In this dossier I will be making an examination of the differences and similarities of drawings and photography. There will be an analysis of several of John Berger's text, mainly Appearances, and I will use this in correlation to my own research. This research involves ten separate interviews conducted on ten individual students studying different subjects at the University of Leeds.

Our world is shaped by the things we see. The things we see shape our world.

It is important to analyse the things we see and how we see them. Why do we see them that way?

"Seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain the world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it" - John Berger

In his text, Appearances, John Berger demonstrates how we have primal instinct to make meaning with our eyes. Everything we see speaks to us in its own language. thus the way we try to represent what we see differs from person to person, medium to medium.

Drawing and photography are two prime examples of how individuals can choose to captivate a moment. They are two ways of expressing something that is seen, but in two completely different ways. Berger depicts the outcome of either one of having a distinct way of expression, essentially in relation to ambiguity, continuity, leaving a trace and memory.

Berger believes that the photograph depends on only two things, light and time. These two factors alone are enough to tell a story. The camera tells us the story how it is, limiting us to not go beyond only what it intends us to see.
The photograph is thought to be a successful tool in helping to preserve a memory, comparing to the images that are already held there. It helps "preserve a moment in time and prevents it by the supersession of further moments". In photography, there is crucial moment in time between when the photo is being taken, and after it has been taken. Berger argues an abyss is created between the "moment recorded and the moment of looking". In this sense then, when being observed at a later date, a photograph signifies a discontinuity of that moment in time". It triggers our memory.
"The photographer chooses an instant for the viewer, defines what is a appropriate, and makes one single constitutive choice: the choice of the instant to be photographed"
The discontinuity of a photograph from the moment it was taken gives a sense of ambiguity. We do not know what the photo the exact surroundings in which the photo was taken, we can only see the subject in the photo itself. However, Berger argues that this ambiguity is taken away when a photograph is captioned. Words with an image gives it a sense of certainty, the instant we are seeing has been explained. "Cameras' are boxes for transporting appearances" nonetheless, "there is no simple way to grasp the nature of the appearances which the camera transports". A construction of that appearance has been created.

When comparing a photograph to a drawing, Berger analyses the difference in how they are made. A photograph captures a point of view, but cannot intervene in what the subject is representing. An artists, on the other hand, can control the areas of a drawing that they wish to accentuate; it can be a translation of the way in which they see. The artist is leaving a trace of thought.

"The drawing is woven together by the energy of countless judgements, everything about it has been woven by consciousness, either intuitively or systematically"

The subject of time in a drawing is contrasting to that of in photography. Both a photographer and an artist must choose a moment in time they choose to express. But, where a photo is taken instantaneously, a drawing requires focus on what is important, how the subject should be shown or represented. With this, a drawing has its own language, something Berger claims a photograph does not have.

"Photography does not possess a language. A photographic image is produced instantaneously by the reflection of light; its figuration is not impregnated by experience of consciousness".

With Berger's analysis in mind, I was interested to conduct my own research to explore what young individuals who study different topics think about photographs and drawings. I am interested to compare their answers to Berger's points, whether it correlates or not, and to decipher whether a drawing or a photograph is a thought to be a better way of seeing and interpreting things.

What do you think is similar between a photograph and a drawing?

Gabby Sinclair, Psychology: Both photography and drawings present an image of reality. They both capture a specific moment, they both take into account composition, lighting, movement and both involve looking at your surroundings.

Rosie Simmons, Cultural & Media Studies: I think photographs and drawings are both visual representations of something, and modes of creative expression.

Kunbi Oshodi, History: Emotion: You feel a certain way when looking at a picture of a drawing. Interpretation: you can interpret both.

Chris Leonidou, Architecture: They both portray a superficial element of whatever is being photographed/drawn.

Lauren Gee, History of Art: Photos and drawings both show a specific view of something.

Louis Sagar, English Literature: Photographs and drawings both capture human experience. Whether that be our relationship with each other, ourselves or the world around us.

