Understanding Visual Culture Weekly Readings.docx

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Media Studies
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Michael Petit

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Understanding Visual Culture Weekly Readings  Textbook readings Lecture Notes - Week 2, Jan 15 th January 15–Representation and Image: What is visual culture? Read: Rampley, “Visual Culture and the Meanings of Culture” from Exploring Visual Culture READINGS FOR WEEK #2 Rampley, “Visual Culture and the Meanings of Culture” Concepts of Culture  The idea of culture has complex history, and debates about its meaning have been linked inextricably with the parallel concept of “civilization” regarded by many as synonymous with culture, and by others as its antithesis.  The idea of culture arose partly in response to the impact of the Industrial Revolution in England and partly as a result of Enlightenment speculation on the origins and meanings of human society.  Although “culture” initially denoted a process : the intellectual and spiritual cultivaton of an individual or social groups—it can be seen in the nineteenth century in material terms.  While the idea of culture is relatively recent, the origins of the world as rather older, for it comes from the Latin Culture  “Culture” initially denotes a process: the intellectual and spiritual cultivativation of an individual or social groups, it came to be seen in the nineteenth century in material terms.  Dwight MacDonald argues that mass culture is a debased form of high-culture imposed from above. Technicians, hired by businessmen, fabricate it; its audiences are passive consumers, their participation limited to the choice between buying and not buying.  Greenberg coined the term “Kitsch” to distinguish between “bogus” culture and genuine avant-garde art.  “Kitsch” was meant, he argued, for those who are “insensible to the values of genuine culture”; offering “vicarious experience and faked sensation.  The role of avant-garde art was to “keep culture moving” and hence maintain cultural progress.  Social status and class are no longer defined eclusively by wealth, but the term “cultural capital” coined by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu  Social Status and class are no longer defined exclusively by weath, but the term “cultural capital” coined by French sociologist Pierre Bourdien Understanding Visual Culture Weekly Readings  Textbook readings  Lecture Notes - Week 3 , jan 22 nd nd January 22 – Typography and Representation Read: Campbell et al., “Visual Literacy and the Truth behind an Image” (Blackboard) Hall, “The Spectacle of the ‘Other’” (Representation, Chapter 4, pp. 215-232) McClintock, Imperial Leather (excerpt) (This is same reading as ReadingAfrom Representation, Chapter 4, pp. 272-275, assigned on p. 232) (Blackboard) READINGS FOR WEEK #3 Hall “The spectacle of the other” Representation, Chapter 4 Focus of the chapter is the variety of images which are displayed in popular culture and in the mass media. Have the repertoires of representation around “difference” and “otherness” changed or do earlier traces remain intact in contemporary society? Heroes vs. Villain : Myth..etc Activity#1 Rather tan the “right or wrong” meaning we need to ask which meaning between the many meanings in this image does the magazine mean to priviladge? What is the preferred meaning? Apicture/photo may cary several meanings : there is no “true” meaning. Meaning “floats”  it can not be finally fixed. Attempting to “fix” it is the many potential meanings of an image in attempt to priviledge one. Activity#2, #3, #4, #5, #6 The image carries many meanings all equally possible. What is important is the fact that the image shows an event (denotation) and carries a “message” or “meaning” aka (denotation). Barthes calls this “Meta-Message” or “Myth”. Social context, background and pre understood conventions anchor meanings (Britain vs. Blacks..etc) Gender and sexuality to consider/captivate : photos can have meaning when they are dressed/read in a context, agaisnt’t or in connection with one another. Images do not carry its own specific meaning. So why is “otherness” so compelling an object of representation?” Why does differences matter? 1.Linguist perspective: Difference matters because it is essential to meaning; w/o it, meaning could not exist. (Ex. We know what black is because we can contrast it with its opposite “white”.. Argues Sausurres). Meaning is relational, it is the “difference” between white and black, which signifies which carries meaning. Though binary oppositions have great value of capturing the diversity of the world, they are also rather a crude and reductionist way of establishing meaning (ex. Black/White photography  not truly black/white but rather patches of grey) 2.From theories of language: We need “differences” because we can only construct meaning through a dialogue with the “other”. Meaning does not belong to one speaker; it arises in the give-and-take between different speakers. The world in a language is half someone else’s. It becomes “one’s own” only when the speaker appropriates the word, adopting it to his own semantic expression intention. 