Semiotics: The Study of Visuals as a Language

We are subjected to billions of images on a daily basis, therefore it is important for us to be able to systematically analyse a visual text (advert, film, painting, window display, an act of body language, a building etc..).  To help us be able to do this, we should know about Roland Barthes’ theories of semiotic analysis: the sign, the signifier and the signified.  

Secondly, whilst analysing an image we should ensure we understand the difference between connotations and denotations.  Denotation refers to literally what we are looking at in the image, whereas connotations are developed through context and emotional connection.  Where the image is placed or presented will automatically alter an audience’s view on an image, for example detonating a photo of Jimmy Saville we would initially say an older man wearing glasses, however because of the scandal surrounding the former TV Presenter, we would now interpret the image with connotations of sexual abuse. 

Many brands have got into trouble in the past having failed to connect negative connotations with one of their product.  For example, Topshop had to remove a vest featuring the band Slayer’s logo because the print historically referenced the Nazis.  

Image Analysis (Connotations and Denotations)

Denotations: A dented car; pole; man with medical uniform on; crowded location; concrete block; woman with blood on her face; red nail varnish and bracelet. 

Connotations: The car has been involved with some sort of accident; appears to be in a place such as Mexico;  the medical uniform suggests her life is at risk; the crowd suggests a scandal; the grain of the image looks like it could be a still from a film.  

This image is actually a photograph taken on 29th April 1979.  It is of a journalist named Enrique MetinidesCar Crash, and the photograph was taken shortly before her death after being driven into by another car.  

 

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