Rehaan Ghandhi, Geography: Both photos and paintings can accurately represent situations that need documenting. They are also both art forms that people enjoying viewing.

Josh Bannister, Mechanical Engineering: They both help depict something.

Ruby Blanchard, Fine Art: They are both visual representations of a particular space.

Clare Minne, Media & Communication: They both show an image of something, both have been created by the artist/photographer themselves and have been created in a certain way to provide certain meanings.

What do you think is different between a photograph and a drawing?

Gabby Sinclair, Psychology: i think they're different because a drawing brings more of the artist style in, but a photograph tells more of a story.

Rosie Simmons, Cultural & Media Studies: I think photographs are more accurate to what they represent, however with drawings you are able to have more creative control.

Kunbi Oshodi, History: A drawing is realistic (capturing the exact moment). I cannot be altered unless it is edited. Whereas a drawing you can alter it as much as you to.

Chris Leonidou, Architecture: A photograph is objective, the camera will always show the same details on a photo (provided it's on the right setting). A drawing is subjective, a person will only draw what they perceive in you.

Lauren Gee, History of Art: Photographs show something true to life even if part of it has been chosen out of a greater whole. A drawings physicality is more dependent on the artist than the subject.

Louis Sagar, English Literature: A photograph is fixed, flaws aren't hidden and the image represents what the eye can see. On the other hand, drawings allow freedom of expression where an image can represent more than meets the eye. For example, emotions can be represented through artists techniques, meaning it can be multi layered and filled with hidden meaning as opposed to a fixed photograph.

Rehaan Ghandhi, Geography: The difference is that of course a painting is more someones interpretation whereas a photo is not subjective. A photo is a more solid method of proving that something happened.

Josh Bannister, Mechanical Engineering: A photograph is evidence, and has to be of something real. A drawing has no boundaries and can be of anything imaginable.

Ruby Blanchard, Fine Art: A photograph is a snapshot which cannot be manipulated whereas a drawing can be manipulated and carefully selected by the artist.

Clare Minne, Media & Communication: With a photograph you can use it as proof that the subject in the image actually did exist at some point in time, with a drawing you do not know if the subject actually does exist/did exist as it was constructed from scratch by the artist and could have been made up by them.

Do you prefer a drawing or a photograph and why?

Gabby Sinclair, Psychology: Photo probably because its more representative of whats there. There are also so many different styles that you can adapt the style to your own preference and naturally find what looks nice in a photo. I think photos provoke more response too.

Rosie Simmons, Cultural & Media Studies: I prefer a drawing because personally I find that form of art more interesting and dynamic, as there are so many different ways to draw and so many different tools you can use.

Kunbi Oshodi, History: Photographs and the memories associated with them. Photographs can capture moments in time a little better and drawings tend to be planned and do not show movement

Chris Leonidou, Architecture: Depends for which, if I need to find out something to a high level of accuracy I'd use the photograph, if I'm enjoying a piece of artwork I'd pick the drawing.

Lauren Gee, History of Art: I prefer a photograph because I feel it is a greater test to the artist to be creative.

Louis Sagar, English Literature: I prefer drawings. As mentioned, usually photographs are understandable and capture life in the way we see it. Drawings require a level of engagement as the details have not been determined by selected by the artist. This allows a sense of personal interpretation not possible in a photograph.

Rehaan Ghandhi, Geography: Depends on the occasion obviously but personally i prefer well taken photographs rather than paintings because they look nicer. For example I would rather have a photo of a New York skyline by night on my wall than the Mona Lisa.

Josh Bannister, Mechanical Engineering: Drawings are better because they can represent multiple things and can combine real-life stuff and artistic interpretation.

Ruby Blanchard, Fine Art: I prefer a drawing, you can be more creative with it and exaggerate things.

Clare Minne, Media & Communication: I like drawings because different artists can use their different artistic styles of drawings to convey images of people and it is interesting to see the variation that it produces of one person, at the same time I also like photographs because it preserves the memory of something at that point in time that you can look back on in the future.

