Ex 4.4 – Captions

The purpose of this exercise is to gather newspapers and cut out some images without their captions then, for each image, to write three or four different captions that bend the image to different and conflicting points of view.

Images and captions


Source: naturetrek.co.uk advertisement
  • Global warming fears as scientists record ice-caps melting.
  • Oil found with the potential for thousands of new jobs.
  • Search in vain for explorer lost in the Arctic.
  • The ultimate adventure holiday.
Source: Longines watch advertisement
  • Horse owner enjoys Olympic success.
  • Hollywood takes the Equestrian world by storm.
  • Enjoy the good things in life, with our equestrian holidays.
  • Effortless time, with our handcrafted watches.
Source: Yorkshire Post editorial
  • Bookshop revival after ebooks rekindle interest in reading.
  • Increasingly the older generation look to meeting places beyond noisy bars.
  • Literacy and books are central to a balanced understanding of our complex world.
  • Enjoy one of our premium single malt whiskeys within the tranquility of your special place.
Source: First News editorial
  • Circuses without animals enjoy continuing success.
  • The tears of a clown – the suffering of comedians with depression.
  • Why laughter is good for our hearts and souls.
  • The sinister side of the clown mask graze.

Text directs the reading of images, which are easily recontextualised to become chameleons of meaning. A picture may paint a thousand words but words alongside the picture direct us to which of those thousand words we should read into the image, and away from other potential readings. Images have flexible meanings and can easily be repurposed.

Different words can elicit different emotional responses to the same picture – from hope and happiness to fear and abhorrence. For example, for the clown image the following two passages of text lead us to read the image very differently:

  1. Joe’s circus was once full with performing animals. Recognising the ethical issues with using wild animals to perform tricks for commercial benefit and the entertainment of the paying public, Joe made the decision to gift the circus animals to zoos and wildlife parks. He rebuilt his circus around human performers. An enduring success is the traditional clown; Joe explains that it is big favourite with children and adults alike, all enjoying the age-old physical humour.
  2. This Halloween, some ill-informed revellers, sporting clown disguises have been literally scaring people to death. Clown masks can have sinister over-tones; often used in horror films or on-screen robberies. There have been 34 reported cases of incidents with revellers catching people by surprise by jumping out on them with feigned aggression. Tragically this has resulted in the death of two elderly people through shock and the hospitalisation of six ‘clowns’ after people responded in self-defence to the ill-conceived trick.

Rather than acting as simple descriptors of images, providing place, time, or subject information, text can also be used to generate ambiguity or uncertainty in the reading of images; to create a fiction around the indexicality of photographic images. While this approach is to be avoided in a photojournalistic context, it is a powerful tool in a piece of fictional art. Injecting an intended meaning into an otherwise dumb picture.

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