Representation and Interpretation

Images – whether they be advertisements, photographs, illustrations or paintings – make up a significant part of our every-day lives. The way that an image is represented and interpreted plays a crucial role in the communication of ideas and messages. We as humans interpret images in different ways, as we each possess our own personally developed ideologies that are dependent on factors like experience, background or religion. So naturally, misrepresentation and miscommunication of images is to be expected. Communication models including Aristotle’s and Lasswell’s do not account for this expectation, by assuming a linear, non-problematic, transfer of knowledge. They don’t consider that what is intended to be communicated (encoded) is not always what is actually communicated (decoded).

Semiotics – ‘the study of signs and sign-using behaviour’ (The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018.) – explains that communication through images involves 2 central aspects: what there is in the image and what the image evokes.  

For example, in this illustration there is a man and woman lying in bed, using their phones, facing away from each other. This is the denotation (the signifier) of the image – the ‘literal’ and ‘commonsense’ meaning behind it (Chandler,2017).

However, upon decoding this image, audiences may develop their own personal interpretation, based on how it makes them feel and what it mentally evokes. This forms the connotation (the signified) of the image– the ‘socio-cultural and personal associations’ made (Chandler,2017). The connotation can be considered arbitrary or subjective as it is likely to vary from person to person or group to group.  

I believe that there are several ways in which this illustration can be received and decoded by audiences.

I decode the image as being an overall representation of society’s increasing reliance on technology and how this reliance is destroying the quality of human interaction.

In this digital world, it seems that we have more extended connections than ever, and yet as these online connections develop, we ironically become less connected in real life.

The man and woman appear to be a couple (as they are sharing a bed) who have become disconnected due to their attachments to their devices. Their back to back position conveys that the couple are attached to and focused on technology, to the point where they are subsequently neglecting one another in real life. The contrast of the overly dark bed/background to the small beams of light coming solely from the phones suggests to me that the only source of joy or happiness in their relationship is emanating from their online connections.

This is my interpretation of the image, which is based on my own personal experiences, education regarding the impact of technology and my opinion in general. However, it could be read by others in many different ways. Perhaps it could delve further into the addictive nature of technology or the distraction of technology to sustain relationships or maybe even deeper into technology being an actual cause of relationship breakdowns.

Maybe you will take on a dominant reading of the illustration, a negotiated, or a completely oppositional one(I am unable to decipher which form my interpretation takes on, as there is no accessible information regarding how the artist encoded the text – his website is in a different language!).

This is why I find semiotics and representation/interpretation concepts to be so fascinating. Every single person has a unique framework of mind. Sometimes, something that I see is not what you see, and no matter how hard I may try to get you to see what I see, you may never see it (what a tongue-twister!).

I’d love to find out your take on the illustration! Leave me a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter.

Until next week,



1 Comment

  1. mrharrisoneast says:

    We live in a world where close to anything can be taken to large levels of interpretation, all dependent on the context of the individual doing the interpreting. I believe this can be seen as a good thing, then again I try to be an optimist.
    In my blog I talk about the importance of context as well as doing your best to understand another persons perspective. While someone’s interpretation of a subject might greatly differ from yours, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s after all, an interpretation, not a fact.


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