Would you prefer being drawn or photographed and why?

Gabby Sinclair, Psychology: Photographed because what I look like will be real and whats really there - I feel like drawings sometimes don't show what someone actually looks like

Rosie Simmons, Cultural & Media Studies: I would prefer to be drawn, as it feels more effort goes into that, and it would be interesting to see the impression that the person doing the drawing had of me and represented, as opposed to an accurate and lifelike image.

Kunbi Oshodi, History: Photographed because it captures the moment and is realistic. Photographs are also now used for things such as Facebook and Instagram so they are more likely in our day to day

Chris Leonidou, Architecture: I would prefer being drawn as it is less intrusive and more personal.

Lauren Gee, History of Art: I would prefer being drawn because I feel photographs are more truthful whereas an artist drawing would subconsciously get rid of my faults.

Louis Sagar, English Literature: Despite this I would prefer to be photographed than drawn. Being photographed reveals a representation of myself on an impersonal level. If I were to be drawn I would feel exposed, at the mercy of the artist rather than an unchangeable image.

Rehaan Ghandhi, Geography: Rather be photographed because it's quick, would not have to hang about and also because it would accurately show my true good looks.

Josh Bannister, Mechanical Engineering: I would prefer being photographed because being drawn would make me feel self-conscious. It completely reveals the way someone see's you.

Ruby Blanchard, Fine Art: I would prefer being drawn! I would like to see how other people view me when drawn.

Clare Minne, Media & Communication: I would prefer to be drawn because I think it would be interesting to see how an artist would draw me in their style and would want to see what characteristics they would exaggerate/tone down and see myself in a different way than I usually look in real life.

Image 1: Image 2:

Out of the two images of a rose, which one do you think is more powerful?

Gabby Sinclair, Psychology: I think the photo - the camera has been positioned in a way that makes it look so beautiful and bright, whereas the drawing can be seen as a bit basic even though it is good.

Rosie Simmons, Cultural & Media Studies: The drawing because everyone can take a picture but not everyone can use a pencil in a way that brings something to life like that.

Kunbi Oshodi, History: Even though I mainly prefer photographs I think when its something like a rose a drawing is a lot more special. You can tell the drawing took more time and effort. I'd rather have that drawing than the photo.

Chris Leonidou, Architecture: Its quite hard to decide for me. They are both really powerful in the sense that they both include a fair amount of a rose's characteristics, they both do a really good job in depicting what a rose is like. Obviously the photo is more life-like but in this instance you cant argue the drawing isn't either.

Lauren Gee, History of Art: The photograph. Clearly the person who drew the rose has a lot of skill because they made it from nothing - the photographer hasn't made the rose but is showing it in a certain way. This is a lot more difficult to do and so it makes the photo a lot more powerful. Anyone can draw a rose if they really try but no one can take a really, really good photo.

Louis Sagar, English Literature: Both are really good in their own way, but for me the drawing means a lot more. The artist would have decided where to shade, the shape of the petals, the stance of the rose. Even though we are seeing a rose we are seeing it through their eyes and their style. The photograph you can argue is how everyone would see a rose anyway.

Rehaan Ghandhi, Geography: The photo is a lot more pleasing to look at in my opinion. You may as well have a real one right in front of you. The drawing just reminds me of a messy sketchbook. It's pretty but I feel the photo has a larger presence if that make sense.

Josh Bannister, Mechanical Engineering: They are both really nice. I think the photo is special because of how bright the colours are so it really struck at me. Maybe if the drawing was coloured or something it would be more powerful.

Ruby Blanchard, Fine Art: You can the drawing was done with a lot more care and precision. The artist would be really trying to represent a rose in their own style and that I think is a lot more special than taking a second to take a picture.

Clare Minne, Media & Communication: The drawing is more powerful because it is more personal. It can represent many things, like what the artist was feeling at the time etc. The photo of the rose is very standard with no sentimental value really.

