…Imagining narrative pathways…

UHI Visual Research Project

Module completed

  • December 4, 2012 2:04 pm

My Visual Research module is now complete.

If you’re interested in this take on Visual Research, all the postings on this site should display on one big page, so you’ll need to start at the bottom and work your way up.  Alternatively, you can open individual posts using the “Website Posts” navigation on the right hand side of the page. Again, the last on the list is the earliest post, so start at the bottom.

Final Analysis Essay

  • December 3, 2012 12:26 pm

The final part of this exploration of visual analysis was a 1500 word essay with this title:

Students will evaluate their project by reflecting on how well the visual methodology worked. This will be a reflexive piece but must be informed by the issues current in the discipline and must draw from key readings in the field”

Here is the essay in full.

I hope that you have enjoyed this blog and its contents.


The Visual Research module in the UHI Scottish Cultural Studies degree seeks to explore the validity of images and their analysis as a research method in their own right. The practical application of the development of a photography-based blog was used as the mechanism for this, with the application of various sociological techniques to articulate the meaning conveyed in the series of images. The blog for this, imagining narrative pathways…, which contained the images and resulting analysis, was at http://www.tinslave.co.uk/vrp and took as its theme revelations arising from images of roads, tracks and paths. The use of a blog format for this was of interest in itself, as it entailed the discipline of creating photographs with a particular thematic content, a satisfying exercise in its own right.

Clearly and self evidently, photographs convey information, invoking a response in viewers. The question becomes one of the degree to which photographs can in themselves be used for a greater understanding of a topic or whether such interpretive expectations are too unreliable for consistent results. This brings into question whether photography, as an art form with implications of technique and intent, creating representations of a small, tightly controlled and selected window of visual reality, is capable of being used according to scientific method. Just because the creating of a photographic image is of necessity a technical, scientific process does not mean that the results are amenable to use as primary, not just supporting, evidence in the scientific method. (ed Prosser 1998, p.60)

Qualitative terms abound in photography. The preface to one book on photographic technique discusses “improving” ones photography, with no explicit statement of what deficiency needs improvement. Rather we are to take it that one’s technical prowess results in altered results, the outcome of an increased range of technical skills. (Bradshaw 1986, p.6) Therefore photographs, ostensibly of the same thing, and therefore validly expected to convey the same information, are subject to change according to various criteria such as skill, equipment, vantage point, time and other variables. At the first hurdle, therefore, photography would appear to fail the test of scientific repeatability. Even if a photograph represented a quantitative aspect, such as containing 24 blackbirds, the significance of the number is qualitative. Yet, if we except recent absolute, though not infallible, computer techniques of facial recognition or iris pattern matching, a photograph containing such qualitative information starts becoming instead a symbol. It is this degree of truth that is of interest. An image from the CERN Large Hadron Collider of the results of particle collision makes a lovely photograph, one that is so powerful it need not be reproduced here, as the reader is certain to know what is being described. But its value is more absolute, conveying absolute details of length and duration where in more common images of the world, time and space has much more wider-ranging, interpreted and contended, meaning. This claim to objectivity is a criticism levelled at semiotics in general. (Chandler 2001a)

Photography as a technical process can help or hinder consistent visual research. Books on technique make it clear that the eye, and therefore interpretation, can be led by framing, the use of colour and so on. (Joseph & Saunders 1994, p.138) Once again, many books on photography provide an illusion of scientific repeatability, using terms like “rules for composition.” That the use of the term “rule” is not invariable and therefore trustworthy is shown, however, in one book, which describes its chapter on composition as “Rules – when to break them.” (Hawkins 1984, p.104) Indeed, many photographic techniques focus on the unexpected. Therefore it is obvious that the execution of a photograph is an important aspect of the resulting interpretation. On the blog (http://www.tinslave.co.uk/vrp/initial-reflections-on-visual-research/) some digital manipulation techniques were identified conveying connotations of likely era of the photograph, although the image was a recent one simply subject to digital manipulation. Photographs are therefore capable of telling a story from a given point of view and any narrative one extracts from a collection of images needs to take into account the observer effect – the question of the intent of the photographer. Such intent can be covert or overt. Cartier-Bresson’s technique of ensuring sprocket holes appeared in his images, so that one could be assured one was seeing the full image, is one such overt effort, but other technical choices, such as foreshortening by a long lens or colour casts through the use of filters may not be readily apparent. Adelman notes this aspect of reflexivity, but what is interesting in his analysis is the frequent mentioning of the photographers by name as trend setters or celebrities in their own right. (Prosser 1998, chap.10) So the interpretation of the photograph is not merely the visual representation we perceive.

