How to Live Together – Roland Barthes

As I start to research text that looks at the community, I have come across Roland Barthes collection of lectures entitled ‘How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces’ (Barthes, 2012). This text is a look at “idiorrhythmy” which is primarily a system of community related to how many religious groups co-exist, such as monasteries. When related to the broader community, it is how we as individuals, and our individual rhythm can live with others whilst respecting their individual rhythm withing the same spaces.

It would be good to consider those within certain communities that have been excluded. This according to Barthes as ‘Perhaps there is no such thing as a community without an integrated reject’ Roland Barthes discusses that any community that exists to include some, also excludes some as well, with some communities go as far as ‘guarding’ their rejects and preventing them from leaving, presumably so that a comparison to ‘The Other’ can be made of ones situation over another.  (Barthes, 2012, p.101).

Rectangle as the basic shape of power. (Barthes, 2012, p.114)

In nature, the rectangle shape does not exist (With limited exceptions). Barthes creates a view that the spaces that we build for ourselves are a form on control. Control of the environment, in the shaping of it, control by the state are formed of rectangles. The same could be said of photography that creates compositions within the bounds of a rectangle.
This is worth considering when looking at the buildings and architecture of community.

Barthes considers the typology of communities in ‘How to Live Together’ discussing the relationship that we all have with beds, as an example. The bed too, is a rectangle, a system of controlling our sleep. The object itself is a functional item, designed for a purpose, an impersonal object. it’s connotations are also deep in meaning and provide a gamut of meaning, for example in language, we refer to ‘Death Beds,’ ‘Marital Beds,’ and how one could ‘Make your bed, and the sleep in it.’ (Barthes, 2012, p. 114). When considering the objects that I will explore in this part of my project, I really need to consider the relationship that these objects and spaces represent.

Linking back to Todd Hido
Figure 1. #2133 by Todd Hido (Hido, 2001).

Reading ‘How to live together’ there is also a nice link back to the work of Todd Hido that I was reading. Barthes considers the night time and the need to be around other people. (Barthes, 2012, p. 129) Living in any community means that this is unavoidable, except at night. Living together is a way of avoiding the loneliness of the night time. Todd Hido’s work is primarily shot at night and leaves a sense of separateness and loneliness. His image of the two windows with television light illuminating them (Fig. 1) suggests that these are at least two people ‘living together’ but choosing to spend time apart (Hido, 2014).

Also very much related to the work of Hido is the idea of ‘space.’ Barthes notes that the ultimate possession that we have is space. Distance is valuable. Sometimes however, it is not a literal distance that is being referred to. This could be a distance between socio-economic groups, it could also be through how you define and be yourself, in what Barthes calls the “pathos of distance.” (Barthes, 2012, p. 132).

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces. Translation Edition ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hido, T., 2001. #2133. [Art].

Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude

Figure 1. #3557 by Todd Hido (Hido, 2006).

Now that I am looking at taking my project on community into a broader look at the places that allow it to function, I have been reading Todd Hido’s book ‘On Landscape, Interiors, and the Nude’ (Hido, 2014), as I have come to his look at his night images of homes and how these become an image of the people and the relationships they represent. Hido provides multiple examples of this in his book, one of these is of a bed (Fig. 1) which is not necessarily just an image of a bed (considering the denotation vs the connotations of an image), it might be an image representing a relationship, it could also be about loneliness (Hido, 2014, p.66).

Figure 2. #2133 by Todd Hido (Hido, 2001).

It is important to consider the meaning that a seemly simple image such as a building might have. My aim is to start looking at the architecture of community, through the civic buildings that people congregate. From my initial research into some of the local buildings near me, I am now keen to shoot a range of interiors as well as exterior, and eventual images, before I move on to images of people again.

I do not feel the need to shoot these as Hido has done with his buildings, at night (Fig. 2). However, his emphasis on ambiguity is something that I intend to take from reading his book. It is also a continuation of the work I have started on developing my sense of narrative and allowing the reader to ask the question “What’s going on here?” (Hido, 2014, p.28), and also posing more questions than answers. The danger of applying Hido’s approach wholy onto my own photography is to then create a contrived image, removed from the faithful representation of the subjects. It is something worth exploring and considering the impact on my work.

