BA Phot

I&P Part 4 Exercise 4.1

Back - Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3

Project 4.1, Captions and titles  - Exc 4.1 - Exc 4.2 - Exc 4.3 - Exc 4.4 - Project 4.2 Memories and speech  - Exc 4.5 - Project 4.3 Fictional texts - Conclusion - Upsum

Banksy - Barthes RotI - Boothroyd - Calle - Colvin - De Middel - Deveney - Favrod - Fontcuberta - Fox - Goldberg - Kruger - Leonard & Dunye - Lesy - Michals - Patterson -

Preamble - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Asg.1 - Asg.2 - Asg.3 - Asg.4 - Asg.5 - C&N - EyV

Looking at Advertisements

OCA tutor Dawn Woolley wrote a regular blog on the weareoca website called ‘Looking at Adverts’.
Read one of Dawn’s articles and write a blog post or make a comment on the site in response. I&P p.90

Some links to the posts:
1 - Silvikrin and Red Arrows
9 - Beach-body ready
13 - Amnesty International
16 - L’Oreal ‘Infallible Sculpt’
17 - anti-aging products

Another Restart

spellchecked  ]

[16Feb] Let me lay out two of my prejudices before getting into the meat on this question (see blog, 16th Feb).
I loathe nearly all advertising. [1]
I question the motives and missions of any charities that have become large enough to have (which does not necessarily mean require) three layers of management. [2]
I am also interested in the author's motivation. [3]

There are 17 Dawn Woolley blog posts currently available, ending in April 2017. I read through until I found an advertising subject I thought I might engage with, namely charities and specifically an Amnesty International (AI) campaign in 2014.

None of the embedded blog images accompanying Woolley's essay have survived: the links are dead and the OCA should take more care in maintaining their sites if this essay is still to feature as an active subject for a course. Fortunately, a post on Little Black Book in which Laura Swinton discusses the designer of the campaign, Pius Walker (Swinton, 2016) contains a video of the Zurich installation from which the following stills have been taken.

IP Exc 4.1 IP Exc 4.1 IP Exc 4.1 IP Exc 4.1 IP Exc 4.1 IP Exc 4.1 IP Exc 4.1 IP Exc 4.1
Box A
1-7 Amnesty International's Zurich Not Here But Now advertising campaign
8. Amnesty International's web site page views when the campaign was launched.
Image source, stills from Amnesty International video on Little Black Book

What Woolley does not make entirely clear in the text, but is apparent in the video, is how cleverly the images are integrated into their surroundings in Zurich so that, at first glance, it often seems that one might be observing a live event. And that, of course, is the point: distant wrongs can be ignored or, at most, seen as less important (and less likely to engender donations) than local issues so the campaign aimed to ‘bring home’ to Zurichians the nature of common AI campaigns

Woolley considers two main points in the essay. Firstly Sontag's suggestion of viewer desensitisation, that the impact of photographs of atrocities diminishes with repeated exposure, and secondly Sontag (and Barthes, Woolley states) assertion that photographs are more effective than other art media in this regard because they are 'believed'.

Looking firstly at desensitisation, Woolley quotes Sontag, 'over-saturation causes their impact to diminish'. There are two aspects to this issue, firstly what Bob Geldof termed 'compassion fatigue' (Carroll, 2003), one's first experience of the sights and sounds of a widespread famine or atrocity (but, on TV, without the smells and other more visceral sensitory data) might have a profound effect but the second, third and the tenth have less impact largely because there is not so much shock value.
The second aspect is the aestheticising of horror, which Walter Benjamin warned of in the 1930s, 'turning abject poverty … into an object of enjoyment' (Barrett, 2021, p.117) by photographing it skilfully.

The desensitisation process is probably inevitable, deriving from the same psychological process blamed for the effects of violent video games on youthful players (Krahé et al, 2011). It can be reversed, to some extent, by a 'fresh horror' that triggers what might be called desensitisation guilt: a recent example of this is the drowning of a child refugee, Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach (Smith, 2015), images of which had a deep effect worldwide (looking at it again for this essay has brought tears: I will not reproduce it here).

Turning now to Woolley's second point, that photographs are 'believed', Sontag wrote '(t)o photograph is to confer importance' (from a 1977 essay America, seen through photographs, darkly, p. 507 in Goldberg, 1981).

This was once the case, certainly when Sontag wrote it, but is becoming progressively less so. There are several reasons for this.

It is self-evident that lens-based media are the only art forms that have this effect because, with the exception of that strange graphical cul-de-sac, the courtroom portrait, no other art form is considered evidential (Goya’s execution painting and Picasso’s Guernica come to mind). Nevertheless, there is a real point here, that newspaper photographs added weight to written reports in newspapers and elsewhere; that police take photographs at crime scenes; that photographs and film are admissible in courts; and that more recently, CCTV recordings play an increasing role in police investigations and prosecutions (and police officers have taken to wearing body-cams).

