The Impacts of Images: Photographic Languages.

Essay by jq2003College, Undergraduate November 2003

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The Impacts of Images: Photographic Languages

It has been said that words make us think, and pictures make us feel. Every photograph is a means of communication in that a message is delivered from the photographer to observers. The purpose of such message is to tell, in visual form, something that the photographer feels worth communicating. Picture is a visual language that communicates feelings and imaginations. In order to understand photographic language, the photographer and the audience should have some cultural beliefs and artistic sensibilities in common. This paper argues that photograph as a medium of communication provides the viewer an emotional impact, which is produced by various photographic techniques.

It takes an understanding of semiotics--the study of signs--to discover how every image is a complex collection of symbols with distinctive meaning depending on the culture of the viewer. According to the semiotic approach, photographs can be considered a signifier, presenting a connotative meaning. As Graeme Turner explains it, the definitions of signifiers and signified are as follows: "The signifier is the physical form of the sign: the image, word, or photograph. The signified is the mental concept referred to. Together they form the sign." (55) When applying this theory on photographs, the picture of snow is the signifier; its formation, a mental concept of snow and winter day, is the signified. In addition, the colour blue in a picture of snow is the signifier--it signifies a sensation of chilliness.

Moreover, a sign is developed into two levels: the denotative and connotative meaning. As Malcolm Barnard believes, "Denotation is sometimes called a first order of signification or meaning. It is the literal meaning of a word or image [...] the 'common-sense, obvious meanings'" (84). Particularly in the field of photographic art, the denotation in a picture is the...