Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Exercise: Symbols

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The idea of this project is to find symbols for a number of concepts. Complete it by listing more than one symbol for each of the following subjects, and add short notes saying how you might use them in a photograph. You do not need to take actual photographs for this, although by all means do if you feel enthusiastic about one of your ideas. The subjects are growth, excess, crime, silence and poverty.


A weird one, this: a photographic exercise without any photographs! Here goes:


  • Height chart – image of notches on a door frame signifying growing child
  • Balloon – being inflated, maybe with wording or image printed on balloon to emphasise specific subject
  • Sunflower – image showing very tall sunflower extending higher than surrounding flowers


  • Indoor footprints – top-down shot of bathroom floor as person walks towards scales, leaving visible footprints embedded in the lino (e.g. as an advert for post-Christmas dieting?)
  • Pie trays – pile of empty pie trays (evoking the colloquialism ‘who ate all the pies?’)


  • Prison bars – head and shoulders shot with vertical stripe shadow effect falling on person imitating prison bars
  • Handcuffs – close-up of woman’s arm, glamorous evening dress, lots of bangles, lowest one being handcuff, connected to police officer (perhaps in an ad campaign about the dangers of excessive drinking leading to criminal behaviour?)


  • Sewn lips – close up of mouth with lips sewn shut (cliché?)
  • Monk – more humorous execution, monk sitting in library setting


  • Begging – child’s hands holding out begging bowl
  • Piggy bank – skinny, scrawny piggy bank, denoting lack of savings

What I’ve learned:

I found this to be quite a thought-provking exercise. It took me a while to get in the zone of thinking ‘symbols’ rather than ‘examples’ e.g. for crime I was originally thinking ‘broken window’ or ‘black eye’… but these depict the subject rather than evoking it. To get into the right mindset I had to imagine that these were briefs for an advertising agency and I had to come up with a pithy image that communicated the concept wordlessly. I think I did OK, but probably wouldn’t get a job in an ad agency on the strength of this!


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