Sebastien Connole – Visual Social Semiotics

1 – Hill of Crosses



This photograph by Hideki Mizuta was presented as a finalist for the National Geographic photo contest of 2015. It features a young girl running through a place known as the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania.


The narrative function of this image is nontransactive for the young girl (actor) is following a direction exterior to the frame (goal).

The viewer observes the scene presented, and does not feel directly concerned. The figure is objectified and there is no eye contact, the contact therefore is offered. The viewer has an impersonal relationship with the figure due to the long distance shot in which she is presented. The side-on point of view allows the viewer to assist to the scene “captured in time”.

An informational value grid can be applied to this case by demonstrating that the centre (containing the young girl) is surrounded by the given (crosses as a symbol of Christianity), the real (the unorganized world), the new (the girl escaping the chaos) and the ideal (a sky clear of religious conventions). The young girl is disconnected from her surroundings by contrast of colour (joyful vs. dark hues) and the hill is separated from the sky that is an empty space. The crosses hues and forms connect between each other creating a distinct labyrinth. A contrast of movement (static for the background vs. motion for the figure) allows the girl to be disconnected from her environment and presented as the image’s key focalizer. This photograph has a high natural modality, as it is a direct representation of reality.

When viewing this image we can’t help but wonder if it’s a poetic scene or if it’s reality (if so where in the world is this place?). It could be both, which provides the image’s strength for it shows the hidden beauty of the world we live in. On a personal note, I view this image as a message of hope.


2 – Afghan Girl



This iconic portrait photograph by Steve McCurry was the cover of the June 1985 National Geographic issue. A young Afghan girl is photographed in a refugee camp during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Her piercing green eyes became a symbol of a child’s innocence witnessing the terror of war.


This second image is also a direct representation of reality as it presents the portrait of a young Afghan girl. The narrative is nontransactive as the girl (actor) is alone and the goal (the viewer) is outside the frame.

The contact demands the viewer’s full attention as the figure looks directly into our eyes. This image provides an intimate feeling, as it is a close-up portrait. The frontal point of view creates a maximum involvement of the viewer, who is intrigued by the message communicated through the young girls eyes.

The Background is disconnected from the girl, as it is an empty space, however it is connected to a part of her clothes and eyes due to similarity of value. The headscarf allows framing around her face brining it forward as the key focalizer. The image has a high natural modality for it is an unedited portrait photograph.

This image is fascinating because it manages to strongly communicate only through eye contact. The viewer feels directly concerned and wonders about who the girl is, her life conditions, her emotions and what she is “telling”. This image portrays innocence and natural beauty.



Both images are documentary photographs presenting a female figure alone. They provide a sense of innocence depicting the natural beauty of our world through a strong visual communication. They differ in point of view and the figure’s position/activity. A more intimate relationship between the figure and the viewer is produced in the second image. This demonstrates the important role eye contact plays in providing a particular feeling. The power of colour contrast is useful when framing and drawing the attention to the image’s key focalizer. These photographs illustrate how simplicity can offer a greater meaning, causing the viewer to reflect on what is presented.



McCurry, Steve. 1985. “Afghan girl”. Image. August 25, 2016.

Mizuta, Hideki. 2015. “Hill of Crosses”. Image. August 25, 2016.




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