Theory and Symbolism behind a Message
Symbolism and Semiotics was such a great lecture on how images are notionally interpreted to the audience or consumer through the language of sign. The power of a message can navigate our environment through the mechanism of symbolic messaging. This can be done with image, text, and audio that can deliver a complex and sophisticated idea for example through advertising. The notion of the message to succeed is how did the receiver receive the intention of the sender? There are ways that a message can be conveyed but that depends on the language within its environment.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.George Bernard Shaw
This is to do with how culture and the environment can understand the meaning of the message. On a global scale, the message might mean well in one country but could mean the opposite to another. This is terms bound by language which needs to be considered. Political language is also an area of communication that can be very dangerous as it can mask and confuse the audience.
This image of the Brexit Campaign on Boris’s big red bus is an example of a misleading message for a political reason to vote leave. The message was meant to say a year instead of a week and this can really give people the idea we are spending way too much of our government money to the EU, which was not true. This clearly had an effect on how and why people voted on polling day which for some became a very dangerous outcome.
Meaning of Language is dependent upon intentionTaken from Novel ‘1984’
The difficult issue with communication we face is decoding the message, which is the language itself. When we read messages, especially from different cultural backgrounds, it can really mean different things to different receivers. You do really need to consider what is the intent of the sender? The message needs clarity and if not considered then the intention needs to convey meaning. Imagery is proposed to lie at the heart of communication and psychological images are the intent of the process. An emoji for example conveys the intention without words, purely through the representation of the image, which is very self-explanatory.
Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, use, and interpretation. It is this that semiotics proposes that anything can convey a direct meaning as a sign that composes of two further elements that successfully convey meanings. The sign must compose firstly a Signifer, which is the things itself such as the item, object, word, or the image that carries the message. Secondly is the signified, which is the concept conveyed that is very important to understand. These two elements create the form of the sign.
Signs can be made of anything that conveys the meaning or a message fit for the purpose to communicate. There are further categories for signs, which Icon, Index, and Symbol. Symbols are seen within religion and cultural uses for symbolic language and imagery that implied meanings and interpretations. Symbols are less certain in its meanings than signs which possess a clear message through the two elements of signifier and signified.
Roland Bathes built foundations of semiotics to build a wider structural sense of how visual language works. He looks into brands that really identify the process of semiotics, which he discusses the approach with the brand Panzani. The Panzani advert is a great example, that finds all the layerings of meanings in the structure of the visual language.
Overall this lecture was very insightful and I’ve learned a few things that can be really considerable in my practice.
Case Study – Olympics System
Tom from Regular Practice discusses the case study on the Olympic Rings which is a great example of how graphical icon changes for events globally. We all recognise what the symbol for the Olympics is without firstly seeing an image of it. It’s the hosting country that creates a design system around the globe that informs a visual aesthetics for the audience. The semiotics is based upon the log and event, which creates a sign for the hosting country. This talk by Tom was very pleasing as he identifies the type of systems that are simply designed for the hosting country. There is the systemic approach (Mexico 68 & Munich 72), Emblematic/Figurative (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 & Beijing 2008), and abstracted approach (London 2012). Tom speaks about each identity that carries the idea of a modernist aesthetic to inform the identities, representation of the countries emblem visually direct, incorporated, redacted and reference in their styles and a sign that completely doesn’t represent the hosting country, but abstract that sits apart from its culture. Overall the system that is applied for the Olympics when hosts have considered their design is commonly variables that remain the same, global context shifts, and also multiple variables that designers lend.
Patrick Thomas – Breaking News 2.0
I really love this exhibition Breaking News 2.0 and wished I had the opportunity to go to see this. I love the idea of how this interacts through RSS feeds and also with the public through the use of QR codes (These are making a comeback). The prints that surround the wall of the digital screens and projects give a great balance of print and digital medium, bringing a lovely comparison. I love the idea of real and fake news feed interacting as this fits with the trends at the time. The random graphic shapes give the design for the text an impact that makes it engaging and Patrick Thomas said there are no intentional meanings with the shape and context. The authenticity as to where are we getting the news source from? Do we trust this feed of information? It would really make you question that message and how does it portray without any visual evidence. This is an exhibition that bombards people with mixed messages with meaningful and meaningless information where people have freedom of expression.
