Visual communication


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Lecture powerpoint used for MS7005 Research Methods and Management class on 'Analysis of Visual Communication.' This was identified as an example of good practice during PGCHE portfolio examination.

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Visual communication

  1. 1. Analysis of Visual Communication Research Methods and Management 2 MS7005 9 March 2010
  2. 2. Overview: <ul><ul><li>‘ The Photographic Message’ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Approaches towards analysis of visual communication </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reading photographs: The Representation of Social Actors in Photographs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Examples of representation of actors/events in photographs </li></ul></ul>
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  4. 4. Observations: <ul><li>Central actor: disabled Chinese woman. Is the woman famous? </li></ul><ul><li>Pose: Arms in air, angel like perhaps? </li></ul><ul><li>Location: outside illuminated modern building </li></ul><ul><li>Q. What does this image say about disability? </li></ul>
  5. 5. Liu Yan Still Dances in Her Dreams, New York Times, 17 April 2009 [WWW] <ul><li>The woman in the picture is Chinese dancer Liu Yan, who was due to perform in the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 </li></ul><ul><li>Liu Yan injured her back after a fall in rehearsal and has been disabled ever since </li></ul><ul><li>Her story has remained little known in China and this report refers to a recent event held in her honour in China </li></ul>
  6. 6. Liu Yan Still Dances in Her Dreams, New York Times, 17 April 2009 [WWW] <ul><li>“ Strangely, Ms. Liu’s story is barely known inside China because in August, fearing that news of her devastating fall would detract from Olympic celebrations, Beijing’s Olympic Committee asked witnesses and family members not to talk about the accident. Even today, China’s state-controlled news media have not been given permission to tell the full story of what happened to a dancer so celebrated she was often selected to perform for China’s top leaders” </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>“ rather than the notion of looking, which suggests a passive act of recognition, we need to insist that we read a photograph, not as an image but as a text .” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Rather than being a ‘mirror,’ the photograph is one of the most complex and most problematic forms of representation” </li></ul><ul><li>(Clarke, The Photograph, 29) </li></ul>
  8. 8. Key issues in analysis of visual communication: <ul><li>‘ Naïve realism’ – visuals are often taken at face value and said to ‘mirror’ the events captured on film </li></ul><ul><li>Researchers tend to focus on properties of written and verbal language than the accompanying visuals </li></ul><ul><li>Analytical tools for analysis of visuals tend to be underdeveloped and underused </li></ul>
  9. 9. Barthes (1977) ‘The Photographic Message’ <ul><li>Semiotic theory used to focus on social phenomena of signs in photograph </li></ul><ul><li>Messages constituted in two ways: through connotation (suggested/implied meaning) and denotation (literal meaning) </li></ul><ul><li>Denotative status has every chance of being mythical – characteristics of photo that may represent and convey ideological norms of a culture </li></ul><ul><li>Text borrows from objectivity of image and adds new meaning </li></ul>
  10. 10. Three modes of connotation that one used to identify the messages in visuals: <ul><li>Perceptive - allows individuals to automatically categorise what they perceive </li></ul><ul><li>Cognitive – individuals recognise elements that they personally know about e.g. place, time of event </li></ul><ul><li>Ideological/Ethical –reader/viewer recognises a certain value that is being depicted </li></ul>
  11. 11. Barthes: Strengths and Weaknesses? <ul><li>Theory of Photographic message helps us understand both impact and intention of images, helps bring attention to connotative messages that are categorised in common culture </li></ul><ul><li>However, it may be impossible for pure denotation in photographs apart from images of traumatic events e.g. terrorism, natural disasters </li></ul><ul><li>There also must be a motivation for why the photographer took the picture – they select one aspect of a perceived reality and make it salient for their audience </li></ul>
  12. 12. Hansen et al (1998) identify four approaches to visual analysis: <ul><li>Distortion </li></ul><ul><li>Symbolic </li></ul><ul><li>Semiotic </li></ul><ul><li>Epistemological </li></ul>
  13. 13. (1) Distortion <ul><li>Highly unrepresentative scenes are found to be put to work in service of a particular news frame </li></ul><ul><li>Politically motivated doctoring of photographs found as far back as World War 2 e.g. Stalin has Trotsky removed from 1917 photograph of Lenin addressing Moscow proletariat </li></ul><ul><li>This approach relies upon researcher actively seeking alternative sources of visual evidence in order to authenticate or representativeness of the selected image </li></ul>