3.Anthropology: Culture depends on giving things meaning by assigning them to different positions w/in a classificatory system. Binary opposition is crucial for all classifications, because one must establish a clear difference between things in order to classify them. Mary Douglas argues that what really disturbs cultural order is when things turn up in the wrong category: or when things fail to fit any category such as substance like mercury. 4.Psychoanalytic: Relates to the role of “differences” in our psychic life. “Other” is fundamental to the constitution of the self to us as subjects, and to sexuality identity. Radicalizing the “other” Holding these theoretical “tools” of analysis in reserve for a moment, let us now explore more Examples oth“others” – there are 3 major components. 1. 60 centuries contact between Europeans traders and the West African kingdom: source of slavery for there centuries 2. Europeans colonization’s of Africa and the “scramble” between the European powers for the control of colonial territory, markets and raw materials in the period of “High Imperialism” 3. Post Second War Migrations from the “third” worlds into Europe and northAmerica. READINGS FOR WEEK #3 Campbell et Al – Visual Literacy and the Truth behind an Image Composition: The Visual’s Aesthetic Power • Composition is the creative activity of placing objects within a frame. When painting a picture, we’re choosing where to place shapes and dots and lines on a two-dimensional plane. • Composition is all about directing viewers to notice certain elements within a drama, purposefully communicating out ideas through visual language. • Herbert Zettl points out, understanding the aesthetics of composition does not necessarily mean knowing how to create a beautiful image; it means knowing how to structure both still and moving screen images for “maximally effective communication” • The best photographs and graphic designs do that: they dictate a reader’s comprehension: Michael Rabiger discusses good composition this way Color: Color choices have great impact on an image. We consciously and unconsciously respond to color every day, and we are constantly making aesthetic choices related to color. • The power of color was also evident during “tilipmaania” in seventeenth-century Holland. The Dutch were so taken by the vivid colors of tulips in the gray Dutch landscape that they became intoxicated; a frenzy of financial speculation followed and a single tulip bulb could cost a thousand Dutch floorings • The fact is, humans are physically programmed to respond to color, and we respond to certain colors in particular ways: Red and Orange light when light pass through our retina more easily, making these colors the most noticeable.  Look Here. • Advertisers are also keenly aware of red’s power: The color will lead a viewer to a particular corner of the page, clarifying a message or saying “this is important” Form: • Form has to do with the object inside the frame, how big it is, and where it is placed. The simplest form is a dot, and placing a dot within a four walls of a frame commands attention: We look at the dot before we look at any blank space within a frame. • Frame Magnetism: When a dot is close to one side of a frame, that side seems to pull the dot toward it. Notice the diagram below. • Headroom: Framing an image so an individual has a bit of space over her head to convey that she is not cramped by the frame or pulled upward by frame magnetism. • Headboards: creates the illusion that the figure is in a larger setting rather than a box. • The rule of thirds: a well-known principle of photographs and image composition. By breaking an image down in thirds (both horizontally and vertically), and by placing elements on the points of intersection, we can avoid both the uncomfortable pulling when the form is too close to the frame and the boring inertia when the form is too central. • Shape: Is tied to form. The most basic shapes—square, circle, and triangle—are often connected to the three basic (primary) colors, red, blue, and yellow. • Triangles are stimulating because they point leading, one’s eyes to various areas within the frame, adding tension with diagonal lines and energy to the entire composition. Line: • Aline embodies a narrative significance of its own. Horizontal lines evoke calm and stability; vertical lines convey energy and upward thrust. Diagonal lines, like triangles, are dynamic, exciting, somewhat unstable, and for these reasons are advantageous, toward visually communicating complicated ideas. • It’s an important strength, when creating an image, to be aware of how lines divide a frame. • The angle from which the image is taken offers more invisible lines and mother means for communicating depth—the more extreme the angle, the more intense the feeling of depth. • The invisible lines that angles create are also infused with meaning. Movement: • Western cultures tend to read lines (and other images) the same way we read this text, left to right. This has compositional implications, giving lines additional energy that we read into them: we automatically assign movement to lines • Because of our Western left-to-right orientation, our eyes tend to res or linger on the right side of the frame, so whatever appears on the right side seems to dominate the image. Semiotics and symbolic meaning: • Asign is simply something that conveys meaning beyond the object itself. Flowers are sign of spring, dark clouds