Understanding Visual Culture- Part 3- Structuralist analysis

In this exercise, we had to choose 2 examples of naturalistic paintings and compare them to discover their similarities. Once we had done this we had to choose 2 examples of portrait photography (1 formal and 1 informal), annotate them and see if any conventions from the formal image are observed in the informal image.


For the naturalistic paintings, I chose John Constable’s “Trees on Hampstead Heath at sunset” and Thomas Gainsborough’s “Landscape with Cattle”. Both images convey quintessential English landscapes and have the same four key features (animals, at least one person, trees and fields).  Both of the artists I have chosen were born in Suffolk, a county which is predominantly countryside which, in turn, inspired both of these artists. Although both of the images are of sunsets, I feel that the Constable painting has a lot of blue tones which could be translated as a Spring image whereas the Gainsborough image has more warm tones which could suggest it is a more Summer image. The other point that I noticed with these two paintings is that are, aesthetically, very similar and I found this with many other images of the same genre. When looking at them through websites I found it very difficult to distinguish between different artists.

For the second part of the exercise, I chose Patrick Lichfield’s photo of Olivia Newton-John and Annie Leiboritz’s photo of Angelina Jolie. I then thought about what “conventions” made up a formal portrait. The ideas I came up with were


  • Subject looking directly at the camera
  • staged poses
  • thoughtful setting
  • carefully considered outfits

The image of Olivia Newton-John is a very elegant image. It appears quite opulent and has an air of Hollywood glamour in it. Her dress has been purposefully arranged and it appears to be capturing a “lady of the manor caught in a private moment”. Whereas Annie Leiboritz’s image is very playful and showing a more down to earth Jolie. The setting is very ordinary and it is taken as more of a snapshot. There are a number of conventions from the more formal image that have been observed in the informal image such as

  • Both are full body portraits
  • the subjects are both looking directly into the camera
  • both have very feminine poses which show vulnerability in women.



About kunsworthphotography

I am currently studying towards a BA (Hons) in Photography with OCA and I have 2 children, Evie(4 years old) and Connor(3 years old)
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