‘Semiology offers a very full box of analytical tools for taking an image apart and tracing how it works in relation to broader systems of meaning’ (Rose, 2016).
I have faced criticism suggesting that I am overly concerned, perhaps preoccupied, with how my images look.
My initial reaction was to question this, to challenge (no one likes criticism): ‘so how the images look isn’t important then?’, ‘if that’s the case, what is important?’
Stepping back and reflecting, perhaps this criticism isn’t as simple as it may appear at face value.
How do I unpack this criticism?
There are two aspects to how an image looks: the technical, and the artistic.
Deconstructing this further, there are two aspects to the artistic component: the composition, and the story.
I think the suggestion being made is that the technical aspect and the composition are favoured at the expense of any meaning.
Distilling this, disparate objects are thrown together without any care for meaning.
Hodgson (2012) suggests that we frequently perceive and discuss images as being “of something” without attempting to consider that images are also “about something”, an idea which links strongly with Barthes concept of the signifier and the signified.
And distilling this idea, images have two parts – what they look like and what they mean.
Key, then, for the continued development of my practice is to understand the ways and means by which I can improve my visual storytelling.
Semiology, alongside content analysis and cultural analytics, is a method of image analysis.
Not without critics, it uses signs as the base unit of reference in order to offer a ‘certain kind of analytical precision’.
Writing in defence of semiology, Rose informs us that ‘human culture is made up of signs, each of which stands for something other than itself, and the people inhabiting culture busy themselves making sense of these signs’.
Arguments against semiology as a method of image analysis include its use of elaborate, theoretical terminology, and its requirement for highly detailed reading which raises questions as to its representativeness and replicability of its analyses.
I want to use this post to think things through, to think aloud in effect. By articulating my thoughts externally, I am forcing myself to clarify, to pin down quite precisely, an issue which needs addressing.
This is a reflection post, so analysis of images will take place elsewhere, but how can I use semiotics to decode images in order to analyse what makes a strong image? How can I use semiotics to improve my visual narrative?
A starting point is to analyse the various elements that are formally recognised as constituting a story.
Semiotic analysis of images is (currently) carried out on images post-capture. Carrying out semiotic analysis on images at the drawing board stage will undoubtedly aid the development of the visual narrative – before and after.
This is an area where, admittedly, I have perhaps been weak in the past. Nevertheless, as my knowledge and understanding of the visual narrative and storyboards has increased, the meaning attached to my images has, I believe, also increased – Cravings and Carousel being offered as examples to support this suggestion.
Francis Hodgson: Quality Matters (2013) YouTube Video, added by Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc (accessed 19 February 2017)
Rose, Gillian (2016). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methods. London: Sage Publications Limited