are sign that it might rain; yawning is a sign indicating fatigue or boredom. We know these things because we are familiar with weather and human nature • Other signs are not quite obvious, requiring, more knowledge of cultural norms to understand their meaning. • Similarly, different cultures read gestures, like publicly spitting or picking one’s nose, in different ways. These actions are perfectly acceptable in many countries. Semiotics: The study of signs, was developed in the early twentieth century by Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce; both studies signs by breaking them down into their fundamental parts—the words, image, gesture or sensory cue “signifiers” and the concept “signified” and asked important questions about how something comes to stand for something else, and how a sign is connected to the object to which it refers. The relationship between language and meaning is arbitrary and learned and this is what interested both Saussure and Peirce. Visual communication scholar Sandra Moriarty notes that Peirce’s work has become particularly helpful in how a sign “stands for” it’s object. Pierce formulated three different types of representation “iconic” “indexical” and “symbolic” which range from the most easily interpreted signs “iconic” to the most complex “symbolic” Iconic Signs are the most basic sign types because they closely resemble the thing they represent: a photograph or film, or pictogram like those shown below. Index (or Indexical): signs are less straightforward but still logical representations of an object.A deer hoof print in the word is a sign that a deer passed by…etc. When reading index signs in media images, we also borrow from our own lived experience to determine how the signs contribute to the overall narrative. Symbolic Signs: are the most complex of all signs because they are determined by culture and therefore in need of a higher level of interpretation. Symbolic signs include other cultural indicators: socially defined gestures, collective practices, styles of dress, national emblements, and cultural innuendo—all the things that are learned through one’s upbringing education, and interactions with specific social groups. Symbolic signs can be so charged with meaning, however, that they can easily be misinterpreted. Like any other text message, visuals can thus be complicated fraught with controversy. Thy can be extremely evocative, but also extremely vague. Therefore, context is always a critical part of the story and meaning behind any visual message. Realism: Truth and photography One of the most controversial aspects of visual imagery is the relative truthfulness of images and the ease with which images can be manipulated—the question of weather visuals can be trusted. Photographs are mere mirrors of the real scene at hand. Image Misrepresentation and Manipulation  Photographers, in fact, have been intentionally misrepresentating reality since the earliest days of photography.  Even if photographs are mere representation at least they do offer some sort of proof that the people or objects photographed were there. READINGS FOR WEEK #3 Imperial Leather : race, gender and sexuality in the colonial contest,Anne McLintock Introduction:  In 1899, the year that Anglo­Boer War broke out in South Africa, an advertisement for  Pears’ Soap in Mclure’s Magazine [Fig 1.2] announced [quote on reading]  The first point about Pears’ advertisement is that it figures imperialism as coming into  being through domesticity.  Soap and Commodity Spectacle:   Before 1851, advertising scarcely existed. As a commercial form, it was generally  regarded as a confession of weakness, a rather shabby last resort.   Most advertising was limited to small newspaper advertisement, cheap handbills and  posters.  After midcentury, however, soap manufacturers began to pioneer the use of pictorial  advertising as a central part of business policy  In 1884, the year of the Berlin Conference, the first wrapped soap was sold under a brand  name. This mall event signified a major transformation in capitalism, as imperial  competition gave rise to the creation of monopolies.  Nonetheless, the Victorian obsession with cotton and cleaniness was not simply a  mechanical reflex of economic surplus.   If imperialism garnered a bounty of cheap cotton and soap oils from coerced colonial  labor, the middle class Victorian fascination with clean, white bodies and clean, white  clothing stemmed not only from the rampant profiteering of the imperial economy but  also from the realms of rituals and fetish Understanding Visual Culture Weekly Readings Textbook Readings th Lecture Notes - Week 4, Jan 29 Week 4 – Jan 29 Read: Berger, Ways of Seeing, Chapter 1 Hall, “The Spectacle of the ‘Other’” (Representation, Chapter 4, pp. 232-246) Activity 4 (Still Life), Representation, pp. 14-15, including reading on pp. 48-49 Activity 9 (Foucault on Las Meninas), pp. 40-44 READINGS FOR WEEK #4 Ways of seeing by John Berger, Chapter 1 The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice.As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach though not necessarily within arm’s reach. We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves. An image is a sight, which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or a
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