This week in BCM 110 we looked at how images do not always tell the truth and how they can mean different things to people. We were asked to find a complex image and write the denotations (what you can see) and connotations (what you think it means) of chosen image (above).
The first thing we see in this image is the arm of the photographer outstretched giving the ‘middle finger’ gesture. Then our eyes go to the building in the shot that looks to have distinctive Chinese architectural features. Then we see the people in front of the photographer and see that they look to be on a road.
The image leaves you with questions: Who is the photographer? Where is the photograph taken? Is the photographer gesturing at a specific person in the crowd, the building or the crowd in general? Why is photographer making that gesture?
With no prior knowledge about the photograph the conclusion I think most people would come up with (assuming they know what someone putting their middle finger up at something means) is that the photographer is unhappy with the people, the person or the building and whatever it is associated with.
But what happens if you know some of the background of this image and are able to put it in context?
For example if I told you the photographer was the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, then for those of you who know the artist your interpretation of the image has probably already changed. As Ai Weiwei is a strong critic of the previous and current government in china, in addition to regularly making political statements with his art.
Your interpretation would also change if I told you that the photo was taken in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which in 1989 was one of the main locations that the pro-democracy protests took place and the famous ‘tank man’ footage was filmed. Just over a month after the protests began the government declared martial law and just over a thousand protesters were killed by the estimated 200,000 military troops that were deployed.
It is certainly possible to read the image in a wide range of ways. If you knew nothing of the image before you saw it you wouldn’t have a lot to go on and probably wouldn’t give the image a second thought. Whereas if you see the image in the context it is created in then your understanding can change tremendously and the difference in interpretation grows. As you then have to include in peoples interpretations, there stance on a range of issues, there background, there beliefs, etc.
My interpretation of the image is that Ai Weiwei is criticising the government for the way they handled the riots and bringing back into public light the atrocity of the deaths of over a thousand protestors.
Thanks for reading guys.
Let me know your thoughts.