Imagery (photography)

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Ansel Adams : The Tetons and the Snake River

Imagery is a form of communication for images in the sense of conceptual photography . Visual language is understood to mean the expression of an image in the context of a uniform, consistent language of image series to which the individual image can be assigned. What is meant are consistent codes , metaphors , symbols , frames of reference , expressions or addresses with the aim of triggering certain associations , behavior patterns or emotions . Visual language aims at the controlled effect of a dialogue . Visual language interprets a reality by accentuating and assigning a meaning.

Imagery as a universal form of media expression

Visual languages ​​can be found in numerous areas: Metaphors are used in texts . Imagery can be found in painting , photography, film , online media or graphic design .

Photographic imagery

A photograph works on several levels: through the content shown, through the formal design or the photo aesthetics . Conceptual approaches for consistent visual language can also be found in “schools”, such as New Objectivity , which propagated a distance from the object or subject.

In order to speak of a photographic imagery, a series of more than one image is required. A single photograph can belong to a visual language, but it can never be its own visual language. Imagery is the instrument used to turn a certain amount of images into a recognizable unit.

The formalities in the visual language are primarily the laws of our viewing habits. A photographer can use his visual language to match or break through these viewing habits. Example: A classic fashion photo corresponds to our viewing habits. With the Benetton campaign in the 1980s, Oliviero Toscani broke through traditional viewing habits up to scandal, but also with a conceptually consistent visual language of high emotional tonality . The same goes for Terry Richardson ; he provoked the fashion scene from 2000 with revealing photos from the campaign for Sisley .

Meaning of a visual language

Importance of a visual language for the photographer

Manuel Rivera-Ortiz : Tobacco Harvest, Valle de Viñales, Cuba 2002

Formative photographers recognized very early on that a meaningful image should have a style in addition to technical ability, a concept in the sense of conceptual photography, and should also convey information about the author, i.e. the photographer himself. It is only in the interplay of these factors that a photographer becomes recognizable, their location, their authenticity. From these points of view, imagery is a visual style and its signature. All great photographers have defined and expressed themselves through their personal imagery, also to differentiate themselves from colleagues. The imagery of the formative photographers is nothing other than the signature of a painter in the painting.

Importance of a visual language for economic interests

Product photography : The drag effect emphasizes the speed through the blurring background and the blurred rims and suggests “ power ” and “dynamism”; Due to the background that is poor in structure, attention is focused on the (also centrally placed) product. Flat incident, "soft" (ie low contrast to shady areas), "evening" -warmes sunlight are unconscious associations with summer , after work , leisure , vacation and ultimately to worry nfreiheit wake.

Companies use photographic imagery as a tool for visual communication . They are instruments for the authentic self-portrayal of the company, its values, characteristics, emotions (presented in the context of corporate identity ), but also in marketing, i.e. market-related to target groups ( targeting ) and to differentiate from competitors. In general, one speaks of corporate pictures or corporate picturing. Change is also part of the repertoire of a visual language when companies adjust to changing market and environmental conditions and recalibrate their visual language. In 2018 , Shutterstock discovered that diversity motifs were becoming increasingly important in companies' marketing campaigns. This is justified with social change, such as generation change, realization of different ethnic groups, gay marriages, globalization or the inclusion of minorities. With imagery z. B. an intercultural competence can be expressed.

Associations such as the VDA have also recorded imagery as visual communication in the corporate design manual .

Visual languages ​​are also gaining importance for companies in social networks and social media : This is how Edeka, Rewe and many other companies present themselves on Instagram .

Importance of a visual language in a political context

Federal Archives, photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, Obersalzberg, Berghof, Adolf Hitler. Sitting knee in civilian clothes (image elements : sitting on the desk, light suit, dotted tie, national emblem on the left lapel; with crossed arms; in Hitler's study) (1936)

Imagery is or was also used for political purposes. Historical examples are the photographic staging of Nazi party rallies or photographers from the Wehrmacht propaganda companies . Politicians, for example Barack Obama , can be photographed using a specific imagery from an exclusive photographer ( Pete Souza for the White House) in order to present a stringent conceptual image in public. Dictators want all the more to control their visual impact. Heinrich Hoffmann and Walter Frentz were personal photographers of Adolf Hitler.

Control, grammar and vocabulary

Control of a visual language

It is difficult to schematize imagery because they are so diverse. One can, however, name some elements that can be tools that lead to a visual language. These include:

Grammar of imagery

As the word imagery suggests, a language consists of words and their order as grammar. Formally, one can derive certain sensations from our viewing habits:

  • Format : portrait versus landscape
  • Proportion : Vertical symmetry versus asymmetry in the vertical
  • Area distribution: horizontal symmetry versus asymmetry in the horizontal
  • Space: horizontal and vertical versus diagonal
  • Order: Regular structure versus differentiated arrangement
  • Movement: Descending or Ascending
  • Object reference: facing or facing away
  • Image border, bleed etc.

Imagery vocabulary

Vocabulary of a visual language are visual elements that result in a composition.

Individual evidence

  1. Sebastian H. Schroeder ,: Visual language - what is it? - kwerfeldein - magazine for photography. In: kwerfeldein. August 10, 2018, accessed on January 21, 2020 (German).
  2. Katja Iken, DER SPIEGEL: Benetton shock advertising in the nineties: "I don't give a shit about sweaters!" - DER SPIEGEL - history. Accessed January 21, 2020 .
  3. Marc Zollinger: The provocative Benetton photographer is back - and despite his 76 years of age, he is not mild with age NZZ . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . ( [accessed on January 21, 2020]).
  4. Petra Schwegler: The change in visual language in marketing. Advertise & Sell, November 13, 2018, accessed January 21, 2020 .
  5. Imagery . Accessed January 21, 2020.
  6. EDEKA (@edeka) • Instagram photos and videos. Accessed January 21, 2020 .
  7. REWE (@rewe) • Instagram photos and videos. Accessed January 21, 2020 .
  8. Advertise & Sell: This is how Edeka presents itself on Instagram | W&V. October 13, 2015, accessed January 21, 2020 .
  9. Stéphanie Lobmaier: Little ABC of visual language. In: Thomas Schatz, 2019, accessed January 21, 2020 .