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The above is an advertisement for Amnesty International, the global nongovernmental human rights organisation. Released in March 2009, by Air Brussels advertising agency (Advertlog, 2015) the ad was created in order to raise awareness for marital physical abuse. Renowned for their provocative and sometimes disturbing adverts, this advertisement is no exception and portrayals very clearly Amnesty International’s objective to advocate for the respect of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and especially those of women. Essentially, semiology (or semiotics) is the study of signs. Saussure, the founder of semiology described it as 'a science which studies the life of signs at the heart of social life'. (Saussure (1971, 33). According to Saussure, a sign is composed of a signifier (the ‘sound-image’) and a signified (the mental concept the signifier refers to) together generating latent meaning. Consequently, in visual methodology terms, semiology can be defined as the science concerned that the meaning of a particular visual image is understood through the relationship between a signified and a signifier. In contrast to Saussure, Peirce argued that ‘nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign’ (Peirce 1931-58) and offered a ‘semiotic triangle’ (Nöth 1990, 89), demonstrating that one particular sign consists of a representation (it’s form), an interpretation (it’s sense) and an object/referent (what it refers to) (Zeman, 1997). However, Saussure also argued that signs are not universal but arbitrary as they have different equivalents in meaning from one language to another. Drawing on this idea of arbitrariness, semioticians such as Hawkes argued that signs can further differ in how arbitrary they are. According to Hawkes, signs have ‘modes of relationships’ (Hawkes 1977, 129) and can be symbolic (the sign is arbitrary or conventional), iconic (sign resembling the signified) or indexical (sign directly connected to the signified). However, ‘decoding the similarity of an icon or image with its object presupposes a higher degree of cultural conventionality than decoding signs which "direct the attention to their objects by blind compulsion", as Peirce defines the index' (Nöth 1990, 246). Indeed, as Fisk points out: ‘Convention is necessary to the understanding of any sign, however iconic or indexical it is. […] Convention is the social dimension of signs […] it is the agreement amongst the users about the appropriate uses of and responses to a sign’ (Fiske 1982, 60). Barthes, a modern semiotic theorist drew on this point made my Fiske and suggested that there are three orders of signification, three levels of meaning held within a sign. The first order of signification, denotation refers to ‘the literal meaning of a sign’ (Hall, 1980, 132). Connotation, the second-order of signification, what the word implies or suggests is culturally constructed and symbolic. The third order of signification, myth, combines both denotation and connotation to form ideology (Hartley 1982, 217) making dominant cultural and historical; beliefs and attitudes, seem entirely conventional, natural and a real reflection of the way things are. Finally, signs can be coordinated into paradigmatic and syntagmatic structures. Though a structuralist mode, a number of semioticians conceptualise paradigms as binary opposites (two related concepts, opposite in meaning) referring to the hidden meaning or structure of a particular text. Indeed, Saussure, emphasized the differences between signs rather than their similarities This advert detonates a women and a man standing outside. The woman has dark hair and white skin and is wearing a white dress, a white veil, a diamond necklace
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and is holding a bouquet. She has her back turned to the dark haired and white skinned man who is clutching her from behind. Directly behind them we can observe a small pond, a rather dark sky and woodlands in the distance. The caption at the bottom right of the advert reads « 1 out of 5 women is a victim of domestic violence. Act now » and is placed next to Amnesty International’s logo. At a connotative level of analysis however, we begin to understand the deeper meaning of the advertisement through a range of various signs. Firstly, the couple’s attire (white dress, veil, bouquet, tuxedo and bow tie) reflect the myth of the traditional Catholic Western wedding, and therefore tradition, love, trust and happiness. The myth of the perfect wedding day is reinforced through the ornamental signs that make up the decor, such as the appealing background consisting of trimmed conifers, clean cut grass, a gravel path and a pond. However, kinesic signs(R. Birdwhistell, Kinesics and Context, 1970) point to a different reality. Indeed, the stereotypical wedding photograph capturing a happy and enamoured woman glazing into her husband’s eyes is replaced by a woman, slightly bent over and looking downwards, her make up running down her face. The man is also looking down, but at the woman and is displaying very aggressive facial expressions. Though this advert, Amnesty International is therefore breaking the stereotype of the perfect wedding photograph and marriage in general. Indeed, instead of portraying the happiness of marriage, the advert underlies the dark nightmare of domestic abuse. Finally, when creating the advertisement, Amnesty International carefully chose the people they featured. By choosing a white, young couple wearing nice clothes, jewelery and the garden in the background are signs of an upper class couple. In doing so, Amnesty International are attempting to break social identity stereotypes of beaten women, that class is irrelevant when it comes to domestic abuse, that all women no matter there class can be subjected to it. This idea of universality of domestic violence is also found in the linguistic message. The linguistic message rests on the yellow label. Indeed, the image is monosemic without the text is perfectly understandable that the woman is married to a violent man who beats her. The phrase "one out of five women is a victim of domestic violence. Act now “ supports the idea of domestic violence. Here there is redundancy between the message and the iconic language message. However, the text also generalises domestic violence: the photograph could just be illustrating the relationship of the two people featured, however the text adds the idea of universality of domestic violence, domestic violence is not an isolated case as one in five women is concerned. While the audience is passive on the reading of the image as it is open to interpretation, the text prompted the audience member to act and therefore become an actor. The second language message, which is the logo of Amnesty International, can be understood only if the viewer knows Amnesty International. This is a codified linguistic sign that comes in signature advertising.