But the Grounded Theory approach underpinning the idea of a corpus of images in the blog really meant looking beyond merely individual images to the group as a whole. We have already noted above that a photograph, as it is unlikely to be a pure symbol conveying unique and uncontested information, contains pointers to a truth or building blocks of truth rather than the truth itself. It is therefore necessary to have a certain minimum of such building blocks before a pattern or structure emerges. Satisfyingly, this is exactly what occurred following the creation of the blog. Clear patterns emerged of the human endeavour associated with the making and use of tracks and paths, raising questions concerning aspects of human relationships, needs and social structures, such as control mechanisms. These discourses were, for the sake of this exercise, simply noted, but may lead on to other structural sociological techniques, such as codes, where cultural limitations can be examined. Other cultural and semiotic concepts, such as paradigms and syntagms would also appear to lend themselves to the visual analysis. (Thwaites et al. 2002, chap.2)

Umberto Eco, as a semiotician, may have some interesting ideas relating to the sociological use of groups of photographs. Writing about the World Expo fair of 1967, he notes that the items on show are really inventories of things. Photographs may be seen in a similar light. Significantly, he notes that an exposition has

“…many faces, full of contradictions, open to various uses, we are probably entitled to interpret it from all these points of view. (Eco 1995, p.291)”

It is submitted that, again, this applies to photographs. He notes that the “zest for… assemblage” is ancient and that such lists of things provide hope for the future.(Eco 1995, p.293) He further sees design (which is what a photograph really depicts) as an act of communication, with associated connotations and denotations. (Eco 1995, p.296) These are positive aspects, that are less limiting than an attempt to replicate an adherence to the scientific method, which is one that uses different language to the visual. But it means taking a wider approach to understanding images in the sociological and anthropological context than only extracting data from images. One issue would be when to stop such an analysis, as each image has the potential to reflect the whole of humankind. Part of this is also that the ability to create photographs is a relatively recent expression of human knowledge, and the sociological philosophies that are applied to their analysis are even younger. This is not to say that they are not valid, but merely to note that the tools we have to understand these issues in the scientific context are not yet fully mature.

One can therefore see that the topic chosen for the blog, of pathways, is quite apt, in that visual analysis can indicate a path of truth and a road to greater understanding. There are limitations to the techniques, but the resultant broad view can result in a more rewarding outcome than perhaps a narrowly defined certainty, one that is part of the truth of the human condition, but not necessarily the truth itself. (Chandler 2001b) Hume considered the mind to be dependant on images, or as he called them, impressions. (Hume 1999, p.18) The promise of our ability to re-create in physical form a perpetual portrayal of a reality frozen in time looks to be full of potential for understanding human nature, but that understanding is so far somewhat confined.

As a personal reflection of the visual research process, I am left being intrigued by its possibilities in analysing trends or, shall we say, seeing a larger picture from many smaller images. Contemplating the complexities portrayed in a group of images allows for the possibilities of intriguing insights. Written or spoken language descriptions may not be as fertile sources of such inspiration. I am unsure of the mechanistic assumptions of some sociological processes, such as coding, which hold out the possibility of human interaction being simpler than it is. As a hobby photographer, I know that my intent when creating an image may or may not be achieved, and further, when the image is viewed by a third party, a very different meaning may be decoded. In an album or other group of images, the corpus on which we depended for our analysis, the very choice of contents is not a neutral act. These areas of uncertainty may, in spite of all of this, result in a serendipitously wonderfully meaningful image, but it seems to me that conveying such truths as the artist seeks to do is not an amenable exercise to the application of scientific certainty, either in production or use. Within those parameters, though, visual analysis is a gratifying and productive technique.