In the lecture, Martin Hoskins speaks about Roland Barthes’s semiotic approach on the Panzani advert. So I wanted to research a little bit more into his theory. Barthes was one of the first people to study the semiotics of images and it was this I wanted to look further into for my case studies. He developed a way of understanding the meaning of images, which his studies related to advertising, but his concept can apply to photography.
Barthes analyses an advertising image by Panzani which he uses it as a way of provoking how different messages are conveyed by a system of signs. Images function of conveying meaning given that they are essentially an imitation of something. He questions the language that perceives through the power of imagery, which is do they really constitute a language, and if they do, how does meaning work within this language?
Barthes identifies three classes of messages within the image. These are the linguistic message, symbolic message, and literal message that is suggested in the meaning of an image.
The linguistic message (text)
There are two kinds of linguistic messages at work: a denoted message comprising of the caption and the labels on the produce, and a connoted message – the word ‘Panzani’ connotes Italianicity.
The symbolic message (or connoted image)
Four signs are then identified from the non-linguistic part of the image and the constitute the symbolic message, or connoted image:
- The half-open bag signifies return from the market
- Tomatoes and peppers signify Italianicity
- The collection of objects signifies a total culinary service
- The overall composition is reminiscent of and therefore signifies, the notion of still life.
The literal message (or denoted image)
This is non-coded in that the image of the tomato represents a tomato, the image of the pepper represents a pepper, and so on. He remarks that in this case, we have a signifier and a signified which are essentially the same – this is a message without a code.
Barthes looks into these key messages to understand the relationship between to gain a better sense of their nature in operation.
The linguistic message
Almost all images, in all contexts, are accompanied by some sort of linguistic message. This seems to have two possible functions:
- Anchorage – images are prone to multiple meanings and interpretations. Anchorage occurs when text is used to focus on one of these meanings, or at least to direct the viewer through the maze of possible meanings in some way
- Relay – the text adds meaning and both text and image work together to convey intended meaning e.g. a comic strip.
The denoted image
We can’t really remove the connotations of an image and this beholds a purely literal, denoted image. If we could we would be comprehending the image at what Barthes calls the ‘first degree of intelligibility’, the point at which we see more than shapes, colour, and form, but instead see a tomato. This would be a message without a code and crucially, Barthes identifies photography as the only medium with this characteristic.
He identifies the specific characteristic of the ‘pure’ photograph as being an object that is here now in the present, but which connects to something that indisputably existed in the past. He sees this as being revolutionary, as a means of eluding history.
The role of the denoted image in the overall image structure/meaning is one of naturalizing the symbolic message – supporting and contextualizing the connoted elements, making them innocent.
The connoted image
Analyzing the connotations of the image is a challenging task fraught with a number of difficulties. One of these is that each image can connote multiple meanings. Meaning is derived from a lexicon, which is a body of knowledge within the viewer. A single lexia stimulates multiple lexicons which may or may not be shared among viewers. Barthes refers to the collection of lexicon within a person, as his/her idiolect.
A further difficulty with analyzing the connoted signifieds is that there is no apt language for expressing or articulating them. The common domain of signifieds of connotation is an ideology, which seems odd until one consults a dictionary and finds a definition of ideology as a “systematic body of concepts”.
Barthes calls the signifiers within a particular medium (or ‘substance’) the connotators. So, the connotators within an image are all the visual elements that can be used to connote signifieds. The entire set of such connotators is the rhetoric, so the rhetoric of the image is all the visual elements within an image that can be employed as signifiers.
