semiotics/ semiology

-behind the image, ideas about the photograph

  • the study of reading signs
  • culturally based signs, signs within your culture that signify meanings that you understand.
  • you do it every day without realising.
  • the study of signs, symbols, signification.
  • through imagery (communicates)
  • do not passively consume, actively read them. – the move from passive to active is image analysis.
  • allows us to perceive the world around us.
  • traced back from 2 theorists. –  Ferdinand De Saussure                                                                                                           –                                               – Charles Sanders Peirce
  • image/word – signifier
  • meaning – signified       both signifier and signified together are one sign.
  • cultural knowledge we have inherited – all of our semiotic knowledge is based on our culture, in different cultures these signs have different meanings.
  • to understand the semiotics it is important to understand the culture that it is being used in.
  • as an example ( apple-healthy) or (apple – temptation, Adam and Eve)
  • to make sense of pictures which aren’t our own we must change to see it.


    • Paul Strand – ‘The white fence’ 1916

  • Paul Strand one of the defining masters of early modernist photography. He was highly formed by known photographer Lewis Hine, Strand though found he path in the early 1900s by taking pictures of what he knew best like urban scenes of hustle and bustle, street portraits and formal abstractions.
  • 2006AG1705
  • white picket fence
  • gossip / chatting
  • american dream
  • movies


looking at this against

  • Susan Lipper ‘fence’
  • initially studied english romantic poetry and then went onto doing her masters in photography. She went onto travelling around america taking photographs both in and out of traditional documentary photography. She mainly travelled rural roads and visiting small towns, although in some cases she stayed longer than others as she connected with the place as well as the inhabitants. Her work shows strong traditional documentary photography but in some cases shows dramatisation.
  • susan-lipper-fence-1993
  • trailer parks
  • broken dream
  • American dream on head
  • ‘twilight zone’ point between familiar and peculiar , ‘the white and profound’  Martin Barnes

both are pictures of white picket fences but give completely different stories.


Blue velvet blu-ray trailer – controversial – goes on traditional ideals – perfection of white picket fence – idilic.


gregory crewdson

Crewdson’s work is a combination between documentary photography with inspiration from William Eggleston and Walker Evans with a dreamlike film making with inspiration from David Lynch and Steven Spielberg. He makes elaborate sets with lots of detail. ‘i looked at blurred lines between reality and fiction, nature and artifice, and beauty and decay.’ Crewdson first came into photography when his father took him to see a Dianne Arbus exhibition, an early experience which formed his photographic career. He decided to make the film sets themselves the subject of the photographs. He has been asked many times if he wantes to make a film but said that he is not interested in the before or the after of the photograph but what is happening in the now of the photograph.

Gregory Crewdsondaughter_detailcrewd-2003-2005-untitled-maple-street-web

  • David Lynch is Crewdson’s most obvious source of inspiration.
  • ‘photographs are about the moment of transition between before and after’ ‘twilight is evocative of that. There is something magical about the condition’ Crewdson.
  • desperate housewives – goes on people knowing the american dream – stereotypical suburbs.
  • Crewdson was criticised for not actually being the photographer, this is because he has such a large crew and although he directed where everything would go and made sure everything was correct he was to the one that pressed the button on the camera, so many people said he did not take the photograph so is not the photographer.

Gregory Crewdson ‘beneath the roses’ 2004 – doesn’t care about before or after – ‘i want the story to stay unresolved’ – more questions after than questions resolved.

Brief encounters – tablo, create a scene/ build a set/ planned/ everything is there for a reason. Crewdson uses a large format camera.


Cindy Sherman, untitled film stills #21, 1978

Sherman’s photographs are a series of portraits of herself within different scenarios that are typically stereotypes of woman. The stereotypes are taken from the pop culture of that time – tv soaps, old movies and pulp magazines. Sherman quickly came to fame with the series of untitled ‘film stills’. Her work although provocative sensually some have the feel of horror and decay.


  • famous for is famous for film stills in black and white of woman posing in stereotypical poses.
  • challenging stereotypes, and gender equality.
  • trying to make other people recognise themselves instead of just her.
  • used herself – uses models to get scene set up but then puts herself into the image – this is because she believed models didn’t do the job properly, they didn’t do what she wanted.
  • uses notion of American housewife – doesn’t give you narrative.
  • untitled film stills 1977
  • not a feminist (challenge?)
  • although not narrative – doesn’t want to give to much away – allusive/ ambiguity. – (semiotics means you can read the image even though no name and no concept)

Sherman’s work encourages self reflection in the spectator.

The more time you spend with an image the more you cans see within it.





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