Classroom 10 was about symbolism and semiotics. I don’t think I have ever really understood semiotics; it has always appeared to me to be a complex theory to cover a rather simple idea that we all instinctively understand, and I’m afraid that my view hasn’t really changed after this class.

We started by defining visual communication as a way to quickly capture the audience’s attention, and to communicate a message with limited use of text. A picture is worth a thousands words, and it communicates those words a lot faster than an article (or my blog post 😉  ).

Then we talked about the way our reading is influenced by our culture, gender, age, nationality, religion, sexuality, political viewpoint, socio-economic status, etc. In short: Each of us reads an image differently, but it is likely that people with similar backgrounds will read it similarly. People with very different backgrounds are likely to read images very differently. We exemplified that by talking about colours. White often symbolises innocense and purity in the Western world, and therefore is used for wedding dresses. However, it symbolises mourning in China. Chinese brides wear red because in China red symbolises success, loyalty, honour, fertility and love.

Therefore we need to be aware of our audience, and we need to target our visual communication to them, if we want them to interpret our pictures the way we intend them to.

Symbols are… well, they are symbols for sumfink, innit, but as this is meant to be a serious study, we need to add some fancy words to it. Innit.

Symbols are visuals that means something “more” or “different” from what they depict. White dove = peace. Red = danger. Palm of hand facing viewer = stop. Inverted triangle on the road = yield. £ = money. And so on. We looked at a fascinating set of pictures that Vincent had taken of very evocative street art from the Vest Bank in Israel, including a very powerful drawing of a white dove carrying an olive branch while wearing a flak jacket and having the cross-hairs of a sniper scope over it’s heart. How’s that for symbolism?!

Semiotics is the study of signs. Originally devised by Roland Barthes, it distinguishes or separates the litteral (the signifier or the denoted) from the meaning (the signified or connoted).  One of the slides made this very clear:

Signifier (the dennoted) : the actual subject, image, word, etc

+ Signified (the connoted) : the meaning

= Sign (the actual subject with meaning to the viewer)

After this theory, we were sent off to produce an image that use signs or symbolism to convey a message.

I chose my trusty shaker people and a small holder with the Union Jack and the Danish flag Dannebrog that my stepson Calum has given me, and arranged them on the dining table for the picture above. The shaker people are lit by a flash (in a softbox) from the right, and the pot plants behind the table are lit by a bare orange-gelled flash from behind to the left.

The message I intended to convey was about two people from different countries, standing on opposite sides of a barrier (the black abyss-like “trench” in the table). With the barrier being covered by a narrow bridge, and the fact that the shaker people’s open arms suggests friendliness, I hope this communicates a positive, hopeful message about people from different countries still being able to “build bridges” and share friendship, even if an abyss (Brexit) is opening between them. The warm light on the plants is intended to emphasize the optimistic and positive mood.