Saturday, October 22, 2011

#CMC11 Visual Culture

With somewhat of a researchers background I am motivated to try to define the study of the photographs and other images that I possess.  It seems to me that being able to define such a study in acceptable research terms would give it more credibility.   With that aim in mind I came across the term “visual culture.”

Visual culture is defined in various ways:
According to Nicholas Mirzoeff' is perhaps best understood as a tactic for studying the functions of a world addressed through pictures, images, and visualizations, rather than through texts and words.  Here is a link to an article by Mirzoeff on visual culture.

Another term that came up during my search for meaning is semiotics:  According to Daniel Chandler in his online book on the subject:  Semiotics represents a range of studies in art, literature, anthropology and the mass media rather than an independent academic discipline. Those involved in semiotics include linguists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, literary, aesthetic and media theorists, psychoanalysts and educationalists. Beyond the most basic definition, there is considerable variation amongst leading semioticians as to what semiotics involves. It is not only concerned with (intentional) communication but also with our ascription of significance to anything in the world.

I questioned whether this is the appropriate method as it seems that semiotics would be more the study of language and text however it is also defined as follows:   Semiotics provides us with a potentially unifying conceptual framework and a set of methods and terms for use across the full range of signifying practices, which include gesture, posture, dress, writing, speech, photography, film, television and radio. Semiotics may not itself be a discipline but it is at least a focus of enquiry, with a central concern for meaning-making practices which conventional academic disciplines treat as peripheral.  Here is a link to an article  by Irit Krygier, that provides photography with a definiton in todays digital age.

One could argue that I cannot do an adequate study of the photographs I possess unless I understand the intent of the photographer.  What is the context of the photo being taken?  Was it vacation, for a study, for a business reason…this anonymous collection of photographs may not provide worthwhile data in that regard.   These photos are an expression of human life, the way we live, and how we capture on film and what we deem important.  Reviewing hundreds if not thousands of photos of home life, vacations, landscapes, and celebrations provides a rich in-depth study of life in the United States but through travels abroad.

I am currently review several photographs of a travelers experience in Russia.  These photos were probably taken in the 1950’s and are actually slides:






Not sure where these photos were taken:

scan0071 scan0082 scan0098
I can put pictures that other people take and study them in the context of what motivates or inspires me to take pictures:

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I love to take pictures of old farm buildings, abandoned farms and capture these symbols of a fading way of life.

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The above photo was taken in Silverton, CO at the Durango/Silverton Train.

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The above is a photo of ruins in Mesa Verde.  To me this is somewhat symbolic of how we capture other cultures through photography.

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Another abandoned farm picture.

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Sinclair, WY I believe..a semi abandoned town with an interesting history.

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We spent the night in a Hostel in Grand Junction.  I thought I would be uncomfortable in the postage stamp sized room but I immediately fell asleep.  The picture above is of the lobby, lounge space at the hostel.
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On the Durango/Silverton train.

If I were to do a post like this every week for the next five years I doubt that I would get through my collection of photos, one which I continue to add to either via scanning or my own photos.  It is a fascinating study for me.  I am struggling with how to define or frame this study and analysis.  Knowing that will help me a great deal to identify the context in which to place this analysis.


  1. :( I had a lovely,long erudite response I was posting ... it went, poof, into the ether and I am so sorry. It is late and I have misplaced my train of thought.

    I finally took the time to really see your images and not just look at them. Do we really need to know why they were made? Do we always know why something was written, painted, sculpted, composed and so on? Is it not enough that we enjoy the results, or, at the very least find some degree of satisfaction in creating our own "frame of reference"?

    Perhaps merely collecting them to browse through is enough. I often find that once I have released the shutter on my camera, the magic moment is over. When I spent time in the darkroom, developing the images I had made ... that was an entirely new process and the final image was yet another form of visual communication. Once matted, framed and mounted on the wall ... other would view and have yet another experience.

    How many forms of visual, emotional and memories in communication do we want? need? offer or select? Maybe these are some questions to ponder before making too many more decisions?

    The project is a fascinating one, and I do hope this community will be interested in weighing in with their thoughts.
    Please post some more of them. Thanks.

  2. Yes we do have to get some idea of motivation behind why people take the pictures that they do .. it is just interesting to me. That being said..we had a great dialogue about life long on Facebook for's all about that! By learning why someone takes the pictures that they take .. we better understand the picture, what it is symbolic of and it authenticates it..

  3. We ultimately spent the time to essentially call at your photos and not examine these. Can we really should realize the reason why we were holding produced? Will we constantly realize the reason why one thing had been composed, decorated, toned, constructed and so forth? Isn't it sufficient that people benefit from the outcomes, or even, at least locate a point regarding pleasure inside making our personal "frame"?

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