Photographs from Text

The brief for this exercise was to choose a text that has meaning for you, anything from a poem, newspaper report, biblical passage or scene from a novel.

Once the text has been decided upon then several things need to happen:

  • Generate visual ideas that communicate the text.
  • Discuss the text with other people and find out what ideas spring to mind for them, jot the ideas down.

At this point, how to turn the text into an image or series of images can be considered.

  • Start with thinking about a literal translation of the text.
  • Next think about ways to illustrate the text metaphorically or symbolically.

As part of the activity the relationship between image and text should be researched by looking at Barbara Kruger’s montages of photography and text, plus Gillian Wearing’s Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say.


Gillian Wearing

Wearing’s Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say is a series of 600 photographs, taken during 1992 and 1993.

For the series, Wearing approached people in the street and asked them to write what they were thinking on a piece of A3 paper. She then photographed them holding the paper up in front of them.

Looking at the series of images you are struck by the candor of some of the people. The business man holding a sign saying “I’m desperate”, the young woman leaning against some railings with a sign saying “My grip on life is rather loose!”

Viewing the images in The New Yorker article, Bonhacker (2013), each of the individuals seems to be smiling for the camera. Not obvious grins in most cases, but discrete smiles that almost suggest that the individual is glad to have been able to share with someone what they are thinking at the time.

The idea of getting people to hold up a piece of card with something written on it is a simple one. However, to actually go up to people in the street and pursuade them to allow you to photograph them holding up that card with your thought for all to see, is challenging. How many people turned her down? How many images must have been taken in order to get 600 that you are happy to use?

We are all familiar with scenes from movies, music videos, or the many Facebook videos where someone is holding up a sign or a series of signs that give a message to the viewer. Wearing’s project is the fore-runner for all of these and is an important example of how a photographers work can be influential and have far reaching effects, across more than the media they worked in.

Barbara Kruger

Kruger’s work involves overlaying a image with a slogan. The slogans usually juxtapose with the image. Text is usually written in one colour on a contrasting block background. Usually white text on a red block. A quick image search in Google reveals lots of images that have a similar feel to them, not all of which I feel are down to Barbara Kruger, but as one image states “Plagiarism is the sincerest form of imitation”.

One of Kruger’s more famous images is titled “Your body is a battleground” and has the text ovelaying a persons face, one half of which is a normal print/exposure, the other half being a negative print/exposure. Scanning the result of the image search there are several examples of people having produced similar images.

In a similar way to Gillian Wearing, Barbara Kruger has influenced a generation.

Selected Text

Don’t Stop Dad. 26.2 miles today, all smiles tomorrow

Visual Ideas

The text is from a large card that hangs on the wall above my desk at home. The word Dad is in my son’s handwriting and was done when I completed the London marathon for the second time. I’m not sure at what point he wrote it before the race but I think it was between being admitted to St Thomas Hospital, the evening before, and me seeing him stood waving it by Big Ben, after they’d allowed him out for a couple of hours.

There are two aspects to this text. The 26.2 miles and the smiles.

To me the 26.2 miles denotes effort, determination, pain, undertaking or completing a hard task.

Smiles denotes, relief, pleasure, enjoyment, achievement.

Visually I see this as a mix of images involving effort and pain, happiness and relief.

Results of discussions with other people

When it came to discussing what people thought about the text I made use of social media and posted the question my Facebook page. I find that is a useful way to start some discussions because it can give you access to more people than you might be able to reach face to face.

Some of the responses I received were:

Motivation, determination through struggle, and optimism, looking forward to success and a rest

“Hell on Earth”

and the following image. Which I find particularly powerful because of the person it came from.

Which step

And for anyone who has ever completed a marathon, the bottom step is exactly how you feel for the first few days after you’ve crossed the finish line and people ask you if you’re going to another marathon. The top  step is you a few days after that when you’ve submitted that entry for another marathon.

Literal Translation

My initial idea for this was to take a small digital camera and use it to photograph people before then start of the 2018 London Marathon, possibly during the race; including the supporters at Teenage Cancer Trust charity points around the course, at the end of the race and if possible the morning after. In the end this idea didn’t pan out due to my digital camera falling out of the pouch of my running belt, which had come unzipped, sometime early on in the race.

I did manage to capture some photos during the event using the camera on my phone, which probably should have been what I opted to do from the start, rather than take a camera. These images are the basis for the work submitted for this exercise.

Metaphorical / Symbolical Illustration

If I was to interpret this text metaphorically or symbolically then I’d either look at photographing each of the steps in the image above, with a possible sporting influence. Alternatively, I would capture images that showed people struggling and maybe feeling somewhat disheartened, people striving towards achieving something and then images of people looking satisfied that they have reached an end. Or maybe photograph people going on journeys, the start of the journey, along the way, and when they finally reach their destination.


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The deadline for my next assignment is the 18th May and I still have a number of exercises to complete before that becomes due. As a result I’m not able to spend a lot more time on this exercise. What I’ve produced fits the brief for the exercise. I’ve taken a piece of text and produced a series of images based around that text. The resultant images aren’t my best work, and don’t reflect what I had in mind when planning what to take, with more time I’d have ended up with something different.

When I sat down to select the images I was going to use I decided that I’d use Barbara Kruger’s as an influence and add text to each of the images, apart from one, and that one didn’t really need anything else adding to it. Admittedly in some cases the text is repeating what you can already see in the image, but if you had not idea of the distance involved in a marathon then the text does have meaning.

I’d like to redo this exercise either next time I do London, or at a different marathon, perhaps one that I’m not taking part in.  In addition I’d like to explore the metaphorical/symbolical way of illustrating the text, which is something that I hopefully will be able to do in parallel with the exercises and assignments in the rest of the course.

Contact Sheets


  1. Bohnacker, S (2013) Picture Desk: Gillian Wearing [Accessed: 15th April 2018] Available at:

7 thoughts on “Photographs from Text”

  1. Hey.
    I like how you’ve made the series by using photos that make use of three lots of text, the 26.2 miles, the steps and your text overlay.
    That’s quite a clever and multi-layered approach to the exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Richard. I’ve just been talking with my other half about this.
      It’s interesting the levels that we an introduce into our photographs. One of the images has a piece of text which to a lot of people will have one meaning, but for people who know me and the sort of things I like when it comes to books and movies will reflect those interests as its a line out of a movie.
      Not that it’s ever going to happen but I think it would be great if someone was curating my work for an exhibition in the future and was looking at that image and coming up with an interpretation for what I was thinking at the time I created it, because I’m sure that they’d never figure it out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t believe that anyone can know what we were thinking, although I am going to guess at Tastes Like Chicken. Our personalities are multi layered, so I guess our photography will always have as much hidden as their is revealed.

        And don’t be saying things won’t happen, the future will reveal itself in its own time.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Your journey is here, and there are many interpretations. ‘So it begins’ ,’Towering over us’, ‘Three more to go’ and ‘Done’ make a splendid sequence n their own right. Congratulations on the marathon and the well done on the exercise.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Sarah. The ones you’ve highlighted are a nice group on their own.
      I was certainly glad to get across the finish line. It was not a nice day and then to hear that someone had died, it made you appreciate just how lucky you were to make it to the end in one piece.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done Jenna, both the exercise and the marathon! “and so it begins” “long road home” and “1 more to go” have a particular resonance for me although not in a marathon scenario. Excellent.

    Liked by 2 people

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