Setting a Stage

Hido discusses the need to set the stage, which is an area I may consider exploring. Hido works on his locations to create a sparse environment so that you can focus on the subject, creating the conditions that provides context, and so that his subjects (Or characters) are able to be natural withing. Hido says:

“You can have an amazing story to tell, but you have to get the setting right”

(Hido, 2014, p.97).

My approach to this kind of work has always been to photograph what is in front of me and be as faithful to the scene as I possibly can. As I developed over Positions and Practice however, I have come to consider the direction in terms of how much I impose onto the subject to move them away from a ‘performance’ presented to me. My role, as I have come to terms with, is to create the kind of image I want to tell, and the dialogue between the subject and myself is an ongoing process.

Roy Stryker’s ‘Shooting Scripts’

Hido mentions Roy Stryker’s use of ‘Shooting Scripts’ to guide the FSA photographers

“In order to create the feeling of a common experience”

(Hido, 2014, p.123)

which I feel might be an interesting place to start looking at for my own work, moving forward. Hido considers that these are the elements for telling a story, and creating a full body of work and useful inspiration. I intend to look at these and create some explorations based on them.

I have found through some research, this example Shooting script produced by Roy Stryker and the FSA on ‘The Small Town.’ My intention is to analyse this in greater detail and see if it will apply ton what I am aiming to accomplish with this part of my project.

Bibliography

Hido, T., 2001. #2133. [Photo].

Hido, T., 2006. #3557. [Photo].

Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Library of Congress, 2011. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Written Records: Selected Documents. [Online]  Available at: Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Written Records: Selected Documents [Accessed 11 12 2019].

Research Project Proposal

I am happy with how my proposal has turned out, I found it challenging at the beginning to put my ideas into a logical order, however once I had found a good flow, it has become useful to create this plan in a way that is flexible enough for evolution. It has also given me the opportunity to apply some additional skills that may come to inform and support my work.

The proposal was consciously designed to mirror the layout and style of a government information document, similar to the EU Referendum pamphlet that was widely circulated during the 2016 referendum. Many state organisations choose to use the typeface Helvetica due to its clarity and appearance of stable governance (Helvetica, 2007). This is a subtle coding that we interact with regularly. I felt it important to start utilsing in my work on the community. My aim was not to create a complete copy of this but to consider the civic and political elements of community.

In order to make the document as accessible as possible I utilised Adobe InDesign to add elements such as navigation links and bookmarks to aid people in reading the document, although this might depend on prior knowledge of PDF reading software.

Helvetica. (2007). [film] Directed by G. Hustwit. Canada: Veer, Swiss Dots.

Week 10: Reflection

After this week’s webinar, I have had to consider the way I am discussing my work, and how much that I am projecting onto the work, which can distract from the reading of it.

We looked at critical perspectives to locate my practice:

  • Community is the shared space and activities that provide many with meaning. Eli Durst has said  “Many People need a sense of secular purpose” (Zoo, 2019).​*​
  • Robert Putnam discusses a decline in ‘social capital’ in his book ‘Bowling Alone.’ Traditional community groups have functioned to serve in providing the participants with the skills and knowledge to function within society. Civic engagement, for example, has decreased as education has risen over the past 30 years. People now have the skills to function within a society that historically would have been nurtured through clubs, organizations and associations (Putnam, 2000). ​†​
  • In Roland Barthes posthumous essays entitled ‘How to Live Together’ (Barthes, 1977)​‡​, he considered the individual and society in an attempt to ask the question on if it is possible to create a community where everyone lives according to their own rhythm, and yet respects the individual rhythms of others? (Reference, paper on barthes).

I continue to read ‘Bowling Alone’ which has inspired the concept of looking at the theme of community. It has been useful and provided me with a number of critical perspectives to consider moving forward. The writing is very much in the field of economics and everything is considered as such. I have come to realise that I need to expand my reading in this area and started to look at the work ‘How To live Together’ by Roland Barthes, where he considered the individual and society in an attempt to ask the question on if it is possible to create a community where everyone lives according to their own rhythm, and yet respects the individual rhythms of others?

During the Webinar, it was noted that my explanation of the work could be considered melancholic where the images did not read that way. This perception could be a factor in the way that I was applying the Social Capital theory in terms of the decline that Putnam discusses in his work. The reading of the images is correct as there is much positivity in the images that I shot and clearly show a strong sense of community. My emphasis on the decline is mostly a projection of the unprepared statements I was making regarding my work. An area of clear development as although, Putnam is right to assert the decline in social capital, however, my work is to look at what is replacing it. Is the traditional community in decline, or is it evolving. If it is evolving, what is replacing the traditions.

