The Semiotics of Windowpane


As the collection of windowpane photographs grows, the semiotics of the photographs has emerged as equally important to the visual impact of the image. Initially, I was just thrilled with the visual possibilities –now, I am looking at the photographs more from the perspective of the opportunities that each has for meaning-making.  The best of the images are visually compelling and dense in visual signs [needs a definition]

Semiotics is the study of meaning. In the study of visual semiotics, meaning is conferred through signs: symbols (signs that stand for something e.g text, a flag, a traffic signal), icons (signs that resemble something –in a photograph, almost any recognizable object can become an icon e.g. a shoe, a tree) or indexes (signs that are logically connected to something e.g. a watch, a construction crane, a clothes hanger). Signs are the visual elements of an image to which the mind reacts –often in multiple ways.

symbol icon index
Details from The Power Of Stupid People
The human figure, facial expressions, and body gestures are also very potent signs –so potent that they can easily overpower all other signs in an image. Facial images, in particular, tend to be indexical: connecting to some archetypal or idiosyncratic emotion response. For these reasons, I use the human signs sparingly and judiciously. In the example image below the human figure and facial expressions play a significant role, but they are either advertising caricatures or they are faded and obfuscated into the montage of the windowpane.

The meaning of signs can be highly dependent on context and relationships between signs. The context of the photographic image is bounded by the frame. In a typical photograph, the frame holds a single view, approximating what the human eye would see from a particular orientation in space and time. With the windowpane photographs, the frame can appear to be divided into multiple overlapping frames, each with it's own point of view, scale, and system of related signs. The resulting juxtaposition creates additional semiotic opportunities due to spatial and contextual incongruities in the image: scale shifts, familiar locations are fragmented, inside and outside become ambiguous, and signs from disparate contexts are intermingled, creating incongruous visual relationships.

The act of taking a photograph, for the flaneur, happens so quickly, that the semiotics are mostly contextual (in the environment) or accidental (moving through the frame). What control of meaning I do have, derives from venturing to places ripe with opportunities. Many times, the visual signs from which meaning is generated are not even noticed until post-processing.

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The Power Of Stupid People

Ultimately, the interpretation of an image, and its visual signs is idiosyncratic: highly dependent on the psychology and experience of the viewer. Of course, certain images are richer in their semiotic opportunities than others: a proliferation of particularly potent signs, and provocative juxtapositions between signs, offer many opportunities for meaning making. This semiotic richness, along with visual allure, are the primary qualities that I am seeking in the windowpane photographs.