Until the 1960s and 70s, newspapers were the media of record and photographs accompanying articles had become an essential confirmatory requirement. The use of photographs in this way read across to all photographs, giving them legitimacy as some form of truth [4] (this despite, as we saw in Exercise 3.3, photographs have been faked and manipulated from the outset).

Bull (2010, p.116) notes that 'The Vietnam War … marked a turning point in the photojournalistic coverage of conflict', not only because it saw the transfer from reliance on the still image to the moving image for the principal medium for news dissemination, but also because it reinforced the role imagery can play in informing the public and nightly scenes of body bags coming back from Vietnam changed US opinion on the war. This, to some extent undermines Sontag's point on desensitisation and Bull goes on to say that she 'consciously revers[ed] her earlier belief that the repetition of such images eventually numbed their audience', citing Sontag's Regarding the pain of others, 2004.

It has already been noted that manipulation of photographs has always been possible and always been used and this has become increasingly easy, increasing commonplace and increasingly expected in recent years. The rise of the concept of fake news, largely fuelled by Donald Trump when US President (Poole, 2019), and the widespread adoption of social media which feeds curated news to its users (Schmeiser, 2017) has undermined trust in all news media.


1. Advertising — I regard almost all advertising as pernicious and, from a utilitarian point of view, an entirely futile waste of resources whose purpose is to encourage the public to aspire to and buy pointless products and services, to prey on the vulnerable and susceptible, and, as a result, to waste resources on a far larger scale than would otherwise be the case. The advertising 'industry' should have died the day after ex-jeweller Gerald Ratner addressed the Institute of Directors in 1991 and described his company's products as 'total crap' (BusinessBlogs, n.d.), but although he destroyed his company, the promotion and consumption of crap has continued to grow.

2. Charities — while charities (or at least their ends), on the whole, are a positive force within society, some have in recent decades become commercialised and profit-oriented and are run as much to perpetuate their senior management as to deliver their charitable goals. There is probably an optimum maximum size (and the number of layers of management will be a key determinant) for a charity that, when exceeded will mark the turning point of it becoming 'a business'. I support several charities, local, national and international and, incidentally founded and work for one. I was for many years a direct supporter of Amnesty International (AI) and regard its work as vital. But I will not give financial support to any charity where management salaries reach six figures. AI's CEO's salary was reported to be £210,000 in 2015 (Woollacott, 2015).

3. Dawn Woolley — It would be interesting to know whether this series started with a list of photographic theories to be illustrated or a list of advertisements to be analysed, and whether there was a book in mind. The only publications I can find by Dawn Woolley are Visual Pleasure (2010) and Consumed: Stilled Lives and the Pathologies of Capitalism (2017), Woolley's PhD thesis. The blog series started in 2014 with a piece on Silvikrin and Red Arrows.
The PhD is concerned with advertising and its use of and targeting at female stereotypes and so this blog series feeds into it.

4. As has been noted elsewhere (C&N Part 1, p.3), this is part of the reason for black and white images being 'taken more seriously' than colour in the past - until the 1980s, newspaper photographs were monochrome and B&W was perceived as having more gravitas.

I&P Exc 4.1 References

Amnesty International (2015) Amnesty International Annual Report 2014/15 [online]. website. Available from [Accessed 18 January 2021].

Barrett, T. (2021) Criticizing Photographs. Abingdon: Routlidge.

Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place [I&P]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Abingdon,Oxon: Routledge.

BusinessBlogs (n.d.) The man who destroyed his multimillion dollar company in 10 seconds [online]. Available from [Accessed 18 January 2021].

Carroll, R (2003) Geldof back in Ethiopia [online]. website. Available from [Accessed 16 February 2020].

Goldberg, V. (ed.) (1981) Photography in print. NY: Touchstone.

Krahé B, Möller I, Huesmann LR, Kirwil L, Felber J, Berger A. (2011) Desensitization to media violence: links with habitual media violence exposure, aggressive cognitions, and aggressive behavior. [online]. Available from [Accessed 16 February 2020].

Poole, S. (2019) Before Trump: the real history of fake news [online]. Available from [Accessed 21 February 2020].

Schmeiser, L. (2017) The Effect of Facebook’s Social Media Silo on Itself and You [online]. Available from [Accessed 21 February 2020].

Smith, H (2015) Shocking images of drowned Syrian boy show tragic plight of refugees [online]. Available from [Accessed 16 February 2020].

Swinton, L. (2016) Pius Walker and the Smallest Agency in the World [online]. Available from [Accessed 20 January 2020].

