and meaning will often change over time and place, but some will have long standing and wider significance owing to their universal acceptance.  Symbols are particularly useful for depicting abstract concepts and a few examples elating to the concepts of growth, excess, crime, silence and poverty are given below.


A tree; a leafy shoot; a field of grass or crops; an upward pointing arrow; a launching rocket; an inflating balloon; a geyser; a bubble; rising smoke; a child against a marked wall; a graph or histogram; a mountain.


 A gold plated rolls royce; a pile of money; an overflowing cup; a diamond studded skull; a large pile of rubbish; a hotel in Dubai; a roulette wheel; a plate of half eaten food; a very fat person; a beer belly; a flooded river valley; an avalanche.


Figure 4.    Damien Hirst’s famous diamond covered skull


A gun; a mask; a skull and crossbones; a magnifying glass; a noose; a broken window; a black dog; a blue light; handcuffs; a barred window; a parking ticket on a windscreen; a chalk outline of a body on the ground; a judge wearing a wig.


A down feather; a finger against lips; a zip; a falling snowflake; star filled space; a person praying; a person meditating; a child’s dummy; a face with eyes closed; a snowy landscape ‘hushed and white with snow’; a sign in a library; a gag; thistledown on the breeze.


An upturned cup; a turned out empty pocket; a crust of bread; a person walking with no shoes on; an empty hand held out; a broken money box; an empty cup or bowl; a rubbish tip; brown and withered plants; dry and cracked mud; a very thin body.

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In order to explore the theme in greater depth I set up and photographed a few scenarios and now include examples below.


Figure 5.   GROWTH

I chose this subject because the vertically pointing shape of the leaf gives a sense of upward growth whilst the branching and spreading venation also gives the impression of outward growth from the central hub.


Figure 6.   POVERTY

In order to heighten the effect of deprivation or shortage I took a piece out of the crust and put some crumbs in the bowl.  I also selected the bowl and the board for their dark colouration to highlight the crust and crumbs and also to create an air of bleakness and foreboding.  The choice of low lateral lighting also enhanced this effect by creating a band of highlighting over the bread but leaving dark shadow on either side.

OCA Part 5 Narratives - Symbols-21-2 copy

Figure 7.    CRIME

I spotted these two flags whilst passing a campsite after writing the first part of this Exercise and took this shot quickly while stopped in the middle of a country lane .  It was grey and windy and I had to select a high iso setting and a shutter speed of 1/1000th sec. in order to freeze the movement in the low light conditions.  Flags themselves often contain symbols (lions, stars, moons, elephants, colours) or become symbolic in themselves through association.  Here there are two flags, one, the Union Jack, often being seen as a symbol of pride, unity, history, and other concepts and the other the Skull and Crossbones or Jolly Roger, associated with pirates and robbery and murder on the high seas.

Interestingly, in respect of the different meanings attributed to symbols whilst for some the Union Jack might be a symbol for honesty, dependability, achievement, democracy and commonwealth, etc. for others it might be a symbol for oppression, exploitation, bigotry and arrogance.  Similarly, whereas a Jolly Roger might stir thoughts of greed, ruthlessness, violence and fear for those outside the pirate fraternity, those within might equate the Jolly Roger with trust, comradeship, adventure and livelihood.  The meanings that symbols have for different people will depend on a great many things.

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