The ‘meaning’ of Images

For one of my classes, we were asked to describe how a person ‘reads’ a photo.
Regarding an image of the cyclone in Fiji 2016, using terms from chapter five of the MediaMaking textbook.
This photo depicts a weather torn street.  The sky is grey and the ground is littered with chunks and fragments of wood. Several trees are shown in heaps, having fallen and been dragged off the road. There is a power line that is still standing, and portions of houses are visible on both sides of the photo, they are plain white with corrugated metal roofs and walls. A dozen people are shown in the distance, walking  down the road toward the photographer, they wear shorts and t-shirts. The image itself is depressing, and produces a feeling of tragedy. People usually empathize with pictures of devastation like this.
This chapter is all about meaning and interpretations (pg. 137), making sense of something, either as a representation or as a concept (pg.141). The prompt asked how we can “read” the photo, using key terms like: “signified, signifier, sign” to make an interpretation of the photo.   A ‘sign’ is a marker, it has: a signifier and a signified, one is the word/marker and the other is thing the word represents (pg.147). This photo of the cyclone ravaged street in Fiji, is a signifier, and it signifies for me: all cyclones and the devastation they can cause.
Semiotics is the study of sign systems (pg. 143), the code or “systematic organization of signs” (pg. 144) assigns meanings to the signs. Codes are how you recognize and make rational sense of new information. The data presented in this photo would lead the viewer to interpret more information about the condition of the country after this event.
Cyclones are hurricane by another name, and we know that they can last up to a few days, and cause flooding.  We know this photo is from Fiji , an island country in Melanesia, in the South Pacific Ocean, near American Samoa.  These facts combined paint a detailed picture about the natural disaster depicted in the photo. I think most people make these connections when they interpret photos like this. The observable signs from the image is that there was a great natural disaster. The tree debris in the photo is a signifier of heavy winds and rain, it signifies that the water damage is extensive and the wind was strong. The grey sky is a signifier, it signifies that the weather is still gloomy, and not fully clear of the storm yet. The people are out in the street, which could be a signifier that the danger has past, and signifies the repair/recovery of the country.
The chapter starts with a few paragraphs about debatable meanings to songs (pg. 135). The intended meaning by the song writer, compared with how/what the media used the song to demonstrate. People may interpret the meaning of things differently, but for this  particular photo, I think everyone will have the same understanding of what  it means.


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