Assignment 4: rethink

I posted a draft of my essay yesterday and fairly quickly got some challenging feedback (thanks Eileen) that made me step back and rethink the shape and content of the whole thing.

Feedback

There were two main comments, both valid, and one relatively minor and fixable but the other quite fundamental.

To paraphrase, the main points were:

  • Terminology:
    • I have been using ‘semiotics’ to cover both the study of signs and the use of signs, when it only means the former
    • I’ve also been using terms like ‘symbolism’ and ‘signification’ interchangeably with semiotics, which can be problematic
    • This lack of rigour around definitions is making the essay more woolly and easier to pick holes in than it should be
    • If this was the only issue then I could work through the terminology I’ve used and tighten it up throughout the essay
  • Core thesis:
    • I’ve built the essay around a core thesis that ambiguity and the use of signs is an underused technique in documentary photography…
    • … but in fact this concept is widely accepted in photography
    • Instead of being a critical analysis of the subject, I’ve mainly been regurgitating existing knowledge without adding too much
    • This is where I need to rework the overall thesis and structure, even if I re-use some of the core argument text

There were also a couple of pieces of other feedback I need to consider:

  • More contemporary examples
  • How this topic relates to my own practice

Take a step back

Over and above the general (and weak) ‘documentary photography should use ambiguity and signs more’ argument that bookended the last draft, there are two dimensions of the essay that – if analysed rigorously – can still form the basis of a meaningful critical review:

  • The distinct types of sign used:
    • Metaphor (similarity)
    • Metonymy (association)
  • The categories of ‘unphotographable’ subject matter:
    • Taboo subjects
    • Intangible concepts
    • Temporal shift

Based on these two axes I believe I can construct a more tightly focused and more distinctive thesis than the last draft. My thinking is that I can dig deeper into the different uses of (and pros/cons of) metaphor and metonymy, examined across the three categories of unphotographable subject matter.

This would make it more of a comparative critical review than before, and wording my hypothesis as an argument or question may be tricky, but I’ll come back to that after having a go at rewriting the main text.

Mind map

On my tutor’s advice I’ve started using mind mapping as a technique for organising my thoughts. It’s useful for spotting gaps and connections between aspects of the content, and in particular for helping to structure the flow of the argument.

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Revised title

My current working title for this reworked essay is:

Comparing the use of metaphor and metonymy as tools for photographing the unphotographable.

Revised essay plan

  • Introduction
    • Establish argument
    • 150 words
  • Definitions
    • Documentary
    • Signifier/signified
    • Metaphor
    • Metonymy
    • 200 words
  • Ambiguity theory
    • Continuum of authorship
    • Didactic vs ambiguous
    • Encoding/decoding
    • Cognitive effort
    • 250 words
  • Metaphor
    • Critical theory
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
    • 250 words
  • Metonymy
    • Critical theory
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
    • 250 words
  • Unphotographable subjects
    • Intro section
    • 50 words
  • Taboo subjects
    • Explanation
    • Metaphor suitability
    • Metonymy suitability
    • Examples
    • 200 words
  • Intangible concepts
    • Explanation
    • Metaphor suitability
    • Metonymy suitability
    • Examples
    • 200 words
  • Temporal shift
    • Explanation
    • Metaphor suitability
    • Metonymy suitability
    • Examples
    • 200 words
  • Application to own practice
    • Examples
    • 150 words
  • Conclusion
    • Refer back to opening argument
    • 100 words
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