Free Essay Example on Visual Culture

Published: 2022-04-18
Free Essay Example on Visual Culture
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Culture Consumerism Society
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1879 words
16 min read

The relationship between images and identity

Social differences get widely shared beliefs that label socially similar differences basing them on the society of origin. These distinctions are structured, and lack of equality is statured into significant classes into which people have been organised to belong. It is through these different categories that people receive diverse identity. Visual representation supplements the written and spoken words to help give a more detailed description the complexity of the topic (Mitchell, 2005). For instance, Barbie Zelizer in his journey "About to Die", he describes how images of impending death might strongly affect and move the public. This research alone creates a new dimension of the power of photography (Zelizer, 2010).

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Identity, mostly for individuals, is a reflection of the person's personality and character. The definition can be based on the evidence of which the person is, the elements of their life at times it is a series of confusion and uncertainty (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). Identity implies self-recognition. The question remains, how images can bring out such an impression about an individual. We shall take several examples to explain this understanding.

Visual culture is a tool that implies the aspects of learning that get expressed through images. Visual culture first of all can be used to indicate the national identity of a given country's history (Anderson, 2006). The image in fig 1.1: (Connor & Rhode, 2003) a picture of a young man resting on a couch. He is about eighteen or nineteen years old. He has hazel eyes and long hair which is brown. His cheeks imply he has a fever and his left leg got amputated. He tries to reach on to the palm leaf to fan him. The image is among the collection of civil war collection of medical photographs. Several challenging and emotive issues can get raised from the exploration of this image. The image having been created around 1860's during the civil war has retained several contemporary statements through all this time. This copy and other similar photos bring about a national identity for the American people. The images of injured soldiers from the turbulent period of the civil war remain and iconic symbols of a wounded nation worn by war and chaos (Anderson, 2006).

Visual culture implies an identity of opposition in images. Binary opposition of an image provides clues to the observer about its meaning. Binary opposition occurs when two similar photos depict entirely different purposes (Finn, (Ed.). 2012). They can reference, the poor or the rich, men or women, black or white, the young or the old. In this reference, one aspect defines the other, and their existence is mutual. For instance as, depicted in fig 2.1: (Hodge, 2014) on the right side is a depiction of the urban life. It is an indication of progressive life which is opposite of whatever is shown on the left. Here we see the rural life of poverty and toil. This image reflects the experience of the underpaid immigrants and the strain toiling of farming for the residents of the left region of the image. Therefore, binary opposition when applied to visual culture creates an impression of good and evil. The observers of this image are expectant to reflect on power; on the right is the power of the U.S and on the left are the population living as slaves to it.

Another aspect of identity that can be drawn from images is the hegemonic culture (Finn, (Ed.). 2012). The dominance of one people to the other depicted in fig 2.1 supplements in concluding the image. The creator of the image had intentions of showing the idea of dominant hegemony to his viewers. However, different people are bound to read this image differently. In the eyes of a protestor, the view might be the much contrast that exists between the landscapes of the two regions. For a person supporting the Trump regime of baring the Mexicans from entering the U.S, it would be the wall that divides both regions. Biologically the two persons view the image is the same manner, however, out of the hegemonic culture that has influenced the two differently, and their interpretations are way too diverse (Finn, (Ed.). 2012). All the same, let it not be forgotten that in as much as hegemony in visual culture has influenced how people identify with different images, a lot of considerations have been left out (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). An example is the existing efforts to resolve the matter depicted in the image. Visual culture can be an obscure language. Therefore, in as much as it provides us with a clue about the identity of an individual, situation or place, it can never be used to define the final resolution about the same.

Images and consumer society

In a consumer society, the most critical social and economic practices are buying and selling of goods and services. In his book on the shipping appetites of Indonesian women, Melia Masniari illustrates consumer society as a collection of people would dedicate their remaining breath to shopping. The author, however, in his context he tries to imply the identity of the group of females who love to shop to improve their acceptance to their social groups by the kind of stuff they buy. Whenever one individual uses or dresses up in such branded items, they tend to convict others to look for the same brands. It is this similar symbol that all forms of media apply. Use of images as a form of media contributes significantly to the consumer society. Images manipulate the process of needs and the order importance of these needs to people. Images construct a reality which carries the fundamental fact, and it guides masses towards something trending and new (Rose, 2016). The images, therefore, bear a symbol of consumerism in the sense that they exaggerate the reality of the good thus influencing the consumer society to purchase goods that do not fall as immediate in the order of needs (Rose, 2016).

