What a picture can tell you – an exercise

Shortly after I posted the pictorial challenge on my blog, I had a conversation with Thomas Ponnet on Twitter:

ThomasPonnet: I could srt deconstructing but 4 wht reason? So far thr’s no context so therefore thr cnt B a story IMO. Interesting though

TestSideStory: I think there are clues in the pic that might give some context away.It’s just an exercise in seeing/interpreting signs imo

ThomasPonnet: I’m difficult on purpose 😉 w/out context, no, w/out oracle I can’t infer, I can only guess, do testers do that? Yes,for fun

TestSideStory: Testers do guess. They call that making an hypothesis 🙂 Then they see where they get from there.

About the hypothesis thing: I meant that when I said it. We make guesses all the time. We make hypotheses, we assume some things and we act accordingly. We perform experiments to see whether we can confirm our hypotheses. If not, time to re-model. 

We construct models in our mind, but are these models ever correct? And even if they prove to be incorrect, that is often more useful than  having no models at all. Remember the old adagio “when you’re lost, any old map will do” .

Back to the challenge. Quite a lot of people visited, but no-one actually rose to the challenge, which leads me to assume that people either :

  • were confused
  • were not interested
  • didn’t see the point
  • didn’t have the time
  • couldn’t care less

After this sobering insight I decided to eat my own dog food and have a go at it myself. Click on the thumbnail for a larger resolution picture.

Can we derive any context from this picture?

On the denotation side: it’s just a little boy is sitting on top of a house. We only see the upper floor. On the balcony, there’s a little blue bike, a blue baby bath, a blue screen door to keep the mosquitoes out, a birdcage with two birds in it, a pot with a plant and some broken but repaired windows. On top, we see two old publicity signs. One says “Zanchetti”, the other is only partially visible and reads “La Mejor Ropa de Tr…”

Any connotations? Situational context? La mejor ropa… Ropa means clothing or clothes in Spanish. So the publicity signs seem to point us to a  spanish-speaking country. Somewhere in Mexico, maybe? Or Spain? Latin-America? South-America? 

Let’s google the two terms on the signs.

Zanchetti mejor ropa de

Mmm… primarily hits from Argentina, some from Chile and Colombia too. Maybe we should narrow down the search. The two signs seem to belong together, so Zanchetti is probably a clothing factory. Let’s try another search and see what happens.

Zanchetti ropa

The first result from this search leads us to an “indumentaria online” (clothing online) site (thanks, Google translate!), which basically seems to be a collection of stores that sell working clothes. So we can also complete the publicity signs by now: “Zanchetti, la mejor ropa de trabajo”. The last store in the list rings a bell:

ZANCHETTI HNOS.
Vieytes 1876 (1275) Bs.As.

The Zanchetti brothers are in Argentina, allright. Buenos Aires, to be exact. Enter Google Maps, that trusted friend for the geographically challenged.

This is the result.

Note that the address shown isn’t actually Vieytes 1876, which is a smaller street in an other part of the city.

Of course, we can’t just assume that Vieytes 1876 is the address where the picture was taken. Publicity signs are typically constructed on tall buildings in commercial areas, not too far from the neighborhood of the business itself.

The building looks old, and the publicity signs are weary, almost from decades ago. On an other clothing website, it says that the Zanchetti brothers started their business in 1962. It sure looks like it stems from that era. The fact that they once decided to place the signs here, indicates that this probably used to be a big commercial or industrial site. The faded signs also suggest that this area is no longer mainstream, and deteriorating. The building looks like a residential building now, so its function may have changed over time. Could it be that this once was a thriving part of the city, but that the city has now evolved elsewhere, leaving this area to deteriorate?

In spite of the building, the boy on top of the roof doesn’t look poor. He is meticulously dressed in what looks like a sports outfit. This may indicate that his parents are not too wealthy, but that they take pride in giving their children the best life possible (or this indicates that the boy is a small time drug dealer succesfullysupporting himself – but I give him the benefit of the doubt). He looks comfortable up there, as if this is his usual hide-out/vantage point. He’s ignoring the rooftop view, probably because he’s pretty familiar with the surroundings. 

The blue bicycle stowed away on the balcony is likely the boy’s, and the fact that it’s up there and not downstairs ready for use, is maybe an indication that the boy and his family only live in (or own) the upper floor. This probably means that there’s not too much room in the apartment. So maybe the rooftop is where he goes to have some time for himself. He sure looks a bit lonely up there.