Woollacott, E. (2015) Charity bosses pocket huge salaries [online]. Available from [Accessed 18 January 2021].

Woolley, D. (2015) Looking at Adverts: 13 [online]. Available from [Accessed 18 January 2021].


[date] text


Box A


Box B
Figs. n



The Blog

Woolley, D. (2015) Looking at Adverts: 13 [online]. Available from [Accessed 18 January 2021].

The impact of photographs, particularly photographs of violence and suffering, has long been debated. In the essay In Plato’s Cave Susan Sontag describes how photographs from the concentration camps of World War Two physically affected her; she was shocked and horrified by what she saw. But she says that we become desensitised to images of suffering if we see too many of them, over-saturation causes their impact to diminish and they become banal. Sontag says ‘photographs shock insofar as they show something novel. Unfortunately, the ante keeps getting raised – partly through the very proliferation of such images of horror.’ (1977 P19) This suggests that photographs of war, natural disaster and other humanitarian crises make the events seem familiar but remote. We are aware that they are happening but we also know they are happening somewhere else so they actually make us feel safe and secure rather than shocked and impelled to take action. Although I generally think this is the case, I recently came across some advertising campaigns that made me think again.

In 2014 Amnesty International commissioned an advertising campaign to raise awareness of humanitarian crises and the abuse of human rights taking place around the globe. The posters were installed in 200 locations across Zurich. The advertising company (Pius Walker, creative director) came to the conclusion that people find it easier to identify with issues if they are presented to the audience in a local setting. I think this cleverly disrupts the desensitisation that Sontag talks about. The adverts bring the crises much closer to home, reducing the feeling of ‘safe distance’ that a similar image in a newspaper might produce. The adverts depict a person or people, acting out some of the global issues that Amnesty International campaign against, but the individuals are superimposed into the location in which each poster is installed. This creates an illusion that the subject or subjects, and the human rights abuses they signify are located in Zurich.

Photographs of global crises are taken and disseminated to inform people and hopefully encourage them to take action that will relieve the issue. Although the prevalence of shocking photographs can reduce the impact of images of atrocity I think the Amnesty International adverts have an impact because they are photographs. Sontag describes how photographs differ from other forms of figurative visual representation (such as drawing or painting). She says ‘photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it…A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened.’ (1977 P5) This is because of the particularity of a photograph. A painting or drawing of a person could be based on a number of different people or have derived solely from the artists’ imagination, but a photograph of a person depicts a real person. Sontag borrows some of her ideas about ‘photographic truth’ from Roland Barthes' seminal photography essay Camera Lucida. In this text Barthes says the things depicted in photographs are not ‘optionally real’ as they are in paintings, but ‘necessarily real’, he says ‘in Photography I can never deny that the thing has been there.’ (1980 p76-7) I think this is key to the power of photography; its ability to make you acknowledge that something is really taking place somewhere in the world. The Amnesty International campaign was effective because it suggests that the abuses are really happening whilst bringing the ‘somewhere in the world’ closer to home.

The adverts harness the ‘realness’ of photography to create the illusion that the viewer isn’t actually looking at a photograph at all. We know we are looking at something that has been ‘faked’ but the moment before we identify and unravel the illusion, we are shocked by what we see. The notion of photographic truth is used and disrupted at the same time.

As I was researching for this blog I found some other advertising campaigns that also use illusion, installation and the close proximity of the image to cause an impact. I would be interested to know which you think are most successful and why.

Global Action In The Interest of Animals: Plastic Bags Kill Advertising Agency: BBDO Malaysia, MALAYSIA, Kuala Lumpur / Advertising Agency: Duval Guillaume, Belgium Global Action In The Interest of Animals: Plastic Bags Kill Advertising Agency: BBDO Malaysia, MALAYSIA, Kuala Lumpur / Advertising Agency: Duval Guillaume, Belgium

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 10.46.33 See how easy feeding the hungry can be? Advertising Agency: TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, Johannesburg, South Africa

The Prevention Beer Mug: Please Don’t Lose Control Over Your Drinking Advertising Agency: EURORSCG Prague, Czech Republic The Prevention Beer Mug: Please Don’t Lose Control Over Your Drinking Advertising Agency: EURORSCG Prague, Czech Republic

For The Homeless, Every Day Is A Struggle Advertising Agency: Clemenger BBDO, Melbourne, Australia For The Homeless, Every Day Is A Struggle Advertising Agency: Clemenger BBDO, Melbourne, Australia

Torture Victims Are People Just Like You And Me Advertising Agency: Advico Y&R, Zurich, Switzerland Torture Victims Are People Just Like You And Me Advertising Agency: Advico Y&R, Zurich, Switzerland



[date] text



Page created 18-Jan-2021 | Page updated 18-Sep-2021