mickyates Aesthetics, Art, ContextualResearch, Critical Research Journal, Critical Theory, ICWeek3, Ideas, Informing Contexts, Media Theory, Philosophy, Photography Leave a Comment

In my post on Index and Icon, I noted the idea of congruence – defined when two things are in agreement, have harmony, conformity, or correspondence – but are not mathematically identical. This seems to be a central consideration for photography, which is generally accepted as representing something real. Even in ‘constructed images’, we always seem to fall back on how real things might be.

So, I have created a simple schema.

The artist (or photographer) has a subject in mind, and brings experience, context (social, cultural, historical), personal interests, and skills to bear. Skills might include those noted in Snyder and Allen, or Barthes’ suggestions on aesthetics etc. (Image Music Text). The artist also brings intention – what is he or she trying to achieve, either consciously or otherwise, referenced in my work on Artist’s Statements.

This drives the artists’ creation of an image, in some form. Borrowing from Peirce and others, such photographic images will usually have some level of indexicality, possibly will include symbols, and may or may not show iconic representation (in Steph’s sense of icon as likeness, rather than icon as venerated in vernacular use).

This is where congruence becomes critical. A photograph of a house will never be a house, although we will judge how ‘real’ the image is, either by actually seeing the house or using our experience and best judgement. In this sense, photography is different to music. When we listen to a streamed music track we actually hear the music – even though the digital encoding is really not the original music score.

So, in looking at an image, I submit that we seek congruence – to reality, to the ideas symbolised by the image, and, at a higher level, between the values (or ethics, beliefs) that the viewer holds and those exhibited in the image. I am using ‘values’ as a lens by which we make judgements about other people and events, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. This would include our beliefs and emotional responses. Of course, there may not be much of significance to ponder in a snap shot. But images such as Nick Ut’s of Kim Phuc, burnt with napalm, would almost certainly trigger a reaction.

Nick Ut. 1972. Terror of War.

The audience will bring their own set of experiences, context, interests, and skills to the interpretation of the image. Skills here might be the ability to use Shore’s or Szarkowski’s frameworks. And, they will evaluate their ‘need’ for it – whether it is news, in a book, on a gallery wall, in an advertisement and so forth.

This allows interpretation of the image, and a view of its impact on the audience. I am not arguing which is first – sometimes punctum might hit before studium. But I believe that both happen.

If the image has significant weight for the audience, that will likely lead to meaning making and possibly learning, in the style of Chris Argyris and Donald Schön’s ‘Double Loop Learning‘. It might even lead to action.

And that could, of course, include feedback for the artist.

Leadership Now – Available at

Argyris stated that the simplest, ‘single loop’ learning reflected our practices, but ‘double loop’ learning affected our deepest assumptions and values.  In his later work, Flawed Advice and the Management Trap, Argyris notes that:

There are three tests for the validity of advice. If implemented correctly, it leads to consequences that it predict will occur; its effectiveness persists so long as no unforeseen conditions interfere; and it can be implemented and tested in the world of everyday practice‘. (Argyris, 2000: 8).

I am also reminded of what an old friend, Richard Pascale, said about change, that:

… we are more likely to act our way to a new way of thinking, than think our way to a new way of acting’. (Leader to Leader, 1998).

It seems to me that photography impacts so many disciplines – science, history, anthropology, ecology, art, cultural studies, business and so on … maybe even all disciplines, today. Yet somehow there appears to be so many attempts to ‘constrain’ photography, academically. I understand the desire to get at ‘photographic essence’, but it does seems paradoxical, and I need to think through that some more. For a later post.

Would welcome critique and views.


ARGYRIS, Chris. 1977. Double Loop Learning in Organizations. Harvard Business Review, September 1977. Available at: (accessed 10/02/2019).

ARGYRIS, Chris & SCHÖN, Donald. 1996. Organizational Learning II: Theory Method & Practice. Boston: Addison Wesley.

ARGYRIS, Chris. 2000. Flawed Advice and the Management Trap. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

BARTHES, Roland. 1977. Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press.

PASCALE, Richard & MILLER, Anne. 1998. Act Your Way into a New Way of Thinking: Leader to Leader, vol. 1998, no. 9, pp. 36-43. Available at: (accessed 10/02/2019).

SZARKOWSKI, John. 1966. The Photographer’s Eye. 2007 Edition. New York: Museum of Modern Art.

SHORE, Stephen. 2007. The Nature of Photography. 2nd Edition. London: Phaidon Press.

SNYDER, Joel & ALLEN, Neil Walsh. 1975. Photography, Vision, Representation. Critical Inquiry, Vol 2, No 1 (Autumn 1975). Chicago: University of Chicago. Available at: (accessed 02/02/2019).