04. The signficance of motion

A photograph is sometimes referred to as a “still” – but even a still can depict or suggest motion and when it does, it is important to consider what significance the motion might have in relation to the story of the image – even if the image is not specifically about motion itself.

In this photograph, there are 4 visual elements: a young woman, an elderly couple, a blackboard sign and the street in which the action is taking place. We are looking along the street and the other three elements appear to be aligned across the street, in the middle distance.

What is significant about the motion depicted is that the elderly couple are walking away from the camera, the young woman is walking towards the camera and the blackboard sign is standing still.

Literally, but also symbolically, the elderly couple are on their way out of the scene; whilst the young woman is entering it. And the sign? Well, the photograph was taken in Barcelona and the word at the top of the sign is “Novell” which is Catalan for “new”. The image, therefore, is a depiction of the idea: out with the old, in with the new – the elderly couple are on their way out, to be replaced by the young woman. (The garbage bins to the right of the couple add their own sinister comment to the story.) But the gesture the young woman is making with the hand covering her neck as she hurries past the elderly couple seems to suggest a realisation that eventually, she too will replaced – that the fate of the elderly couple is one that, in time, also awaits her.

The key to this image, then, is found in the direction in which the characters are moving; and the sign which remains fixed in constant demand for the “new” to replace the old. And unlike the old man in the park in Paris who is looking back in time, perhaps with some regret, the young woman in this photograph is looking forward with trepidation to the time when she too will be old and expendable.


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