During the afternoon 'Children's Procession' at Gillingham Carnival. Part of Wessex Grand Prix: Gillingham Carnival
Figure 1. Oscar, Gillingham Carnival. (Hill, 2019)

My work on the Carnival was also a look at Putnam’s Bonds, Bridges, and Linkages’ in that the carnival culture and community is mainly that of the established working class demographic of the somerset region which feels besieged by the gentrification of the area. Local traditions are very much perceived as under threat by the people moving to the area. The bridge between these two levels of social capital are not considerate or in dialogue with one another.

Suggested further reading after the webinar
  • Charlotte Cotton – The Photograph as Contemporary art (Cotton, 2014)​§​
Work in Progress

I have been working on my sequencing of the work and now have updated my online gallery, hopefully ready for the portfolio submission.

The work has a new tighter edit that focuses on the ‘Adult Play’ and secular sense of purpose, which are concepts that I have come to this week through reading Alice Zoo’s review of Eli Durst’s new book ‘The Community.’

I feel my work now sits very well on my website and has a clear narrative running through the set. I asked peers to also have a look at the work and received very positive feedback on how it all works together. A critique however, was to consider the information That I am providing to the reader, and avoid generalised sweeping statements regarding my work. 


  1. ​*​
    Zoo, A. & Durst, E., 2019. The Community. The British Journal of Photography, Issue 7890, pp. 40-49.
  2. ​†​
    Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. 1 ed.
  3. ​‡​
    Barthes, R., 2018. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism). Translation Edition ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
  4. ​§​
    Cotton, C., 2014. The Photograph as Contemporary Art (World of Art). 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Week 10: Multiple Readings

Figure 1. From the Harris Lantern Slideshow (Seely Harris, 1904). ​*​

Alice Seely-Harris traveled to the Congo Free State as a missionary, which was under total control of Belgian King Leopold II. After witnessing many atrocities there, she became an activist photographing and creating a travelling slideshow touring much of Europe and the US. The images highlighted the plight of the Congolese and is seen as groundbreaking documentary photography, shifting perceptions of colonialism, slavery, as well as gaining public attention and a significant political will to intervene, rightfully ending the brutal regime of the Belgian King. (Liverpoolmuseums.org.uk, 2019).

The significance of the images and the impact on highlighting human suffering shouldn’t be diluted here, however It is important to understand the context of the time – The Congo Free State was a Catholic nation as was the king. Seely-Harris was a Christian British Missionary at the height of the Empire and colonial rule.

One reading of the images is that of a perceived moral authority that being a British Protestant had over Catholic violence. Protestants missionaries were part of a larger agenda of gaining territories, sent out by the state to take the message of British Protestants to the ‘Native’ and converting the local population to Christianity. Showing the King’s abhorrent treatment of the Congolese was an opportunity to show that under a more ‘civilized’ form of colonialism, a British Colonialism, these kinds of atrocities would not be happening (Sealy, 2019)​†​

Given that The Congo did not gain independence until the 1960s and the inherent racism and violence persisted in that culture up until then, the images did not make the Congolese free from slavery, the choice was a violent Catholic regime, or the rule of another version of colonial power.


  1. ​*​
    Liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. (2019). Alice Seeley Harris – International Slavery Museum, Liverpool museums. [online] Available at: https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/exhibitions/brutal-exposure/alice-seeley-harris.aspx [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].
  2. ​†​
    Sealy, M. (2019). Decolonising the camera. 1st ed. London: LW.

Shoot Five: Contact Sheets

This is the last Carnival in North Petherton that I managed to attend before the end of the season. The plan here was to aim and shoot a range of night time portraits and environmental shots using the carnival carts as a background. As I arrived, there was a lot of setting up activity which proved very good to shoot.

Week 9: Reflection

Continuing to explore narrative, I have started to read through some film theory as it has been recognized as being able to utilize narrative much more effectively than photography. The key points from the book are the need to identify the cause and effect of the narrative that I am aiming to portray. 

