Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen discuss the concept of approaching an image as an integrated text. The duo states “we seek to break down the disciplinary boundaries between the study of language and the study of images.” The passage continues on to state that we attempt to connect language and images to come together in integrated texts. The concept of connecting images and words is the foundation of the application Over. The purpose of Over is to allow users to take photos and add text over their image, therefore, giving the user the ability to integrate the two communicative forms. To view Over’s complete Instagram profile, click the photo above to take a gander at the various integrated text examples.
Gunther Kress and Thed van Leeuwen explain the significance of composition in images, publications, and articles in their chapter entitled The Meaning of Compositions from their book Reading Images. Here the duo states that the thought process behind the composition is crucial in completely understanding the ultimate meaning the author was trying to convey.
Kress and van Leeuwen discuss three pivotal aspects of composition that assist in adding meaning to a image or something of the like.
- Information Value
Here information value describes the placement of elements and the meaning behind the different “zones” (right and left, top and bottom, and center margin) of an image. Salience refers to the elements that attract the viewer’s attention to different degrees with consideration to the placement in relationship with the foreground, background, relative size, and contrasts in color or sharpness. Framing is the presence or absence of framing that connects or disconnects the elements in the image.
Information value gives rise to the theory of the New vs. Given. The left placement signifies the Given or the information the audience is accustomed to or already knows. The right placement represents the New or the unknown idea that is being presented to the audience. Top placement depicts the emotional appeal of the image whereas the bottom placement represents the factual or informative portion of the image and center placement shows the main idea the author wants to come across.
Taking this into consideration, a culture of a given demographic impacts the information value and how an image is processed. For instance, by western standards we read from left to right. Therefore, left placement would contain the information that is general known by the audience and as you make your way to the right the information that is presented is increasingly unknown. Furthermore, considering the norm of our society is up-down (as seen in magazines and newspaper formats) the top would be a more emotional image which would intrigue the audience to continue downward to end up with the factual information at the bottom.
Considering the information value theory of processing information, could one argue that advertisements with poor placement are partially to blame for misinterpretation? Furthermore, if placement is strictly a formula of known vs unknown information and emotional vs factual, would propaganda be increasingly easy to produce?
Chapter two entitled “Viewers Make Meaning” in Sturken and Cartwright’s “The Practices of Looking” mentioned Clement Greenberg concept of “Avant Garde and Kitsch” in 1933 which argues that kitsch is a “formulaic, offering cheap and inauthentic emotion to the uneducated masses.” However, this concept was revamped in the 1980s by post modern artists stating kitsch “defied the austere aesthetics and universalizing values of modern works of art and architecture.” Therefore, embracing lowbrow culture of kitsch and the “bad” aspects of everyday mass culture means rejecting the accepted norms of the elite. Reading through that definition, my thoughts jumped to the basic definition of a “hipster.” Although the term and lifestyle of a hipster is exceptionally overused and overrated, in the pure sense of the term, “hipster” means exactly that. It is a person who rejects all aspects of the “mainstream” or accepted norms of the culture and goes on a Thoreau kick of the road less traveled. It is a movement to stick it to the status quo and upper class to say you cannot define me and I will not let you.
Sturken and Cartwright explore the idea of how meaning is attached to photos in the chapter Viewers Make Meaning from their novel The Practices of Looking. The chapter states the production of meaning involves three elements:
A. the codes and conventions that structure the image and that cannot be separated from the content of the image
B. the viewers and how they interpret or experience the image
C. the contexts in which an image is exhibited and viewed
Although the chapter spends the majority of the text emphasizing the viewers experience and the factors that go into their personal interpretation of an image, the part of the chapter that resounded with me was the concept that the producer of the image has in intended meaning. Here it is stated that advertisers want to bring about a specific message when the average viewers interacts with an advertisement. After all, what good is an advertiser if they cannot sell a product? The chapter continues to state although the producers (aka the advertisers) intended for the image to be conveyed a certain way, context cannot be completely controlled by the producer. Therefore, that got me thinking what advertisements have taken on a completely different meaning than was originally intended?
The chapter continues to delve into the concept that advertisements are interpreted in different ways depending on the viewers gender, race, socioeconomic status, and cultural influence. Viewers are active agents in the meaning they attach to the image, and therefore, producers have to know their audience and standard demographic to decide how to present the image. Out of the whole chapter, this concept begged the need for media literacy more than any statement. As I stated previously, if we are going to be these “active agents” in the media, then we need to equip ourselves with the tools to even have a fighting chance in the ongoing battles presented by advertisers. Moreover, if advertisers are going to create advertisements that resound with each individual viewer, does that make the need for media literacy greater?
The chapter Framed and Mounted: Sport Through the Photograph Eye by David Rowe touches upon the presentation of female athletes in photographs. Rowe states females are more likely to be pictured in a passive or subordinate state. He continues to state that female athletes who choose to capitalize on their talent and fame tend to draw from their sex appeal for endorsements. The Buzzfeed article breaks down “Action Shots” and “Sexy Shots” for 17 famous athletes.
