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'Context' can provide lingering images!

by Editor  Peter Walmsley 


“Providence” by Andre du Plessis ARPS

Previous articles in the 1x magazine have discussed "The Art of Storytelling"  and of  "Setting a Title" .
The third aspect of providing more information for the viewer is CONTEXT or the provision of a frame of reference.

Context is part of telling the story and can be provided visually, particularly through the background and atmosphere and/or in accompanying words. A picture with context draws the viewer in. It is deeper and more meaningful and the viewer is more likely to linger on our work, which is what we, as photographers would most like, isn’t it?

Let’s have a look at some examples.

“Daulat ki Chaat” by Peter Walmsley

Here’s an image of a vendor in a busy Asian street. My title is Daulat ki Chaat. To most people, this will mean very little. But if we add:

  • Daulat ki Chaat is a sweet desert.
  • The seller has been making and serving this desert in Delhi as a family business for many years
  • The desert is only available in the cooler months from November to February as in the hotter weather it collapses and loses its texture.

…..then the picture takes on a far more interesting angle.

Many photographs benefit from some context. The background often plays a significant role in setting that context. Taking a few images from recent 1x most popular images:

“Cave Dwellers” by Ahmad Tanin

The subject of this picture (the boy) is positioned to the far right of the image leaving some ¾ of the area to depict the environment (and family) in which the boy lives. It needs little further explanation. The strong side-lighting is completely consistent with what the photographer is telling us he saw, through the title: ‘Cave Dwellers’.

In a different genre, the photograph ‘Make love to me right now’ has sufficient context through the background to make the story of the image completely clear, even without seeing the title:


“Make love to me right now” by Gene Oryx

And in street photography, this image of a fashionable model striking a sensual pose would have far less impact if it wasn’t for the urban background. That changes the picture from a standard studio pose to a daring act of exhibitionism!


“Ignore it, enjoy poses on the streets” by m salim bhayangkara

It’s a photographer’s choice as to how much context to provide. Too much and the image almost over-informs and there’s little more for the viewer to do. To little and the viewer is left in the dark, sometimes literally. But in between those 2 extremes, the photographer can provide just a clue or be more explicit.

‘The loader’ provides just a clue with the background context but in this case the title provides some more information.

And in ‘Extreme Herding II’, the photographer has provided just enough texture in the snowy landscape to inform the viewer of the location.

In contrast, ‘Home in the Sky’, the construction workers taking a break would not be so unusual were it not for the fact that the background shows that they are at the top of a tall tower:


“Home in the Sky” by Zhou Chengzhou

And in a more extreme example, ‘The Barbershop of Labuan Bao’ is even more explicit to the point where the context and subject merge into one. We still want to know where this is, though and the photographer helps us with the title.

“The barber shop of Labuan Bajo” by Marco Tagliarino

A few more images with a strong context from 1x photographers to end...

N/T by Nobuhiro Ishida


“Filled with curiosity” by Marc Apers


“On the way” by Marc Apers


"Domicile” by Andre du Plessis ARPS


"Eddie's friend” by Gianni Giatilis

“No, no.....definitely NO....!” by Deborah Gugeri


“Drying in progress” by Avishek Das


“Net Mending” by Javier de la Torre


Thank you for including my photo in this great article ... always successful
Enjoyed the presentation and content, many thanks.
This is great and quite instructive. Thank you!
Excellent way to tell stories
Many thanks for this Honor :)
It's a great honor to be selected. Thanks Peter and Yvette.
Thanks for your fine reaction, Zhou ;-)
I have long been an advocate of the term 'contextual', in that the viewer may appreciate more of the person that is being photographed. You have included some very poignant samples here - supported by your descriptive text. Happy that some are mine:) Thanks Pater & Yvette.
So great to have some of your photographs included here, Andre! Good old and heartfelt times ;-) Hugs and love, Yvette
Thanks for including me in this very interesting article :-)
Great news! It's an honor for me to be part of this interesting article. Thank you so much Peter !
Excellent article in every aspect. Well chosen examples that are in line with the clear and easy to read explanations (at least for me). Thanks a lot for this inspiring contribution
Strong and excellent article about 'Context', Peter! Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Yvette