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Posted on July 26th, 2012, by

Traditionally, visual images produce a profound impact on the audience since vision is one of the main senses through which people perceive information about the surrounding world. In such a situation, the meaning of images and their power to influence the audience can be used by their creators to convey their messages to the viewers. At the same time, images are not simply visual representations of an object, but they are very complicated systems, which can send multiple messages to the audience. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the article by R. Barthes, “Photography and Electoral Appeal”¯, and his article “Rhetoric of Image”¯.

In the “Preface”¯, the author explains his major concerns which made him write his articles. At the same time, the major problem he focuses his attention is the impact of the media and human perception of the surrounding world.

In actuality, the author distinguishes the objectivity of the scientist and the subjectivity of the writer, which defines their perception of the visual images and the surrounding world and makes them interpret the surrounding world in different ways. The author lays emphasis on the fact that the subjectivity of human perception leads to the creation of myths, which are often difficult to distinguish from reality.

In the article “Photography and Electoral Appeal”¯, the author discusses the influence of photography on the electorate and how the photography can be used to shape a positive view of the audience on a particular politician.

Barthes admits that the photography has a huge power which can present a politician to the electorate. The author defines electoral photography as “the acknowledgement of something deep and irrational co-extensive with politics”¯ (Photography and Electoral Appeal, p.91). He argues that the way a politician is presented by the photographer does matter because the audience perceives not only the politician physical appearance but also the background information that may be conveyed by means of a photo, such as the family of a politician (Photography and Electoral Appeal, p.91). On analyzing various types of photographers and politicians they depict, Barthes distinguishes three types of politicians: the first type is that which “stands for social status, respectability, whether sanguine and well-fed”¦, or insipid”¯; the second type is “intellectual”¯; and the last type is that of the “good-looking chap”¯ (Photography and Electoral Appeal, p.92). In such a way, the author attempts to convince the audience that by means of photography it is possible to create the definite public image of a politician even if the audience have never seen or heard the politician that proves the hidden power of the photography (Photography and Electoral Appeal, p.93).

In the article “Rhetoric of Image”¯, the author continues his researches of the influence of visual images on the perception of the audience. However, in this article, he focuses on various types of messages which can be present in an image. From the beginning of the article he lays emphasis on the fact that, as a rule, an image has some hidden meaning which is beyond the obvious meaning of the image (Rhetoric of Image, 32), which is actually the first message the audience easily perceives while watching the image. This message is the linguistic message, which has denotative meaning, which is direct and clearly conveys the principal idea of the author, and connotative meaning, which is implicit and based on some cultural background (Rhetoric of Image, p.33). The second message is the pure image, which can also have a number of hidden signs along with the direct meaning of the visual representation of the image (Rhetoric of Image, 34). And, finally, the third message is the symbolic, cultural or connotated image, which means that the author refers to the audience’s cultural experience and knowledge with the help of which viewer can understand the hidden message or sense of the image (Rhetoric of Image, 46).

Thus, Barthes reveals the huge power of visual images which can have multiple messages hidden from the audience, but still they can be perceived and understood, if the image is studied carefully. In this respect, he underlines that the interpretation of images by the audience depends on the skillfulness of an artist who creates visual images and the individual perception of a viewer. In fact, visual images, according to Barthes, prove to be able to shape human consciousness or, at least influence it, and they can form the desirable impression which the image is supposed to produce on the audience.

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