maculinity, violence, agressivity, power
Signes plastiques, construction et parcours de l’image: Notre œil est tout de suite attiré par la figure centrale de la photographie : le couple.Le cadrage est important, en effet, le couple est placé au centre de l’image et occupe la majorité de l’espace. L’image a donc été construite pour que l’on s’attarde sur le couple, pour que, lorsqu’on lit l’image, ce soit le couple qui nous frappe en premier.C’est la robe blanche qui se distingue le plus du décor : d’abord grâce au contraste existant entre le blanc de la robe et le noir du smoking puis grâce au contraste,certes moins important, entre le blanc de la robe et le vert du décor. On regarde donc d’abord la femme puis l’homme. Notre regard vient ensuite se poser sur l’accroche, en anglais, disposée sur une étiquette jaune vive en total contraste avec les couleurs plutôt douces et pâles du décor. L’étiquette jaune sur lequel est disposée l’accroche reprend la couleur du logo d’Amnesty International qui est lui aussi placé sur un cartouche jaune vif. Enfin,nous lisons le logo d’Amnesty International qui vient en signature de l’affiche. Les personnages sont de trois quart et ne regardent pas le spectateur. Ainsi la personne qui regarde l’affiche est placée en spectateur de la scène. Il a l’impression d’assister à une saynète. Cette impression est renforcée par l’angle de prise de vue de la photographie qui est un angle de prise de vue an axe, frontale. Cependant, le spectateur est invité à l’action par le message linguistique.Enfin, la profondeur de champ est importante ce qui fait que l’intégralité du décor peut être perçue par le spectateur. Ainsi, il peut aussi bien distinguer le bassin se trouvant au second plan, que les conifères et les arbres se trouvant au dernier plan. Situated in the centre of the photograph and occupying the majority of the picture, we understand that the visual text has been constructed so that all focus lies on the couple, and particularly on the woman’s dress. indeed, first through the contrast between the white of the dress and black tuxedo and with the contrast certainly least, between the white of the dress and green decor. So we look first woman and the man. Then our gaze comes to rest on the grip, in English, arranged on a bright yellow label in total contrast with the rather soft and pale colors of the decor. The yellow label having disposed grip takes the color of the Amnesty International logo is also placed on a bright yellow cartridge. Finally, we read the Amnesty International logo that comes signature appears. The characters are three quarters and did not look the viewer. Thus the viewer displays the viewer is placed in the
scene. It has the impression of watching a skit. This impression is reinforced by the camera angle photography that is a camera angle year axis, frontal. However, the viewer is invited to share the message linguistique.Enfin, the depth of field is important so that the entire scene can be perceived by the viewer. Thus, it can also distinguish the basin being in the background, as conifers and trees lying in the background.
Ideology: issues between certain groups operate and show themselves within those images. Images can show us a lot about power in society. Critique: However, signs are polysemic and have multiple meanings. Cultural knowledge is needed as well as context to understand the image in a semiological way. Furthermore, although there is an element of “truth”, decoding is always theorised, (we are theorising about what these images are saying).
Therefore when applying binaries to look at visual images within semiology, through binaries we can understand one of the concepts of the binaries within that image is privileged. Lyons, John (1977): Semantics, Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press