Let’s explore some of the ways that images can be made to convey a message. We will do this by looking at two different treatments of the same picture. The first is a photograph by Paul Weinberg. The second is a poster based on Weinberg’s photograph, that was designed by Benz Kotzen.
Paul Weinberg was one of the founder-members of Afrapix, a group of documentary photographers that supplied newspapers and workers’ organisations with low-cost photographs
of political activities and the occupation of the townships by government forces. The South African government of the time restricted, and at one point banned, news reporters, photographers and journalists from entering townships to cover the “unrest”.
On May Day in 1985, Weinberg was hidden in a ditch in Soweto, to photograph the soldiers rolling by in their “hippos” (armoured vehicles). He saw a woman step out onto the road, alone, with her arms raised and fists clenched, in an astonishing show of defiance. Weinberg later commented that he believed that to have been one of the bravest acts he had ever seen. He caught this extraordinary moment, by chance.
Let’s “read” this photograph
What is going on here?
- Even if you knew nothing about the context of Soweto in 1985, what information does the photograph give you?
- What are your thoughts about the woman?
- What about the soldiers? How do you think they feel about the woman? Why?
- Look at the headgear that the soldiers are wearing. Now look at the headgear worn by the woman. How do they compare? What are your thoughts on this?
- What is striking about this composition? Talk about the positioning, the symmetry, and the scale of objects and humans within the image.
- How does the composition affect the meaning of the photograph? The symmetry of it almost seems to imply that the woman is holding the two huge vehicles at bay. Or does it?
- What does the picture say to you about the power relations between the objects and people captured within this frame?
Some photographs become part of our visual culture, sometimes without the photographer’s knowledge. See how Weinberg’s photograph has influenced both a mural and a poster.
Now let’s look at the poster. We will examine the changes that the designer, Benz Kotzen made to the original photograph to produce his final poster image. What effects did he want to achieve through these changes? Did he succeed in doing so?
Exploring these questions is an important way for us to learn more about the design process, and understand how imagery can work to affect viewers emotionally.
Some photographs become part of our visual culture, sometimes without the photographer’s knowledge
Talk About This
Look very carefully at the poster, and compare it to the photograph.
Is it obvious that this poster is based on Paul Weinberg’s photograph?
Pieces of the original photograph have been cropped (cut) and rearranged. Why? What effect does this have?
What has Kotzen eliminated from the original photograph?
The space between the woman and the vehicles has been contracted (made smaller) in the poster. What is the visual effect of this?
Did you notice that the soldier at the top in the poster is not the original soldier in that position? Why do you think this change was made?
The middle, grey tones have been eliminated in the poster. What effect does this change have on the picture’s
What about colour? Why do you think the designer removed the background details and used a colour field instead? What effect does the colour create? And why this colour, do you think?
The words that Kotzen has added obviously change the nature of the image. How?
Both the poster by Kotzen and the photograph by Weinberg are equally powerful images, each in their own unique way. Do you agree with this? Explain your answer.