Image 1: Image 2:

Both of these images are meant to represent an image of war. Which one do you think does this best and why?

Gabby Sinclair, Psychology: The photograph because it shows more of reality. It really is what is there and thats that. No questions asked.

Rosie Simmons, Cultural & Media Studies: For some reason I feel like the drawing is more truthful. I know a lot of people may disagree with me, but I just feel like it speaks to me more. You can tell the flow of the pencil and shading is done in a way that really expresses an experience. I feel like the person who drew it really knew what they were doing.

Kunbi Oshodi, History: If its to do with representing war as a whole then the photograph. Photographs are always being used as a form of evidence and to regain memories. If someone wants to know what war was like why not look at a photo?

Chris Leonidou, Architecture: A photograph would, in this case, be more reliable. It is expressing reality rather than an artists way of expressing war. Reality in this case is better than artistic value.

Lauren Gee, History of Art: Personally I think that if you want to specifically represent something a drawing would be better. You're not just showing something but the idea of something, and the way this is drawn would really capture a mood around it. For example the drawing is done in a way that is really dark and gloomy.

Louis Sagar, English Literature: Both the images here I think are really important surrounding quite a negative subject. The photograph is a more official and respectful way (you could say) of recording the happenings in a war. A drawing though can be very personal which can show how the artist themselves either remember or feel about war.

Rehaan Ghandhi, Geography: This is a difficult one 'cause both the drawing and photograph do a really good job in sharing the subject of war. I think the photo though is more of a documentation and the drawing highlights more of an experience. They both trigger very different responses to be honest.

Josh Bannister, Mechanical Engineering: I think the photo shows you the physicality of what it would really be like to be there. I feel more connected to the photo.

Ruby Blanchard, Fine Art: As an art student I feel a lot more in touch with the drawing. This is because it comes with more of a story. I want to know why the artist chose that drawing. Were they there? Did they experience war as well? Is it merely their imagination, are they just fond of war movies? The photo could have been taken in an instant purely for documenting.

Clare Minne, Media & Communication: I think the drawing is a lot more of an interesting representation because its the artists representation of war. They could have done it in a different way - glorified it or contrastingly made it look even gorier and brutal than it already is.

After conducting this research it became clear that the preference between either a drawing or a photograph is an entirely personal decision. Nonetheless, there seems to be a correlation between some of what Berger and the interviewee's state. Several people mentioned how a photograph tends to link to a memory. However, there seemed to be a lack of questioning a photo's discontinuity and ambiguity. The overall outcome of what the students think is that most photograph's are truthful, realistic, and present a clear image of the subject. They are reliable sources. This contradicts Berger's claim that many photos, unless captioned, lack a sense of certainty.

Another correlation that is evident is how drawings have their own language. Many interviewee's seem to think that drawings are personal, unique, and reflect what the artist is thinking or believes of a certain subject. This links to Berger's belief that, through drawings, you can interpret the way that artist views a specific object, person, landscape etc. Many of the students agreed that the drawings were subjective, and because of this, some would not wish to be drawn. This is also interconnected with Berger's idea that drawings leave a trace; perhaps of the artists thought process or way of seeing.

Overall, it is clear that Berger's ideas are linked to most of the students responses. I noticed how drawings are in some ways more appreciated, probably because the youth of today are far more accustomed with photographs because of the media-saturated society in which we live. Due to this, I found that many actually trust and depend on photographs a lot more than they do with drawings, without much recognition that many photographs can be extremely ambiguous and distorted.

By student 201034936


Berger, John, Ways Of Seeing, 1st edn (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 2008)

Berger, John, and Jean Mohr, Another Way Of Telling, 1st edn (London: Writers and Readers Cooperative, 1982)

Berger, John, The Look Of Things, 1st edn (New York: Viking Press, 1974)

Berger, John, and Geoff Dyer, Understanding A Photograph, 1st edn (London: Penguin, 2013)

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