List of References


Bradshaw, I., 1986. Thinking Photographer, The, Macdonald.

Chandler, D., 2001a. Semiotics for Beginners: Criticisms. Aberdeen University Website. Available at: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem11.html [Accessed December 2, 2012].

Chandler, D., 2001b. Semiotics for Beginners: Strengths. Aberdeen University Website. Available at: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem10.html [Accessed December 2, 2012].

Eco, U., 1995. Faith In Fakes: Travels in Hyperreality New ed., Vintage.

Hawkins, D.A. ’ANDREW, 1984. Photography. The Guide to Technique, CASSELL ILLUSTRATED.

Hume, D., 1999. An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding New Ed., OUP Oxford.

Joseph, M. & Saunders, D., 1994. Complete Photography Course First ed., Viking Adult.

Prosser, J., 1998. Image-based Research: A Sourcebook for Qualitative Researchers, Routledge.

Thwaites, T., Davis, L. & Mules, W., 2002. Introducing Cultural and Media Studies: A Semiotic Approach, Palgrave Macmillan.


An analytic framework for the images

  • November 11, 2012 11:39 am

During the course of this project, notes on the immediately apparent semiotics have been included in each posting.  It is worth while to recall that the intention of this research was to collect images relating to a particular theme, roads and paths, with no reference to potential analyses, and to let the images speak for themselves.  Now we can look over the images and see what information results from the visual data they contain.  As you read this, it would be helpful to have a quick look at the images on the site.  All the posts are on the main page, but alternatively, starting from the bottom, have a look at each link under “Website Posts” on the right hand side of the page, again chronologically bottom to top.

From the images we can create a discourse analysis to articulate what roads and pathways mean to life. For the sake of this blog, we will restrict our analysis as this point, without building further on the data with other analysis techniques, as it demonstrates the original intent, that clear results can flow from a dataset of images.


Discourse Embedded Concepts
The Greater Good Roads and paths imply safe passage to a destination especially through unknown territory.

Roads and paths are big undertakings.

They are costly and use large amounts of space.

They are communications infrastructure, a measurement of prosperity.

Essential for economic wellbeing, not just as economic projects themselves.

They may have other benefits, like health or enjoyment.

They allow people to carry on their business without intrusion.

They can be convivial, but modern life restricts opportunity for human contact.

Efforts are made to reduce danger and improve comfort.

Largesse Roads and paths are built for others.

Their costs in material, space and on the environment relates to power.

They are also statements of power in their own right.

They exhibit controlling features.

The control may be subtle.

Safety can morph into control.

Their very existence implies the user as self and the builder/maintainer/rule-maker as other.

But they also depend on everyone sticking to rules – just a thin white line prevents constant 120mph+ collisions.

Temporal Scale Roads can far outlast the builders.

Roads and path gain a validity through age.

Their value to society changes over time.

They need to be used to survive.

Road and path building has changed over time, but with strong continuity of features.

Social Contact Roads are clearly demarcated structures.

Roads and paths can be enjoyed in their own right.

Common consent sometimes overrides apparent power and control.

Roads and paths are central to life.  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is set on the road, for example.

Walking a path is often an opportunity for human interaction.

Cars and modern life interfere with this interaction.

Speed requires additional rules.


The A9

  • October 23, 2012 9:59 am

We have looked at various types of road and track so far, but a recent “opportunity” to add some images of the A9 occurred.  It’s hard not to put “opportunity” in quotes owing to the conflicted views of the A9 for those of us living in the north of the country.  It is the quickest route from Inverness to the Central Belt, but the upgrades that were done 40 or so years ago did not, it seems, anticipate sufficiently the growth in road traffic.  Some dreadful road traffic accidents have happened on the A9, which may reasonably be called a dangerous road.  Indeed, the day before these images were taken, someone was killed in a collision with a parked lorry. Speeding and impatience, along with confusing combinations of dual carriage and single carriageways, no doubt contribute to these incidents, but still we use the road.  If ever there was a case of society requiring rules for safety it is here on the A9.  Let us see what the images suggest.Regular drivers of the A9 will recognise signs that suggest this is the A9.  The snow poles, the long sweeping curves, preventing safe overtaking for long periods, and the degree of traffic all contribute to such recognition.


