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Using Semiotic Analysis To Decode Images

2561 words - 11 pages

The ‘reader’ or ‘viewer’ is a crucial component when creating meaning within media texts. Their cultural background, experiences and attitudes ultimately help to deconstruct codes and conventions applied to a text, in order to obtain the meaning (Fiske, 1990). This essay will use semiotic analysis to ‘decode’ a given image, and define the preferred meaning suspended within. In order to do so, this essay shall explore the three steps (denotative, connotative and mythological) as defined by Chandler (2007), the codes and the cultural context that lead to signification, that is, the meaning behind the sign. The image will be decoded according to the current mythologies of a Westernised Australian culture, and the ideologies contained therein that pertain to the different races. In doing so, the essay will also be exploring the counter-myth of the presented image. A visual image is similar to that of Plato’s puppets (Reference), where the ‘reader’ perceives an image in one way, when in reality there are deeper layers of understanding and meaning that relate to individual perception.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Ferdinande de Saussure put forward a belief that we should study a different type of science, the science of Semiotics. He believed there was a “need for a field to study the meanings conveyed through signs and symbols” (Leeds-Hurwitz, 1993, p. 4). Today, semiotics is the study of signifiers (that which is visible; the sign) and the signified, the “mental concepts” (Fiske, 1990, p. 44) formed through deep cultural meanings subsisting within each sign (Chandler, 2007). Roland Barthes stated that the first step in signification is denotation (Rayner, Wall, & Kruger, 2004), the literal and most obvious first meaning in a sign (Leeds-Hurwitz, 1993). During signification, one of the five senses is required to understand the signifier (Chandler, 2007). In the case of the media text presented in this essay, sight is the sense we use to denote the image. When undertaking the denotative stage of signification, it is important to be completely devoid of cultural readings. Semioticians take the text for its literal meaning and not the meanings created through codes and conventions surrounding the image (Reference something).

The denotative reading of a media text is literally, what lies before the ‘viewer’. The media text studied in this essay is of an image of two girls. These two girls, from different nationalities, are presumably around the age of five or six and are hugging one another. One girl is Caucasian; she has a gap-toothed smile, chubby cheeks and loose ringlets in her hair. The second girl is of African descent; she has a pensive look to her face, is unsmiling and has tightly brushed up hair. The text presented is a sign, it consists of a signifier, that of the actual image, and the signified, the connotations. The societal myths relevant to the viewer should not come into play when analysing the denotative aspect of a media text, as...

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