  14. 14. (2) Symbolism <ul><li>Images have the symbolic capacity to condense and give visual expression to abstract ideas – both affirmational and aspirational </li></ul><ul><li>Questions about authenticity are less important than emotional and political realism </li></ul><ul><li>Example include pictures used by UK press to support the Northern Irish peace process e.g. troops hugging children </li></ul>
  15. 15. (3)Visuals as semiotic systems <ul><li>Focus on how signs within an image represent a cultural or ideological code </li></ul><ul><li>Like news reports visuals may contain elements of ambiguity, inconsistency and contradiction </li></ul><ul><li>Theorists such as Berger (1991) have attempted to code visual signs used in TV production (see Hansen et al 1998 p.207 for details) </li></ul>
  16. 16. (4) Visuals as Epistemological Guarantee <ul><li>Use of news visuals to secure both authoritative status and knowledge claims of news </li></ul><ul><li>Unlike distortion and symbolic forms of analysis, the focus is not on veracity of news or symbolism of images but on way visuals help construct a sense of news as a distinct and trustworthy form of knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on how visuals are selected and used to underwrite the meta-discourse of the news producer </li></ul>
  17. 17. Reading Photographs: The Representation of Social Actors in Photographs (1): <ul><li>Distance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>As in real life, distance signifies social relations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In pictures distance translates as ‘size of frame’ (Close shot, medium shot, long shot etc) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Angle </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Side on view more detached (although combined with closeness can index togetherness) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Horizontal angle – frontality and profile </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Vertical angle – “looking down on” or “looking up to” the people represented? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Gaze </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Does the person look at the viewer? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What contact is there between the viewer and viewed? </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Reading Photographs: The Representation of Social Actors in Photographs (2): <ul><li>Framing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Look for divisions and frame lines which break up the image </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Representation of others: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Inclusion/exclusion of people – what people, classes etc are absent/left out </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Agency – habitual representation of certain types of people represented as agents of deviant, criminal, or evil actions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Representation of stereotypes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Representations of groups (homogenous?) and individuals </li></ul></ul>
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  20. 20. Image of Pro-Democracy Protestor, Tiananmen Square, June 1989: <ul><li>Symbolic image of one protestor stopping row of tanks – representative of democratic opposition to military power of Chinese government? David vs. Goliath? </li></ul><ul><li>Iconic image associated with student demonstration for democratic reform that ended in massacre – also captured by television cameras e.g. BBC </li></ul>
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  22. 22. Pro-Moussavi Protest, Iran (June 2009) <ul><li>Centre of photograph has poster written in English – reflecting the intended audience? </li></ul><ul><li>Central message – “Why 40,000 votes should be questioned?” refers to allegations of electoral fraud that were made against incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad </li></ul><ul><li>Crowd of people on street – representing scale of protests across Tehran? </li></ul><ul><li>Q. Which analytical framework would you use to analyse this picture? Distorted? Symbolic? </li></ul>
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  24. 25. Image of Firefighters erecting flag at Ground Zero, September 2001: <ul><li>US Flag – symbol of American power? Freedom? </li></ul><ul><li>Firefighters and flag are in sharper focus than debris – reflecting US patriotism in face in aftermath of attack? </li></ul><ul><li>Firefighters amongst the many victims at the site of the Twin Towers – a tribute to fallen comrades? </li></ul><ul><li>Flag raised by firefighters is similar to image of US soldiers raising flag on Iwo Jima (1945) </li></ul>
  25. 26. Summary: <ul><li>There are both connotative and denotative meanings in visuals - should not be taken at face value </li></ul><ul><li>There are four approaches that can be deployed in the analysis of visual communication – distortion, symbolic, semiotic, epistemological </li></ul><ul><li>Text may change meaning of image for reader/viewer </li></ul><ul><li>Researchers must be aware of motivations of photographer when analysing their images –cannot assume that the ‘camera does not lie’ </li></ul>