Here we have a varied semiotic landscape.  The patterns of the hills indicate we are in a heavily managed land, in this case, to create suitable habitats for grouse, indicators of  the “sporting” estate.  The curves in the road, first to the left then to the right, should be noted.  The sign – a stylised camera,  the like of which has never existed, but which is vaguely old fashioned in shape, complete with a roll of film – reminds drivers… of what?  perhaps that they should not speed, or perhaps of the danger of being caught, or that they are under surveillance and therefore need not take responsibility for their actions.  But we take it to mean that speed cameras catch drivers who travel too fast, with “too fast” meaning more than the legal speed limits, rather than speed relating to particular conditions.  The little lay-by allows parking off the road, but only just.  The bin is an interesting oddity, so far from such a domestic activity as rubbish disposal.  Do people need to throw things away while on a highway, the point of which, presumably, is to get from one place to another?  The bin may merely be a sign that some degree of constant attention is given to the road and its users, rather than being a requirement of the road itself.  Note, too, the colours, with the contrast of the black-and-white of the road against the more restful natural colours.


Here the question of the route the road takes comes into question.  The pylons march across the countryside in a a relatively straight line, but rarely are they very far from the road.  The pylons are intrusive in the landscape, as is the road.  There is no clearly apparent reason for not combining the routes of these two sets of public works, reducing the impact on the landscape of each.  Could it be that there is some reason for demanding exclusive routes for each piece of the country’s infrastructure?


The small sign on the left tells drivers that this road contains traffic travelling in both directions.  That would seem obvious; after all, there are no signs that tell drivers to switch their lights on, or their windscreen wipers.  So some signs are taken as evident, yet others, which would appear to be equally obvious, are explicit.   The one side of the road has a small curb, while the other has “Armco” barriers.  The Armco apparently provides safety, but if it is hit at speed, it may not be any safer than careering down the drop on the other side.  An illusion of safety may therefore be being produced by the heavily built and engineered barrier.  No signs warn the second car on the carriageway on the right that the driver is almost certainly too close tot he car in front for safety.


We have already noted elsewhere the power of mere lines painted on roads.  On roads like the A9, the thin line is all that prevents constant collisions at closing speeds of 120mph.  In the above photo, for some reason additional width is given to the separator.  The law is that such patterns of lines should not be crossed, yet the same rule applies to a solid white line.  We therefore have two signs, used similarly, meaning the same thing, or the implication that degrees of observance are implied, that one means “do not cross,” while the other may mean, “no really, do not cross.”  Note too the large lorry.  The indication is that roads are used by all requiring to move from one place to another, and there is no rule or distinction between the types of users of the road.  The presence of signwritten lorries, usually from one of several large haulage companies operating in the Highlands and Islands, is another signifier of the A9, and users will be familiar with the names of these firms and the look of the lorries by colour and writing style.



Some BBC reports on issues on the A9

Driver injured near Munlochy

Pedestrian killed on A9

Lorry driver fell asleep




Some initial reflections on Visual Research

  • October 15, 2012 10:58 am

Building up a corpus of images and examining them with a view to understanding the underlying discourses, and even ideological bents is in some ways satisfying from the researcher’s point of view.  At this stage of a first attempt at visual analysis, it is difficult to tell to what extent a truly grounded theory of research is possible, to  the extent that it is doubtful that the starting point is a truly blank canvas, with no pre-conceived ideas.  The choice of images is to some extent skewed by self-selection on the part of the photographer-as-researcher, even if a large body of images was available, on the assumption that a larger data set should provide more certainty regarding identified trends. Additionally, even if the researcher was not also the photographer, inevitably a degree of self-selection will be made as it would take a superhuman effort of will to overcome cultural and personal preferences. And what will be shown here is that the apparent source and apparent intent of the original images may, unless steps are taken to mitigate against this effect, also affect an analysis.

In addition, the images themselves are not neutral.  The author and photographer of this work has a preference for a principle of getting the image “right” in the camera, and not manipulating the image subsequently, but even then he has made decisions about colour balance, with a preference for saturated colours and neutral contrast.  The rise of ubiquitous imaging, especially the rise of camera-phones, has additionally meant that photography is no longer seen as a separate hobby, but to many is part of common communication, and this commoditisation has additional outcomes of expectation.  And, the way the images are represented also has a bearing on the interpretation of the image.  For example, let us choose a relatively nondescript, quite poor, image of Adrvreck Castle in Assynt.

The image may rightly be criticised for being poorly framed, with the line of the opposite shore distracting from the main image and so on, but that is not the point.  The point is to take an image that does not in itself have much merit and show how it can be portrayed to different ends, raising potential questions regarding visual research.

A modern average point-and-shoot digital camera may create the following image:-

While the differences between this image and the preceding one may not be readily apparent, this one has less colour saturation, is over-sharpened, and over-processed for image sensor noise, resulting in a certain flatness.  A skilled practitioner may find research information useful in such an image or draw implications from the nature of such an image.  Further, digital photographs typically additionally hold actual data encoded into the image – EXIF information, which can tell the researcher what camera was used, lens, shutter speed, date, time and other information.  Example EXIF information is presented at the end of this post where the extensiveness of this information may be noted.  In particular, details which the photographer may or may not want known are available by this means, and with the converging of various technologies, such as global positioning “satnav” units increasingly added to phone and cameras, exact geographical details may also form part of this data, for good or evil.

However, what if the image was additionally manipulated?  This is now such a common occurrence that the verb “to photoshop” taken from a popular brand of proprietary software and meaning to manipulate an image, often with cynical motives, has entered the language.

The idea of an image of Che Guevara to be seen in the castle walls at Ardvreck is an interesting one, but hardly any indication of reality.  Occasionally, such manipulation may be useful.  For example, the author was asked to carry out some work doing similar manipulation to examine the potential visual impact of a small wind turbine, where an image of an example turbine was added to photographs of the chosen landscape, to make the potential visual impact clear even to non-specialist viewers.  In neither of these examples is the intent dispassionate.

But what altered perceptions are induced with other expressions of the same image?

This image, with its odd colour cast of cyans and yellows, heavy contrast and slight over exposure suggests it may have been taken in the 1950s or early 1960s when colour films started to become affordable, but the chemistry and processing still resulted in inaccurate renditions.  One may conclude that these were likely dates of the image, which we know to be untrue.

This image, of course, allows one to assume that it is perhaps taken from an old postcard, dating it perhaps to around the 1930s.  Such sepia images were both a chemical technique and a current fashion.

And finally, there is the black and white image, with its “normality,” based on familiarity from decades of established print processes, easy availability of film, ease of processing and so on, to the extent that black and white photography is additionally seen as an art form in its own right and valid as a news source.

Here, an expectation of factual portrayal may be set, although it may not exist, due to the historical use of black and white images in books, newspapers and so on.

So we have seen, through these differing presentations of the same original image, that it is possible to glean different information, which may or may not be present in reality.  These assumptions created by the presentation of the image are difficult for a researcher to neutralise, and therefore every image cannot be read accurately and fully just for the data it contains.  Having said that, as long as one does not delve too deeply into every image, it would appear that general trends – discourses – can indeed be retrieved from a collection of images and some background assumptions regarding the image itself may usefully be inferred.  An example of this, in the musings resulting from this project on paths and roads, is the realisation that roads are essentially expressions of human endeavour resulting from collective action.  Roads are typically not created for or used by individuals but are elements of a human common good.

In summary, it may be advantageous for visual researchers to take a leaf from the exif information descriptors, and have their own “circle of confusion,” (see below.) Such a concept would encourage a lighter analysis with less opportunity to be misled.


Appendix – Example exif information

File Name                       : DSCN4207.JPG
Directory                       : .
File Size                       : 1542 kB
File Modification Date/Time     : 2012:09:26 15:44:16+01:00
File Permissions                : rw-r–r–
File Type                       : JPEG
MIME Type                       : image/jpeg
Exif Byte Order                 : Little-endian (Intel, II)
Image Description               :
Make                            : NIKON
Camera Model Name               : COOLPIX P5000
Orientation                     : Horizontal (normal)
X Resolution                    : 300
Y Resolution                    : 300
Resolution Unit                 : inches
Software                        : COOLPIX P5000V1.0
Modify Date                     : 2012:09:26 15:44:16
Y Cb Cr Positioning             : Co-sited
Exposure Time                   : 1/63
F Number                        : 3.5
Exposure Program                : Program AE
ISO                             : 77
Exif Version                    : 0220
Date/Time Original              : 2012:09:26 15:44:16
Create Date                     : 2012:09:26 15:44:16
Components Configuration        : Y, Cb, Cr, –
Compressed Bits Per Pixel       : 2
Exposure Compensation           : 0
Max Aperture Value              : 3.5
Metering Mode                   : Multi-segment
Light Source                    : Unknown
Flash                           : Auto, Did not fire
Focal Length                    : 12.9 mm
Maker Note Version              : 2.00
Color Mode                      : Color
Quality                         : Normal
White Balance                   : Auto
Focus Mode                      : AF-S
Flash Setting                   : Normal
ISO Selection                   : Auto
Data Dump                       : (Binary data 2540 bytes, use -b option to extract)
Compression                     : JPEG (old-style)
Preview Image Start             : 19017
Preview Image Length            : 18248
Image Processing                :
Image Adjustment                : Normal
Tone Comp                       : Normal
Auxiliary Lens                  : Off
Manual Focus Distance           : undef
Digital Zoom                    : 1
AF Area Mode                    : Single Area
AF Point                        : Mid-right
AF Points In Focus              : (none)
Scene Mode                      :
Noise Reduction                 : Off
Scene Assist                    :
Retouch History                 : None
Flash Info Version              : 0100
Flash Source                    : None
External Flash Firmware         : n/a
External Flash Flags            : (none)
Flash Commander Mode            : Off
Flash Control Mode              : Off
Flash Compensation              : 0
Flash GN Distance               : 0
Flash Group A Control Mode      : Off
Flash Group B Control Mode      : Off
Flash Group A Compensation      : 0
Flash Group B Compensation      : 0
Image Optimization              : Custom
Image Stabilization             : VR-On
AF Response                     : Standard
Toning Effect                   :
User Comment                    :
Flashpix Version                : 0100
Color Space                     : sRGB
Exif Image Width                : 3648
Exif Image Height               : 2736
Interoperability Index          : R98 – DCF basic file (sRGB)
Interoperability Version        : 0100
File Source                     : Digital Camera
Scene Type                      : Directly photographed
Custom Rendered                 : Normal
Exposure Mode                   : Auto
Digital Zoom Ratio              : 0
Focal Length In 35mm Format     : 62 mm
Scene Capture Type              : Standard
Gain Control                    : Low gain up
Contrast                        : Normal
Saturation                      : High
Sharpness                       : Normal
Subject Distance Range          : Unknown
Thumbnail Offset                : 8704
Thumbnail Length                : 3834
Image Width                     : 3648
Image Height                    : 2736
Encoding Process                : Baseline DCT, Huffman coding
Bits Per Sample                 : 8
Color Components                : 3
Y Cb Cr Sub Sampling            : YCbCr4:2:2 (2 1)
Aperture                        : 3.5
Image Size                      : 3648×2736
Preview Image                   : (Binary data 18248 bytes, use -b option to extract)
Scale Factor To 35 mm Equivalent: 4.8
Shutter Speed                   : 1/63
Thumbnail Image                 : (Binary data 3834 bytes, use -b option to extract)
Circle Of Confusion             : 0.006 mm
Field Of View                   : 32.4 deg
Focal Length                    : 12.9 mm (35 mm equivalent: 62.0 mm)
Hyperfocal Distance             : 7.61 m
Light Value                     : 10.0

Roads Ancient and Modern

  • October 11, 2012 11:18 am

The following photographs from the author’s image library were taken a few years ago.  The first few show an ancient roadway in the Scottish Borders between Melrose and Earlston, using a route over and through the hills very different to those chosen by the modern roads.  The road is now used by the local farmers for access to their fields, but mostly by walkers, cyclists and others for leisure purposes.

In places, embankments on either side of the road are visible, either through the road level dropping over time, or vegetation and other processes building up the banks.  Old trees are visible everywhere.


From time to time, lack of use of the roadway has allowed the vegetation to overhang the road, apparently blocking it.


Modern large tractors probably caused the deep muddy ruts, but 500 years ago or more, cart wheels may have produced a similar effect.


These days, we enjoy the peace and closeness to nature of such roads, but it is not hard to imagine medieval travellers, also with their dogs, on such roads.


While across the river Tweed, in Melrose itself, a modern and updated version of such a road carves into the village and appears to be much more intrusive than the un-macadamised  green tracks.


And by way of contrast, this image was taken on a business trip from a Madrid hotel room at the height of Spain’s building boom, just before the collapse of the huge constructions projects.  The traffic meant that it had taken two hours in a taxi to get to the hotel, which was about 30 minutes walk from the office.

Second Set of Analysis Notes

  • October 9, 2012 10:26 am

For this set of notes, we will look at the images in the posting on the Loch Leitir Easaidh All Abilities Path.  Here it would appear that our examination of paths, tracks and roads as enablers in addition to having controlling functions is more clear cut – the path is fundamentally an enabler for those for whom rougher paths are inaccessible.  The paths are wide and free of obstructions, as a design criterion was wheel chair access.  Apparently naturally, they are, at the time of year of the photographs, fringed with long, tactile grasses which both demarcate the edge of the path, but also enhance the users’ ability to be in physical touch with the natural environment.  The interpretation boards at the entrance to the paths set expectations, positively for those whose mobility may be anxious about their ability to get out into the environment, but the boards also have a controlling sub-text, an indication that that the paths must be followed.  In addition, the signs themselves are an indication of an organised activity to create the paths and implies a discourse on socio-economic structure.  This is re-inforced by (no photograph) further signs listing funders, local community groups and others involved, with further implications for individuals in controlling roles with those organisations.  This, the sub-text may imply, is how things get done.

The path starts and ends with a gate, cleverly designed to be able to open easily in either direction.  It is wide to allow wheel chair access, though its size appears intimidating.  However, its function is more likely to be deer management rather than only to manage people’s access to the paths.

The paths themselves guide the eye to points in the landscape, some created by people, such as the toilets, which themselves have signs associated with a concern for nature, such as the wind generators and solar panels to power the fans that keep the composting toilets sweetly smelling, or thatched roofs to give a established appearance.  Elsewhere, the paths and associated structures, such as bridges across little burns, underline natural features in the environment, most notably, the continual presence of the mountain, Quinag in the distance.  Some may view the man-made structures as unfortunate distractions, as though the rest of the area is unaffected by the hand of mankind, while the users of the path may find security in knowing that they are safe and secure as a result of the constructions on the paths.

Regarding signifiers relating to control, where relatively flimsy objects or signs are used in strongly controlling ways, as we have discussed before, the example of the stout lock between two relatively easily undone shackles apparently securing a boat is a good one.  Someone set on  using or stealing the boat will not be deterred by the lock, but it does function to signify clearly that the boat is a under controlled use; the expectation is that the user will seek permission in the form of the lock’s key in order to use the boat.

