Exercise: Symbols

Symbols are often used in photography to illustrate a concept or idea, sometimes an idea which is difficult or impossible to photograph directly. For example, you can't directly photograph a smell but you can use signs to suggest a bad (or good) smell; this is often used by the cosmetics industry to sell their perfumes and aftershaves. The area of study which covers how we read these signs is called semiotics and it is is used by all of us everyday, whether we are aware of it or not. In this exercise I have been given a list of five words for which I am to suggest symbols which could be photographed to represent the word or concept.

Growth: A young fern uncurling; a building under construction; a line on a graph gradually going upwards.

Excess: Too much food on a plate; obesity; a huge house. A 4x4 off-road SUV on a small residential side street.

Crime: Police on the beat; a broken window; a group of hoodie wearing youths.

Silence: Someone with tape across their mouth; a blank foggy landscape; a graveyard

Poverty; a starving, undernourished child , someone begging on the streets; a run down tower block.

As I wrote these I realised that there are several clichés. The picture of the police, or police related paraphernalia to illustrate crime is one which is used on a daily basis. You only have to look at the BBC News website to find one.


Salkeld, R. (2014). Reading Photographs. London: Bloomsbury.