“A narrative does not consist of a random series of events, but a series of events related to one another in terms of cause and effect”

(Buckland, n.d.) ​*​

In film, the narrative is also categorized into three stages, as outlined by theorist Tzvetan Todorov (Buckland, n.d.) ​*​ :

  • A state of Equilibrium
  • The disruption of this equilibrium by an event
  • The successful attempt to restore the equilibrium 

Where the transition between the stages is referred to the narrative turning point and key events can change the direction of the narrative action.

(Buckland, n.d.)

There is also omniscient narration where the camera will be be removed completely and be controlled by someone outside of the narrative, in the case of film this is the director, however in photography this could well be the photographer.

In order to further this exploration, I think it would be important to identify whether this form of narrative is used within photography, and the photo project. I will continue my research by looking at a range of photography books. Further to this visual study, I feel it is vital to better understand the semiotic theory that underpins the narrative of a photographic narrative. To that end, I intend to read ‘Image, Music, Text’ (Barthes, 1990)​†​ and later ‘Mythologies’ (Barthes et al., 2009)​‡​ by Roland Barthes that look at this in more depth.

Narrative in art is defined as a sequence of related events, and historically where narrative is depicted in art, the reader of the image is to have assumed knowledge of the narrative present (Tate, 2019).​§​ I feel that a narrative in the literary sense does not always apply to a series of photographs, and also by sequencing images in a chronological fashion may reduce the impact of how some of them may be read. Aesthetic placement of the images may function well with photography, however may reduce the effect of the overall narrative by considering the images only for their technical and aesthetic qualities rather than the context that they provide, as discussed in the essay ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’ (Walker, 1997)​¶​ where this can have a huge impact on the way images are read together. In film, this is idea is supported by ‘The Kuleshov Effect’ explores by theorist Lev Kuleshov who analysed the effects of the juxtaposition of film shots and how they are put together (Fig. 1) will have an impact on how the reader will attach meaning and emotion (Elementsofcinema.com, 2019).​#​

Figure 1. Example of the Kuleshov Effect in sequencing (Elementsofcinema.com, 2019).

In order to create an effective narrative of my work, I will need to carefully consider the juxtaposition of my images in terms of the connotated coding that they represent when placed together. This will be more than merely the aesthetics and creating a pleasing juxtaposition and sequencing of events. The narrative in this case becomes an idea, or overall emotive presence of the work and how it is being presented to the reader.

Looking at Photobooks

Figure 2. Conspiracy Theorists Desk Reykjavik from 'Sugar Paper Theories' By Jack Latham (Latham, 2016).
Figure 2. Conspiracy Theorists Desk Reykjavik from ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ By Jack Latham (Latham, 2016).
Figure 3. ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ Exhibition tour at the Royal Photographic Society (Rawlinson, 2019).

At the recent Jack Latham talk and exhibition of his work ‘Sugar Paper Theories,’ (Latham, 2016)​**​ held at the Royal Photographic Society, Curator Dr Mark Rawlinson (Fig. 3) highlighted the difference between the images and placement of them in the exhibition from the book and how there is a tendency to read through a book in a linear way. The exhibitions role was to change the narrative of the work in order to keep you as the reader guessing and exploring the work in the search for ‘Clues’ (Rawlinson, 2019).​††​

Pieter Hugo – Kin
Kin
Figure 4. Different page sizes within the work ‘Kin’ by Pieter Hugo (Hugo, 2015).
Figure 5. Two pages from the book ‘Kin’ by Pieter Hugo (Hugo, 2015).

Hugo provides a deeply coded journey through his homeland in the book ‘Kin’ (Hugo, 2015)​‡‡​ all of the images are very emotive and challenge you to consider the colonial gaze through the use of nudes and classic portraits throughout this book. Hugo writes of South Africa being a complex and problematic country and his own exploration has created more questions than it answers. I believe that the juxtaposition of the images within the book really start to challenge you and underpin this notion. The use of different page sizes shows a kind of hierarchy to the placement of the portraits over other elements of Hugo’s work in the way they partially obscure the view of the image underneath (Fig. 4), forcing you to consider the first image before moving forward. This is a kind of juxtaposition that prioritises one image over another.

Hugo’s images in Kin do not form a chronological account of this story, but support my point of the overall meaning in the work.

