if only!!!!

Started Apr 11, 2013 | Discussions thread
Fogsville Contributing Member • Posts: 577
Re: Any suggestions...

DavidGBK wrote:

..for a good book on Semiotics for photographers?

I am often very frustrated at my inability to express properly in words why I like a particular image.

For example "If only!!!" is an excellent image and one that appeals to me but I am struggling on how to say this.

Often I do not think it is fair to comment "nice pic" when the image deserves a fuller response, some of us use this so often that I think it really has no meaning and is devalued.

Daedalus2000 described what I was feeling about this image and I was kicking my self saying "yes, exactly"; why could I not express this.

I think part of it is practise; deliberately trying to articulate why we like or dislike an image.

Anyway; any suggestions on a good intorductory book gratefully received.

I like to read



Semiotics is basically the study of signs and codes.  It's really something that we intuitively understand since we use codes everyday to help interpret what we hear, say, read, and see.  But we really never take the time to understand the functions of codes, or at least to take the time to understand how they work and to be always aware of them.

Every image has codes; such as a color.  The color red has certain connotations (in western society) which take on meaning: danger; stop; hot; blood; sexy; etc..  A B+W image has a kind of built-in coding, e.g., it's immediately seen as an "artistic photograph" (after all we don't see the world in B+W and therefore a B+W image is obviously an interpretation by the author of that world.)  It's important for us as photographers to realize that these codes exist and that our images will be read in a certain way based on the signs and codes they contain.  As I mentioned, it's something we intuitively already know but often don't exercise it and/or are not always conscious of it. Advertisers are keenly aware of semiotics (ads are normally heavily loaded with codes.)

Here's a Wiki synopsis: semiotics  It was initially the domain of linguists since the written language is a series of codes that we agree on in order to communicate (although we also understand that words can be elusive and can also take on multiple meanings over time and within different societal groups, etc..)

Probably a good essay to start with in respect to images is: Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text. "The Photographic Message." Ed. and trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill, 1977.  The book is available here: Image Music Text

As image makers, the photograph is our language.  We have to work to communicate effectively.  And you're correct that simply saying "nice pic" is counteractive.  The way we progress is through constructive criticism (and this is life in general, not just photography.)  And with reading a photograph we have to start somewhere and that 'somewhere' is the surface of the image.  What's on the surface is all that we have to work with. A title can suggest to the viewer as to what the author's intent might be, but it's often only a suggestion (although with a news photograph the title is specific and intentionally unambiguous.)  The rest of the reading has to be filled in with our collective cultural symbolic understanding that reveals itself through these semiotic signs and codes embedded in the photograph.

As I've said, it's something that we already know (because it's how we function in our daily lives), but to be wholly conscious of it can help make you a better image maker.  And once it's part of your 'DNA' then you will go about making images almost 'subconsciously' and without much hesitation; i.e., 'that decisive moment.'

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