Images have been used so widely enough to describe not only the goods and services getting marketed but also a sentimental attachment to the commodity (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). The narratives created by these images tend to delve more into the feelings and memories about the merchandise or the services that are designed to be so fond. The present photos imaginations of perfection or states and places, a perfect kind of narrative. The appeals created by the good or the service being marketed posses ridiculously ideal conditions for a social set up. Such images and descriptions are meant to build a strong and enduring mindset among the public (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). The public sets their mind beyond the constant and monotonous strains of their daily lives and moves into a fresh, appealing and unexpected environment that is all about them and anything they have ever dreamt.

Consumer images and narratives are also moulded around the desire of the consumer's heart. This shaping is done by the advertising personnel who can access contents about the public which can be deemed emotional. It is by the use of this content that this personnel create their pitches. This content unravels the fact we, the consumers, do not shape the image of utopia but the staff unwarranted persuade over the desires of our hearts or rather anything we have ever dreamt about concerning their commodity (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001).

It is this same narrative of utopia that the advertising corporations use to influence the autonomy of the consumers. All this stems from the interpretation of the advertising image. The information about the intentions of the advert creators is seldom accessible to the consumers (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). The general functioning of advertisement images is always assumed to be ineffective to the consumers. For instance, some consumers claim that advertising images do not move them. On the other hand, they tend to remember the narrative behind the image way later after viewing it. This stagnating narrative, therefore, is the code to the power of visual culture and images in the advertisement sector.

Looking at some examples, we realise that, as established before, several ads seek to develop an emotional connection between the consumer and the advert personnel. One prominent example is the American Airlines advertisement in 2006, fig 1.2 (O'Barr, 2006). The tagline of this advertisement was,"we know why you fly."They go ahead to indicate suggestions for destinations and purposes of travel in an attempt to respond to their prior claim. This tagline alone created an impression to the customers that the airline's management comprehends the reasons and motives for their passenger's decisions to travel by air. By doing so, an emotional and aesthetic impression gets forged between the consumers and the corporation (Schuster, 2013).

The myth of adverts describes narratives of heroic goods and services and beautiful lives which have gotten uplifted and enhanced only by the purchase and consumption of the commodity getting marketed. This form of advertising takes the context of politics of depiction (Cronin & Robertson, (Eds.). 2011). Scholars claim this to be a form of bias that has got incorporated into the ads. However, the adverts are meant to tell the narratives within the environment that the sponsors agree. An example in fig 2.2 (O'Barr, 2006): the image is an advert for an alcoholic drink; The Bombay Sapphire Martini. The narrative created in the tagline, "poor something priceless", manipulates the thinking of the consumers that the alcohol itself is priceless. In as much as this is not true, the bias built within the advert is an example of the politics of depiction. This manipulated depiction influences the viewing of the consumer in the sense that they will hold the price of the drink much higher than the tagged price.

In conclusion, visual culture is a strong aspect of media which hold lots of complex messages and information, all coded in one image. Images have gotten used widely, and from the examples, we can see that they can easily be markers of social difference. A single image can hold the dark history of a nation and another one could represent the deplored situation of the administration of the same country. We have established the useful influence images have to the world of consumers, in the sense that a single image to connect to millions of users of a given service or commodity in a sentimental manner. All these applications weigh on the communicating ability of the visual culture through images.


Mitchell, W. J. (2005). There are no visual media. Journal of visual culture, 4(2), 257-266.

Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2001). Practices of looking. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso Books.

Finn, J. M. (Ed.). (2012). Visual communication and culture: Images in action. Oxford University Press.

Zelizer, B. (2010). About to die: How news images move the public. Oxford University Press.

Connor, J. T., & Rhode, M. G. (2003). Shooting soldiers: Civil War medical images, memory, and identity in America. Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture, 5, 1-20.

Hodge, B. (2014). Social semiotics. In The Routledge Companion to Global Popular Culture (pp. 58-66). Routledge.

Rose, G. (2016). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. sage.

Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2009). Advertising, Consumer Cultures and Desire. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, 265-306.

Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2001). Practices of lookin...

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