East End Project Texts – embedded texts

Posted on January 12, 2014


Another question which has been vexing me is how to physically link the text and image for viewing. There are many options: a slide show with the text presented before/alongside/after the image; a book with text presented on the opposite page to the image; a book with text captions in an appendix; gallery prints with the text on panels alongside the images; gallery prints with the text in a exhibition catalogue or book; and gallery prints with the text embedded within the image.

I had not considered the last option until I started to review some of Victor Burgin’s work as part of my background research. For many of his works Burgin embedded the text in the image panel. An example of this is presented below:

FRAMED  ©Victor Burgin

©Victor Burgin

In an interview published in his book ‘Between’ (Burgin, 1986, pp 57) Burgin talks about how text and image work together to create meaning:

We usually see words to comment on the image in some way; for example, to give some extra information about what is shown in the image. Alternatively we can see an image used to illustrate a text – to show pictorially what has already been mentioned verbally. I tend to do neither of these things.’

In the case of the image/text FRAMED he goes on to explain that the title relates to the frames referred to in both the image and the text; for example, the picture itself, the Marlboro man, the photo and mirror referred to in the text and so on. The work ‘framed’ is also used to describe how someone or something has been misrepresented as in ‘I was framed by the bad guys’. In the context of this work Burgin uses the word framed to refer to cultural stereotyping, where people are pigeonholed  into neat boxes (or frames) – the macho Marlboro Man, the effeminate hairdresser and so on. The text and image work alongside one another to achieve this representation.

Later in the book Burgin is asked how the viewer might come to understand what he is getting at, since some of the linkages between image and text require the viewer to know a lot more than is presented in the work itself. In response Burgin presents this view (Burgin, 1986, pp 81):

There can never be any question of simply and finally ‘understanding the meaning’ of the work. The meaning isn’t ‘in’ the work, like a lump of cheese in a wrapper; nor is the meaning somewhere behind the work: in the mind of the author, for example, or in ‘reality’. Meanings are the product of an individual’s meaning of the work and these meanings depend on that individual’s particular biography and upon his or her social, cultural milieu.’

I have to say there is a lot in what Burgin says here and reading his comments has added to my internal debate on how the image/text combinations should be presented and how they should work together. I have a feeling that Burgin may end up being a major influence.

I thought it would be interesting to see how embedding the text within the image would look for a few of my own images. I am trying to get my mind around whether this fundamentally changes the nature of the work. For one thing it makes it absolutely clear that the work is the image/text combination. It would also no longer be possible to show the images simply as pretty pictures – the text would always be present. On the other hand placing the text within the images somehow seems to ‘spoil’ the images and it seems to make them seem like advertising or newspaper pictures, not serious photography.  For the examples presented below I have kept the text small to avoid making the images look overtly like publicity material, but….

Here are the images. The text is small so to see it clearly it will be necessary to click on the image to get a larger version.

©Keith Greenough 2014

©Keith Greenough 2014

© Keith Greenough 2014

© Keith Greenough 2014

© Keith Greenough 2014

© Keith Greenough 2014


Burgin V. (1986) Between London: Basil Blackwell Limited