Post Image

Visual Culture

Culture(s) of Visualization: Strategies for Analysis

  • Visual culture, to borrow Nicholas Mirzoeff’s definition, 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.
  • Studying visual culture isolates or brackets “visual mediation” or “visual representation” for analysis.
  • However, most of our experience of media is a hybrid of texts, images, and sounds, rather than pure states of any one mode.
    • The visual is always “contaminated” by the non-visual: ideologies, texts, discourses, beliefs, intertextual presuppositions, prior experience and “visual competence” (cf. Eco and Bourdieu).
  • Shouldn’t it be “visual cultures” (plural)?

Image-Saturated world: visual culture and everyday life

  • Experience of images today mainly through photographic means, or images encoded as photographs.
  • Digital images now dominate production of images in every medium.
  • The era of “post-photography” photography: images and film that imitate photography and camera-based images, but are entirely digital in composition and viewable output.
  • What is the role of the visual arts in a mass-mediated visual world?
  • Many elements of our visual mediasphere are consumer-culture driven: advertising
    • Viewer in the subject position of consumer: advertising constructs its viewer.
    • “Advertising serves not so much to advertise products as to promote consumption as a way of life.” (Christopher Lasch)

Theory and disciplinary resources for thinking about visual culture

  • Visual Culture Theory Map
  • Disciplinary construction of objects of knowledge: approaches meet at the intersection of epistemology and institutional disciplinary professionalization
  • “Visual Culture Studies:” can it be defined as an interdisciplinary field?
  • How are its objects constituted and subject matter formed? Is there a subject for this field?s
  • Necessity of theory. Legacy of party-line academic orthodoxies in humanities and social sciences, professionalization of disciplines, boundaries, turf.
  • Already a debate about the professional legitimization of the field as intellectually and institutionally viable.
    • Mitchell, Elkins, Mirzoeff, Krauss and October debate

“Visual Cultures”: Are Our Modes of Visuality like a Language?

  • Social and cultural, not natural
  • Rule-governed: use of images form systems of meaning based on a grammar of learned rules
  • Extend levels of function and analysis from linguistics and semiotics
    • Minimal signifying units in meaningful strings (syntax, grammar) to connected discourse.
    • Both theory and production rules have already described the visual grammars of advertising, fashion, design, visual art, film, television genres.