Advertising images have clear intentionality at their core – they are constructed to convey specific meanings and specific messages – and Barthes is quite upfront about the fact that this is why he uses one. We can use Barthes’ approach to unpack how this works, but what about other genres of photographs? For example, casual snapshots might have no intended connotations associated with them on the part of the creator but might mobilise a particular lexicon within a viewer that constructs a very specific meaning, unintended by the creator. Does this matter? Similar questions arise with respect to documentary photographs. Are the creators of documentary images dealing purely with denotation?
This film is a story of how events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. It explains not only why these chaotic events such as Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless migrant crisis, random bomb attacks are happening – but also why we, and our politicians, cannot understand them.
This footage really identifies the way trends through our media and social channels can play the part to create an impact on life events and politics. This really goes into detail on how media has a great influence on social change and can manipulate uprises towards government officials.
Repetition in Art and Photography
Repetition in art is an interesting method as an artist implement to create a certain movement, stillness, design, confusion, a rebel against the notion of tradition, re-define the idea of the original and the copies, or to cast true focus on one part of the artwork that either makes the work more visible or purposely invisible. Repetition is used both in music and visual arts and is seen as both an aesthetic and poetic device to express its form. Seen as one of the fundamentals of creativity, repetition, in a similar manner to the rhythm, helps to create a sense of movement in an artist’s impression. It is a recurrence of a particular line, pattern, shape, or visual elements in a single or part of the series. The element of repetition in art many authors used on purpose to comment on the state of the world around us and to challenge the public. This can build a sense of tension if no variations are implemented and it is often in the subtle detail that the key to the understanding of such pieces lies.
We enter a world that speaks about the repetition in the choice of the subject matter, evident in the work of Claude Monet, Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, that formed some of the most influential avant-garde movements, or a world that uses repetition in art as a commentary tool of consumerism and mass production, decorating the creativity of Andy Warhol or various Minimalism artists.
Because patterns and repetition can be found everywhere around us, photography has a fairly easy job to capture it. Even though a photographer does not need to invent one from scratch, like painters need to, they should still have an eye for detail and the ability to integrate it in their composition the right way. There aren’t many photographers who go and intentionally chase patterns and repetitions found in their immediate surroundings; rather, it is often a chance encounter with natural or architectural elements that end up in their frame, sometimes even involuntary.
What Lies Beneath?
In this week’s workshop, I’ve gone with the route to looking into case study 1 as to how a news report can unpack and reveal its distorting meaning in the media. The article I chose to explore the message through the media, is the story on the death of young Syrian boy Alan Kurdi who was found washed up on the Turkish coast. I thought of this report after I watched the documentary on Hyper Normalisation, a film that discusses events that keep happening that seem inexplicable for the audience to read into. I felt this story has the impact of addressing so many issues of humanitarian crises globally at the time of this event and we still see this happening today.
This story really brought a lot of different opinions as people didn’t agree with the image showing the death of a child that is forbidden to never show in the printed media. The image was already circulating around the social channels before the media got to print and effected many people through the impact of the image than just a headline. So did this, allow the newspapers to have the freedom to show this image as it’s been circulated already online? The image has a stronger impact on emotions, so does headlines need to be necessarily important? These headlines can be more persuasive in how they communicate. Are we seeing any empathy from these outlets to allow the crises to be dealt with?
David Levi Strauss, a cultural critic, and poet believes this image will live on in history compared to the image of Nick Ut’s image of a young Vietnamese girl running naked from a napalm attack. The image might live on in history, but will it make a change to an ongoing humanitarian crisis that is still happening today? The image shows the importance of how the image symbolises the aid of a young lifeless human being has a devastating and heartbreaking effect that brings a number of emotions to the audience. The fact of this being a child allows many people to naturally connect with the story as to reliving the fact it could your own or anybody else child. It brings great sadness and grieving emotions for the viewer without even knowing or understanding the journey this young child had to go through. I feel this image alone has a case of a semiotic approach in photography as the signifier is the dead child lying hopelessly on the beach, which is the reality. The signified brings a sense of various emotions to the image and the idea of this child lying helplessly makes people think of his fear, pain, sadness, worry, and emotionally grieving experience. This image can lie with everybody as your body naturally goes through somewhat an empathy feeling towards what happened to this poor child and emotionally connects people with great sadness.