So the overall discourse associated with this set of images is really one of access to a more natural world, using minimal construction or with obvious signifiers of sympathy to least built intrusion, allowing people who would otherwise be restricted to towns or cars access to the natural environment usually only hikers and walkers are able to see.  It is possible, from the path, to look at the views in such as way that no obvious man-made structure intrudes, allowing for a natural interpretation of the view.  It is also possible to use the structures that are present to anchor elements of the landscape.  The paths indicate that work has been carried out in their construction for a greater good, and therefore, in some ways, users of the paths are recipients of others’ largesse in the same way that road users do not themselves construct the road, but are dependant on others for that purpose.  However, there is also no doubt that users of the paths may gain a sense of achievement of their own, by being able to access the landscape in this manner.

Loch Leitir Easaidh All Abilities Path

  • October 5, 2012 6:37 pm

The All Abilities Path (link opens in a new window) near Loch Leitir Easaidh in Assynt should be documented here.  The idea behind it is too allow access into the countryside by all, including wheel chair users.  At the same time, skills such as path building and sympathetic building were taught while the paths were being built.

Near the car park, at the start of the paths, a clear map of the area along with encouraging details of the walk for those who may have difficulty sets expectation.


A wide gate, easy to open from either side, ensures that deer don’t get onto the land to cause damage.  The gate controls animals, not people, but remains a potentially formidable obstacle.


As it happens, this was the first exploratory walk for one of the people in the picture, who had recently broken her ankle quite severely.  The path allowed her to enjoy the countryside for the first time on her visit other than seeing the sights from a car.


Some paths are more urgent than others…  In this case, all roads lead to the composting loo, kept fresh with electric fans driven by the wind and the sun.


Imagine the feelings of someone with restricted mobility realising that this landscape has become accessible.  Note the way the long grass fringes the path, something which does not appear to be manufactured.  It creates a tactile edge.


The bridge could be seen as a blot on the natural landscape, but that may depend on one’s point of view.  In this case, it frames the image and some may think it enhances the view of distant Quinag.


Not a path, but in some ways this image captures the question this project asks.  The lock securing a boat on a loch appears large and secure, but above and below it are simply two shackles,. easily loosened and not even welded shut.  The intent is to manage access to the boat, to control, but to what extent does this control only those who would obey a request anyway?


The object of the exercise:- to allow people of all abilities to be able to see sights such as this.

First analysis by Grounded Theory

  • October 4, 2012 3:00 pm

This initial analysis, which simply skirts around the topic of the narrative images of pathways produce, uses the three pages of images so far,  Roads. Paths and Demarcations, Some Single Track Roads and Walking Tracks

It appears likely that the dominant discourse associated with images of pathways would be one of control.  It may be hoped that a discourse of common good may will also become apparent, the development and use of pathways to make travel easier.

The one obvious concept that arises in all the images so far is that paths are bounded.  As such, they are created and defined by a controlling mechanism.  They can be seen as enablers and as subjugators. They do not need to be straight, and indeed, their sinuous nature may provide an artistic attraction or distraction, according to taste.  Paths may not be ideologically neutral.

Boundaries that create paths can be for positive purposes or may constitute barriers.  The image in  Roads. Paths and Demarcations,  of the old man walking with a stick suggests the pavement provides a safe route for him.  But the very stretch of road along which he is walking makes manoeuvring a wheelchair difficult and dangerous, as there are no drop kerbs along that section, which actually leads to a centre that provides services to the elderly.  So that path actually constitutes a barrier and is not an enabler at all to some.

Tracks, such as those along the river side in Walking Tracks, may be helpful to users of the path, as they reduce danger and reduce the chances of getting lost.  They also help the landowner, as a well made path may reduce the chances of erosion or other damage, and who manages the presence of people on the land to known areas.


Walking tracks

  • October 4, 2012 9:49 am

Walking tracks, in areas like ours where you walk where you need or want to, help to make walking easier, but are also used to ensure people don’t stray where they may not be wanted, even though all have that right.

People one side, the river the other


Is the fence there for safety or to ensure people do not stray?


The track suggests a safe route through the darkness of the forest.


But it’s all worth it, because the track leads somewhere.