But there’s other interesting stuff on the balcony.

The blue baby bath. It indicates that there is at least one other (younger) child in the family. We can’t say for sure if it’s still a baby. After all, the bath could be an old one, waiting to be discarded. 

The blue screen doors with what appears to be children’s stickers on the inside. The bird cage with what looks like parakeets (there is towel on top of the cage, which indicates that they are covered up at night and spend the night outside too). The broken and poorly mended glass in the doors. All these things imply a rather poor but caring and happy family.

Any things I missed?

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6 thoughts on “What a picture can tell you – an exercise”

  1. Hi Zeger,
    I answered this challenge with a blog on my site, have a look and let me know what you think.
    I find it interesting that we took broadly similar approaches but which were different enough to warrant a discussion.

    What would really interest me now is, where did you get this picture from?

    Thomas

  2. Hi Thomas,
    Thanks for taking the time to participate in the challenge. I basically did it out of curiosity what all these ever-questioning testers would come up with.
    People look at and interpret images in many different ways. Clear connotations for you might not even cross my mind (it’s mainly a cultural thing, too).
    I answered on your blog. Warning. Major Spoiler alert!

  3. Hello Mr Van Hese…

    If I recall my Derrida correctly, a significant aspect of deconstruction is to include the observers in the work.

    For what reason did the photographer take this picture? Did the boy and the signs and the building somehow cause the photograph to be taken? And if so, in what way?

    And what affect does the photograph have on those of us who view it later? Does it change our emotional state? Does it remind us of other work, or of our own memories?

    A very nice exercise, thank you for doing that.

  4. Missed? I don’t know if you missed it, but you don’t mention looking at the image file itself.

    The file you gave us has no EXIF data – which is frustrating for those interested in a quick win. If present, EXIF data would be able to give further context – a timestamp, a camera, possibly a position. The file seems to be to the JFIF standard, which Wikipedia tells me is formally – but not necessarily – incompatible with EXIF metadata.

    However, its absence still indicates potential lines of enquiry. Was it was removed as a side-effect of processing for the web (by you, or by wordpress), was it removed for the purposes of this posting, or did it have none in the first place?

    Mucking about with Preview under OS X, I _can_ tell that it’s at 72dpi, so I judge it is for screen, not print use. Physical dimensions are a non-standard ratio (55:71), and the picture is encoded as 8-bit colour in the sRGB colourspace, so I expect that it has been cropped and compressed from the original. Better tools / a better understanding of my tools / more time & motivation might lead to more information.

    I’ll go out on a limb, and air a suspicion which would inform further inquiries: You’re looking at the picture, not the file. I don’t know whether you took the picture, but I think you are aware of its provenance and may have access to the original…

    1. Hi James, you are right. I didn’t look at the file itself, I focused on the image and its possible meanings. The reason for that was that I indeed know the origin of the file, which eliminated the urge to explore that route.

      I didn’t take the picture myself. I found it on a photographer’s site, downloaded it, changed the file name (to remove possible clues) and uploaded to imgur. No other conversions took place (that I know of). Why it has that format is actually beyond me.

  5. I also examined the properties of the picture file for clues about it’s origin. Nada…

    I didn’t assume the sign was connected to the building – I thought it possible that it was behind – and so a potential red herring.

    Of the sign itself, I could read “La mejor ropa” and then possibly a “D” but no more. Searching for this and “Zanchetti” – searching for photos didn’t throw up anything. Searching on “Zanchetti” gave various hits – but as I couldn’t say the sign and building went together I didn’t follow it up.

    I didn’t assume the boy lived there – he’s maybe looking at something that we can’t see. Maybe there’s a football game going on on the other side that he’s watching.

    Appears to be a real plant – plus looks like alive birds in cage – so building is probably in regular use.

    There appears to be a blue (plastic?) bath hanging up – could be for a child, dog, or any of hundreds of other uses. Or just been left there.

    Blue door frame doesn’t appear to match the rest, plus there appear to be broken (or covered up) windows – run-down area maybe, or been decorated by an eccentric or recycler.

    Interesting challenge – I’m currently reading about how we make assumptions and about cognitive bias – this area of unconcious assumptions is interesting.

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