Research Point : Semiotics

The study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.

Do your own research into semiotics and how it can be applied to the reading of photographic images. Start by reading Chapters 4 (Narrative) and 5 (Signs and Symbols) in Short , M. (2011) Creative Photography:Context and Narrative. Lausanne : Ava Publishing.

Signs can be words , images , sounds and smells , signs signify and represent something.  

A photograph is a sign and narrative techniques can contribute to the overall meaning , its meaning is not fixed and can have multiple interpretations. Cultural and personal experiences will influence how an image is interpreted.

Narrative techniques– points to consider.
1. A photographic narrative can be presented as a sequential or a non-linear set of images.
2. Can be fictional
3. A narrative can be presented as a stand alone image or as a body of work.
4. Consider how the images will be seen. A set of single images that provide a narrative and work on their own could , if visually consistent , “take on greater relevance when presented together” (Short, 2011, pg. 102).
5. Observe, think , study , consider context / light / composition / camera settings. Even weather conditions can be symbolic. A black and white silver gelatin image by Mauricio Valenzuela caught my eye last year at the International Centre of Photography, New York. The city , shrouded in fog , made metaphorical use of the weather to imply how the dictatorship of Pinochet permeated Chilean society.

Reading a photograph.
Denotation:What the image factually shows, it literal meaning. Look at all the elements within the frame-consider the facts—then start to deduce.
Connotation: What it tells us , implies and infers, may suggest a meaning, the underlying meaning.
Text can say a lot , it offers and also suggests information , but the meaning may be read in differing ways.
Choice of font can be important and is also a sign.
Analyse the context and ideology of any signs and symbols.

Semiotic Models 

The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure defines a sign as consisting of 2 parts and must include both to be considered a sign.
The 2 part model (dyadic) consists of:
The Signifier——the form it takes
The Signified —-the concept it represents / the abstract meaning / the idea

The philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce defines a sign as consisting of 3 parts.
The 3 part model (triadic) model consists of:
The Representamen—the form it takes
The Interpretant—the sense made of the sign
The Object—which the sign refers to

Roland Barthes
The Studium—the general interest in a photograph , what it shows.
The Punctum—something within the image that transfixes , a personal response , an “ element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow , and pierces me” ( Barthes ,2000 , p.g 26 ) .

Symbols represent something else , used as a signifier they differ from the signified, such as national flags and road signs. They are learnt , may be specific to a particular culture , even change over time.
I understand these symbols .

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 13.20.32
Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 13.00.26
But not these.
Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 16.59.01
Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 13.06.42
Both the signifier and signified are similar and recognisable , for example cartoons or portraits.
I took the photo of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen Gold Marilyn Monroe ( see below ) with my iPhone last year whilst at the MoMA , New York. After Monroe’s death Warhol “based many works on the same photograph of her “(Schoenholz , B. Heliczer , C . McFadden , S. 2013p.g 211).” As the surround for a face , the golden field in Gold Marilyn Monroe —recalls the religious icons of Christian art history” (Schoenholz , B. Heliczer , C . McFadden , S. 2013p.g 211). Marilyn was usually perceived as a sex symbol yet Warhol’s working method “reveals her public image as a carefully structured illusion” ( Schoenholz , B. Heliczer , C . McFadden , S. 2013 p.g 211)
Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 13.55.38Gold Marilyn Monroe ,1962. Andy Warhol.
An indexical signifier is not random and can be explicitly linked to the signified.
This link can be implied or seen , for example footprints indicating footsteps, smoke indicating fire. Indexicality is especially important in photography because a photograph is believed to contain “notions of truth and reality that arise simply because of the chosen medium itself , regardless of its function and intention” (Short, 2011, pg. 124).
Bibliography / References


Barthes ,R. (2000) Camera Lucinda Reflections on Photography. London:Vintage

Schoenholz , B. Heliczer , C . McFadden , S. (ed). (2013) MomA Highlights 350 Works from The Museum of Modern Art . Third revised ed , New York: The Museum of Modern Art

Short , M. (2011) Creative Photography:Context and Narrative. Lausanne : Ava Publishing.
Accessed 3/2/2015
Accessed 3/2/2015

Accessed 3/2/2015
Accessed 5/2/2015

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