An exploration of place and its representations: an intertextual/ dialogical reading of the photographs of AB Ovenstone and the novel Gillespie by John MacDougall Hay.

Lindsay Fiona Blair


“An intertextual/ dialogical reading of place through photography and fiction”

The article is an exploration of place and its representations based on the intertextual reading of a series of photographs (1880-82) of Tarbert, Loch Fyne by Andrew Begbie Ovenstone (1851-1935) and the dialogical reading of a novel, Gillespie (1914), by John MacDougall Hay (1881-1919) which is set in Tarbert. The proposed article is inspired by a sense that a semiotic approach to the subject will reveal far more than has been discovered within the tradition of hermeneutics and patrimony and that much will be gained by a study of the contrast between written and visual signifiers.

The article raises questions about the (unexamined) coded readings of place especially in relation to the photograph, and the lack of an adequately theorized tradition for the novel. The literary text is well known - if not well understood - but the images are from a rare, unpublished, private collection of photographs from Scotland, India and the furthest reaches of Empire (Ovenstone was the Atlantic Freight Manager of Anchor Line Ltd, the Glasgow shipping company).

The paper emphasizes the need for the use of codes to decipher the texts. When we “read” the photographs we need to be aware of the intertextual relationship between the photograph and the landscape painting tradition as well as the common practice of the created tableau – there is then overlaid upon the image the sense of a set of conventions, a system which operates much like a language. We are able to discover through the notion of the “long quotation from appearances” the potential for more complex “synchronic” readings. Likewise, in the case of Gillespie, the novel operates within a genre which determines a “reading”. When we are aware of a code, we become aware of the way that Hay manoeuvres adroitly to thwart the reader’s best efforts to settle upon a preferred reading – especially one shaped by an authoritative narrator - which thereby allows for the genuine experience of “heteroglossia” to emerge. The notion of truth in Gillespie is interrogated in the light of Heidegger’s essay “The Origins of a Work of Art” in order that the relationship between representation and reality be clarified.

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