Matt Henry – Short Stories
Figure 6. ‘Short Stories’ by Matt Henry (Henry, 2015)​§§​

A more overt use of narrative, even with the title relating to the way the reader is supposed to look at this work is Matt Henry’s ‘Short Stories’ (Fig. 6) which is a series of related tableaux images on the theme of Nixon era America. Each short set tells a short narrative as if a still from a movie, which is very much what Henry is aiming to present with his work of clear Americana. The relation of the narrative is clear in this book even through the use of smaller details and portraits of the work (Henry, 2015).


  1. ​*​
    Buckland, W. (n.d.). Film studies. John Murray Learning, p.32.
  2. ​†​
    Barthes, R. (1990). Image, music, text. London: Fontana.
  3. ​‡​
    Barthes, R., Lavers, A., Badmington, N. and Reynolds, S. (2009). Mythologies. London: Vintage books.
  4. ​§​
    Tate. (2019). Narrative – Art Term | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/n/narrative [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].
  5. ​¶​
    Walker, J. and Evans, J. (1997). Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning in The Camerawork essays: context and meaning in photography. London: Rivers Oram Press, pp.52 – 63.
  6. ​#​
    Elementsofcinema.com. (2019). The Kuleshov Experiment | Basics of Film Editing. [online] Available at: http://www.elementsofcinema.com/editing/kuleshov-effect.html [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].
  7. ​**​
    Latham, J., Gudjonsson, G. and Russell, R. (2016). Sugar paper theories. 2nd ed. London: Here Press.
  8. ​††​
    Sugar Paper Theories: Gallery Tour (2019) [Exhibition]. Royal Photographic Society, Bristol. 16 November, 2019.
  9. ​‡‡​
    Hugo, P. (2015). Kin. 1st ed. New York: Aperture.
  10. ​§§​
    Henry, M. (2015). Short stories. 1st ed. Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag.

Week 8: Reflection

After the webinar, I have a clear sense that I need to develop my narrative and sequencing skills in order to better translate my project into a coherent series. If my aim is to present the work without the information initially, then it is important to get a clear sequence of the images to tell the story I am trying to communicate. The amount of images is crucial, too. I have so far put together 20 images in my gallery, however others have many more. I need to consider how many images will make an effective narrative and how many would ultimately start to reduce the impact of the work.

The feedback, although positive, narrative was a key area to look at. People liked the display of the work and the minimal gallery and page. I am happy with this, although there are some areas I would like to develop given the time to do so. For example, the native WordPress slider has a grey background that I am unable to change without looking into detail the CSS coding to change it (I will have a go at this at some point!). The page of my gallery also features a number of tags and keywords, which function for SEO purposes but do not provide a clean looking design. Overall, these are niggles and can be looked at over the period of the course.

To start looking at narrative, I have returned to Lewis Bush’s article ‘Photographic Storytelling: A Poverty of Theory’ (Bush, 2019)​*​ discussing how photography overlooks the power of narrative in photography and often misunderstood by photographers. 

In the article, Bush also states that Narrative and story are different but often confused. 

“One Story can spawn many narratives”

(Bush, 2019)

It is clear that the sequencing of my work will have a fundamental impact on how it might be read, which leads me back to the ‘Authors’ vs ‘Readers’ debate referenced in this weeks readings and Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ (Barthes, 1977)​†​ It feels that the emphasis is still on the reader of the work, however I can still maintain the control of the initial experience of the work.

Looking to develop skills in Narrative, sequencing, and the edit of my work, I continue to explore Bush’s article, and looked at the discussing that Bush was having on Twitter. There are a number of reference by Bush to ‘Narratology’ which is the study of narrative structure and how this can inform our perception. The article also discusses the strength of cinema in employing photographic theory in creating a strong narrative. These are areas that will continue to explore.

I have identified some further reading:
  • Relationships between Text, Narrative and Image – An Introduction
  • Gérard Genette : Narratology / Signo – Applied Semiotics Theories
  • Basics creative photography 02: Context and narrative
  • Image, Music, Text: Roland Barthes

Overall, I am going to keep the style and layout of the gallery that I have presented, maintaining the link that I have set up, and now focus now on the sequencing and amount of images that I am presenting, supported by the information.


  1. ​*​
    Bush, L. (2019). Photographic Storytelling: A Poverty of Theory. [online] Medium. Available at: https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/photographic-storytelling-a-poverty-of-theory-2def0ba48031 [Accessed 15 Nov. 2019].
  2. ​†​
    Barthes, R. (1977) “The Death of the Author.” Image / Music / Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang.