Visual social semiotics studies the implied relations between viewers of images and people, places or things in images, by analysing signs that are usually culturally or socially constructed for communication purposes. This analytical field interprets the viewer’s reaction towards an image. It looks to understand the tools employed by an image to efficiently communicate an idea.
Any image featuring a person/group of people can be analysed under the Kress and van Leeuwen’s method of visual analysis (Jewitt and Oyama 2011, 134-156). This technique studies an image under three distinct categories of resources
1. Representational (any representation of the world).
– transactive (a person (actor) refers to a goal by using focalizers)
– nontransactive (the goal is outside the frame)
– defining the conceptual representation’s key features.
– classification of the structure typed used.
– analytical – usually maps, a whole (carrier) subdivided into parts.
2. Interactive (relations within an image and with the viewer)
– demand (requires viewer’s full attention)
– offer (Figure is presented side-on)
– close (portrait)
– medium (figure upper body)
– long (full body shot)
Point of view
– that the viewer has of the figure: above, below, same-level, side-on
3. Compositional (the image’s layout)
– grid (defining the given, real, new and ideal meanings of an image).
– frame lines (defined by connecting/disconnecting elements within the image).
– key focalizer (most important element within image)
– natural (similar to what the naked eye sees)
– scientific (abstract representation)
Once the different resources of an image have been identified, it is important to understand their function and utility. We then start to think about the consequences involved with each decision. For example, how can a certain semiotic resource (Tool used previously to deconstruct image) be used to communicate a specific idea and shape our way of seeing the world? By asking this question, we begin to study the social meanings implied with an image.
Jewitt, Carey and Oyama, Rumiko. 2001. “Visual Meaning: a Social Semiotic Approach.” In Handbook of Visual Analysis. edited by Carey Jewitt and Theo Van Leeuwen, 134-156. London: SAGE.