[237120, A2] Wk 7: Task 1 – Visual Analysis Meaning Making ‘Truth and Value’

‘The myth of the photographic truth’ is the exploration of the fallacy that photographs provide detached accounts of the events and surroundings, free from emotional bias (Sturken and Cartwright 16-17). Society’s treatment of photographs as evidence and documentation is presented as being misguided, due to the human intervention involved in the process of taking, and viewing a photograph (Sturken and Cartwright 17). Changing the settings and specifications of the camera, the quality of the photograph, the portrayal of the subjects,  potential image editing, and the way in which a third person view changes our memories of the event/subject; all these factors result in no photograph being removed from bias (Osterman).

It is important in the analysis of visual texts because it prompts students to critically think about the portrayal of subjects through the eyes of the creator. By understanding the myth of photographic truth, students may gain more from the visual text by looking into the context by which it was created: Who created it, why, when, where, and how. Thus, the visual text not only supplies the information portrayed- the denoted subjects- it provides insight into the milieu of its creation through the connotations by the presented subjects.

This is particularly relevant to my essay topic, ‘The World of War,’ because my visual texts were chosen due to the difference in worldviews I believe they represent. The acceptance of the visual texts beyond what is denoted will allow me to view the subjects represented as being reflective of the views of a demographic. This can be illustrated in the political cartoon by David Low, entitled by its caption “What, no chair for me?” published in 1938 on the cusp of World War II.

David Low 'What, no chair for me'

“What, no chair for me?” Political cartoon by David Low, from the Granger Historical Picture Archives (Published 1938)

The denoted subjects would be deeply confusing for a viewer without the understanding of context, such as whom the caricatures represent, the suggestion behind the caption, and how this relates to the Munich Conference and the dispute over Czechoslovakia (Please see Wk 5: Task 3A blog post for clarification). The connoted views of the people over the failures of the League of Nations and the arrogance of the members of the Pact of Steel are implied by the postures and facial expressions with which the players in international relations are depicted. Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler are all portrayed with chests pushed skyward, surrounded by or dressed in light colours. This may have been a choice by the artist to show how the Entente members were left in the dark of their plans until it was too late to prevent war by betraying a nation to the Pact of Steel.

Works Cited:

  • Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “The World of War.” How to See the World. United Kingdom: Penguin Random House, 2015. 101-127. Print.
  • Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. “Images, Power and Politics.” Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 9-48. Print.