Looking at Images (Post 1)

Over the last few weeks in class we have discussed how to consume and look at images, in other words pedagogy. What is pedagogy you might ask? Pedagogy is the art, science, or profession of teaching1, in our case imagery and culture. We are learning how to interpret and analyze what we see2. But it must be made clear that there is a difference between looking and seeing, for looking is the more aggressive of the two. To look is to actively make meaning of the world around us3. But surely there has to be more to it than that? Well it does indeed get a bit complex because in a way looking involves “the play of power4”. What that means is when you willfully look at something or trying to have someone look at what you are looking at, there is a power at bay or in either case one forcing itself upon the other. Power essentially means to have control over people or things. But how can images have power?  I think the most obvious example of the power of imagery would be in today’s advertising world. It’s incredible how often we are bombarded with images that tie in to some kind of product or services. It should be no surprise that these images make their way in to our subconscious.

McDonaldsAccording to a study performed on children in Great Britain, 69% of all three-year-olds could identify the McDonald’s golden arches – while half of all four-year-olds did not know their own name5. That’s not to say the wealthy businessmen of the world have all this so-called power. There are some that believe that “power is not wielded by one class over another, rather power is negotiated among all classes of people, who struggle with and against one another in the economic, social, political, and ideological arenas in which they work”6. That is the idea behind hegemony. In other words viewers or consumers can influence or convey the meaning of a particular image to something other than what the original producer or creator had intended.

Russian manConsumption of media is a process that no two people do exactly the same. While you and I may look at the image to the left of the man knelt next to the tank, we both have different perspectives of what we see. When it comes to decoding an image Stuart Hall says there are three positions: Dominant-hegemonic, negotiated, and oppositional7. So I might take the dominant approach and say the man by the tank is a power image and I approve of his patriotism and what he stands for (figuratively speaking), someone else can simply say he’s an old coot that needs to be put in a home.

Another important aspect of decoding an image is the ability to understand the representation of the image. Representation is the use of language and images to create meaning about the world around us 8. One can argue that the material world around us and it’s meaning are constructed on systems of representation9. In other words everything we do or see is involved in some sort of system of representation. Reading anything, watching anything, even listening to anything is can be based off a system of representation such as the English language. With that being said every image has two meanings: connotative and denotative10.skull+and+crossbones So for example the picture to the right denotatively is a skull and crossbones. But the connotative meaning as we all know could either be signifying a poisonous substance or depending on the context could also involve pirates.

the gazeLet’s break it down the composition of an image a little further. The main focus of an image would be the object or subject of the picture or photo. An object is a physical being of our world11. We take on the role of a voyeur when looking at paintings or photos, since most subjects that have captured in art show few signs that someone is looking at them. When they show awareness that they are being viewed and somewhat break the fourth wall by directly looking at the observer that is called “the gaze.” Some believe the subject loses a degree of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object12.

Now when a particular image shows something unusual and gains attention for it that could be called a spectacle. But under Marxists ideology a spectacle is nothing more than a social relation between people that is mediated by images13 . In other words a society dominated by media. I’m not declaring myself a Marxist by any means but I do agree society is indeed dominated by media more than ever before. *May 24 - 00:05*Probably over the last century or so with the introduction of cinema and television, we have been bombarded with the medium of video every day of our lives and I think it influences our social standards. You can see how our thoughts on race and gender roles have changed significantly over the past 80 years. We evolved from the days where racism and stereotypes in media were widely accepted and slowly those ideas were finally frowned upon and have since been almost nonexistent.

Sexism is a different subject altogether. In many ways men are still in control of production of most media today but women are quickly immersing themselves and Beautiful-Blonde-Victorias-Secret-Model-Candice-Swanepoel-Modeling-In-Beautiful-Victorias-Secret-Pink-Bikinis-For-Victorias-Secret-Advertising-Fashion-Campaigns-How-To-Become-A-Victorichanging field of film and broadcasting. From the early days of photography it was said it was unprecedented, and improper for women to encroach on this steadfastly male territory 14.  But when it comes to the depiction of women in the media they have been objectified. You see from renaissance art how all depiction of women were constructed by men, the woman is facing the man but her head is turned away, knowing she is being viewed. Today women are used as sex objects in the advertising world to sell and glamourize the products or services in question.

kramerWith talk of film, television, paintings and so on we have separated them in to high and low culture. The high being art and the low called pop culture. Now what exactly designates something as art or popular culture? Well its been said that art can be defined as the ability , through visual, verbal, gestural, and musical means, to objectify ones experience with the world15.  While that may be true I think there’s a little more to it than that. I believe pop culture and art are separated by classes. The well-off upper-class have been known to indulge in “the arts” like opera or read books, whereas the working class man watches countless hours of television and goes to the movies. Popular culture is the mainstream media.

Notes:

  1. “pedagogy.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com (14 Feb. 2014)
  2. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 46
  3. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 46
  4. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 54
  5. Freeland, Jonanthan. “The Onslaught.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 24 Oct. 2005. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
  6. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 54
  7. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 57
  8. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 12
  9. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 12-13
  10. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 19
  11. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press:
  12. Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: Viking, 1973
  13. Debord, Guy. “Chapter 1 Section 4.” Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red, 1977.
  14. Lippard, Lucy. “Doubletake: The Diary of a Relationship with an Image.” (1996): 88. Rpt. inThe Photography Reader.
  15. Krueger, Barbara. “Arts and Leisure.” Remote Control. N.p.: n.p., 1993. 1989
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