This is a great example of female athletes pictured in action and the comparison to their glamour/sexy take. You can say that branding yourself as a sex icon is degrading, however for the sake of argument, you can argue it is the nature of capitalism. View yourself as a product. If you have something that is valuable to the marketplace and you do not peruse it as an economic prospect then from a business perspective that is a loss. This again ties back to CNN’s Miley Cyrus article at the VMA’s, where we know news and advertisements are all about the clicks, baby. Bring em on.
Sport, Culture, & Media…Defined.
David Rowe explores sport photography in his book Sport, Culture, and Media. Rowe takes the first part of the chapter Framed and Mounted: Sport Through the Photographic Eye to divide photography into two camps: part aesthetic and part ideological. Here Rowe states the most important tool in the photograph is the human body, which has a dramatic component due to the sport, but also encompasses wider social issues and identities.
Frozen in Time
Sports photography relies off catching the athlete “in the act,” where photos show passion, power, and dominance. Considering that fact, the concept of gender bias is introduced stating still photos of female athletes are not only significantly in the minority of sport photos, but have a greater tendency to have heightened sexual components and the subject is positioned as subordinate.
Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
The concept of sexualization of women in sport is not a ground breaking theory. Typically when women undertake a task that is considered to be in the “male realm” they are sexualized in order to do so. It is almost like women have to hold onto attributes from their sphere in society to do anything “daring.” Rowe supports this claim by stating female athletes are photographed significantly more than male athletes doing gendered roles like embracing a husband/boyfriend, their child, or keeping up appearances. Furthermore, female athletes who choose to capitalize on their talent and endorse a product tend to capitalize on their sex appeal as well.
Just One of the Guys…Wait.
The dichotomy of male sport celebration and female sport celebration is depicted to be quite starch. A photo of males hugging, jumping on each other, or touching after a sporting victory has a societal acceptance as a time of joy for the sport. However, when females are pictured in the same situations they can be positioned/framed to be interpreted as “hot” or “sexy.”
My Main Takeaway
The Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies minor is coming out in me here to state that although women have made great strides when it comes to gender equality, this is a prime example of women having to conform to a man’s expectations. This book was published in 2003, therefore, do you believe there has been strives towards making female athletes less sexualized in photography? Moreover, on a more basic level, have female athletes increased their general presence in sports photography?
Sturken and Cartwright bring forth the concept of semiotics or the study of signs, symbols, and our interpretation of them. Ferdinand de Saussure stated that our meanings change based on the context and rules of the language. Saussure defined signifier as an image, sound, or word and signified as a mental concept. Therefore signifier and signified equals a sign. Singer/songwriter JD McPherson wrote and preforms the song “Signs & Signifiers” where he states “I’ve got signs and signifiers, gossipers, and liars twist me every way they want to go.” Here one could argue that the semiotic model demonstrates how an image can have multiple meanings much like the multiple meanings McPherson speaks of in his song.
The elements of photography as outlined by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright in their book Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture, explain the mission, meaning and possible manipulation of photography.
The duo breaks down some general concepts including representation meaning the use of language and images to create significance in the world around us. This gives rise to memesis which concludes that representation is a process that mirrors the reality without considering how conventions impact meanings. Therefore, meaning is attached to something through historical and cultural contexts.
Sturken and Cartwright continue to state that there is a myth of photographic truth, where we perceive photographs to accurately reflect reality, otherwise known as positivism. However, this leads into the discussion of the ability to alter photos to bring about a different meaning that was originally intended. Whether photos can be taken as faithful recordings of truth can be left up to you.
These ideas discussed brought me to think of the effect easily captured and altered photography can have for the average blogger or citizen journalist. Capturing a photo is an exceptionally simple task. The majority of the world now owns a smartphone and can easily snap a photo. Equally as easy as clicking a button to capture the picture is to edit the photo. Before the technology boom people took hours developing and editing their photos, now it can be done by your 6 year old niece on the fly. Applications like Instagram, Snapseed, and Photoshop make it ridiculously easy to sharpen, filter, and distort photos.
With that being said, a blogger can add value to their article and attempt to establish credibility to their site with a photo. However, since photos can be altered by the average smartphone user there is a possibility of an increase in manipulation to the general public. Is this play with photographic realism hurting the integrity of photography? Or does the fact that anyone can capture and edit photos lend credence to photography growing as an art accepted and understood by more?
As touched upon in Rhettburg’s chapter, businesses use blogs and advertising to add value to their brand. Simple as that. If the content produced will not benefit the business in some way, then it is not content worth putting their name on. This brought me to a Businessweek article back in June that stated funny ads make brands stronger. It explained humorous ads keep the brand more relevant in the consumers heads resulting in an increase in sales. Therefore, according to this author humorous ads have added value to a business.