The next part of the articles is the headlines which Anchorage the linguistic message with the image. The headline on these three articles really come across different meanings within their tone of voice. The Italian paper, La Stampa translates: ‘The beach on which Europe dies’ where there is no confidence in the message to help with the crises. The UK, The Independent: ‘Somebody’s Child’ really doesn’t send a message to help but sends the idea of having empathy for this poor child and his tragedy as to how he got to this point. This can lead to mixed emotions and thoughts on, how would you feel if that was your child? The Toronto Star press ‘It’s time for this to end’ which is a more direct and action is needed to stop this from happening is more meaning in bringing everybody together and don’t let this happen again. It provokes a call of action to talk, helps, argues, comes together, and power to make a change. These headlines can sway the audience it’s proking to think and acknowledge what’s happened and happening in the world. It is the image that is more powerful and can act alone to bring great emotion to crises that needs everyone to stand together and help. The image clearly brings more emotional and connected wellbeing to others to truly understand the consequence of this poor child’s tragedy.
The case Study
This was a great insight into Martin Hosken’s lecture on symbolism and semiotics in messaging through the power of imagery. Hosken’s goes into fine detail about the theory of these type of messaging from a political persuasive communication to visual language in religion and cultural society that create messages of beliefs. The notion of the message success is the communication that is received, rather not the message that is just sent. If the message isn’t received then the point has not been successful in engaging with the audience. In saying this some messages can mean differently in its context to different receivers, which language through text and image has to be thoroughly thought about before it’s communicated. Semiotics is a theory on signs that compose of two elements that creates meaning and message in its visual form. These elements are the signifier, given meaning, and signified the mental concept and these can make the emotion of any given image a narrative into what it’s suggesting to deliver. Traffic signs are a great example of this as they give meaning and order to communicate an action that needs to be seriously considered.
Learning about semiotics and symbolism allowed me to further my research to watch the documentary called Hyper Normalisation as it demonstrated events that keep happening that seem inexplicable for the audience to read into. This showed how messages were through political and social trends made changes in the world that created such an impact in the movement of influence in power to leaders and nations. This was a great film and really got me thinking about how communication can be disruptive in good and bad ways depending on how it received. This took me to look at a journal article case study in my workshop challenge as what came to my mind was the image of the small Syrian boy who died from drowning, whilst trying to cross the Mediterranean sea to Turkey. This was a tragic loss and emotional event when there is a humanitarian crisis of people fleeing a country that is torn apart due to a civil war in their homeland. The image of the young boy lying on the Turkish beach was sent across the world through firstly social media where the image spread at an enormous rate for people to captivate this dreadful tragic story. It was then headlined on so many newspapers across the globe, which brought the issue of the crises for people to truly understand what is happening in the world. It really was an image that gave a great semiotic meaning on what’s physically just happened to the poor child and the concept of how did this child get to this point and how did the world around us has let it happen. This image really has an impact on its own to the people, but the headlines really suggest in various ways towards its readers. This can really change the perspective in the tone of voice the media would like the message to come across for something either to be done or emphasizing this issue that’s been raised with no guilt to help. The strongest point in this research is comparing it to the image of the young Vietnamese girl running naked from a napalm attack, which had a strong impact on an issue at the time of the event and looking at it today. This can be a strong reminder that either yesterday, today, or tomorrow, looking at this image can still have the same emotional effect over and over again that you can stop this from happening if we can somehow help. I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop as I got to really dig deep and understand the way messages can be perceived through this theory of semiotic and symbolic meanings that can really change the direction of social events and world issues. I can take this forward by keeping in mind the way we see things might not leave the same impression for everyone to understand and accept it’s meaning to deliver.