Object and Image Analysis

In this lecture we discussed the basics on analysing objects and analysing images – and the differences between the two. We started by defining visual literacy; the ability to read things we see (such as objects and images).

We also looked at primary and secondary research;

  • Primary – your own analysis of images / objects
  • Secondary – discussion of existing knowledge on the subject or related themes. This is what others have to say.

A quote by Howells and Negreiros in 2012 “we are taught how to read text… we are left on our own to figure out what a visual message means” I found this quote particularly poignant as it can be viewed as a criticism of our education system. Much of the focus of schooling is placed on academic learning – such as reading and writing but hardly ever are we taught how to apply those academic skills to visual matter. This only happens later in life, if one chooses to specialise in a visual study.

When visual analysis we are taught how to unpack the payers of an image and to place it in context – giving it a greater meaning.

How to analyse an image:

  • Denotation – description
  • Connotation – interpretation
  • Contextualisation – cultural and historical

It has also been argued that images are simply a representation. This has been looked at by S.Hall 1997 – we attach manning onto objects. There is nothing about green at a traffic light that symbolises GO but as a society we have given it that meaning. Thus it is a construction.

What you know, changes what you see. We all see and interpret thing differently; this is because we all have different experiences and backgrounds. Meaning is not fixed. We have to do our best at making educated guess on the most likely meaning (McKee)

When analysing an image; be specific. Break down the description so you  have a very basic, simple definition of the image. The same goes for connotations (need to have secondary research to back up your points); which part of the image makes you think of that connotation? And finally, what has the image been associated with? Historically, how does it fit in? Translation of words. Look at contradictions. Also consider if the image could link with an art movement such as feminism / Marxism / globalisation. Think about intertextuality – does the image make references to another image?

Object analysis; what is the key difference between an object and an image?

  • We have to consider how the object is being used? 3D – it has a function
  • The materials it is made up of?
  • Archives

Object analysis can be linked to material culture. It helps us to understand beliefs, values and attitudes of the creator / period in time.

When evaluation we can look at; how it was made? Materials? Meaning?

How to analyse an object:

  • Observation – properties / how was it made / who might have used it?
  • Discussion – could discuss initial observations with others – they have different observations. Secondary research can help to fill in the gaps.
  • Research and document – if there are gaps in your knowledge or need to verify information – you need to consult academic sources. Research context of object.
  • Interpretations and conclusions – what is culturally significant? Does if select on society / culture?

In the seminar later that day we put into practise the skills we had learnt in the lecture. We we put into small groups and each given an object / image to analyse. My group was given the below image from a Jil Sander shoot. None of us had any prior knowledge of Jil Sander, but we still managed to come up with some interesting analysis of the image.


We started with a basic description –  in the image we see a woman in a white dress embracing a man who is not fully clothed in a comforting manner.

Connotation – the woman dominates the page. She is very much the focus of this image; not only is she double the height of the man but her arm spans from one edge to the other. She is also looking directly at the camera, whilst the man hides his face. From her body language we feel that there is a role reversal happening in the image; the woman is in charge and has a hold over the man. I get this sense based on her manly haircut. I feel the man looks very vulnerable and childlike, hiding under her arm whilst she seems domineering and almost manipulative – from the strong staring eyes and her cold shoulder facing the camera. With her back slightly to the camera and strong jaw line facing towards the viewer it makes her feel strong and powerful.

His placement being below her, belittles him –  there has been very careful consideration of the composition of this image. There is very little colour going on in the image. She is all in white and the only other obvious colour is skin tone. Skin plays a big part in the image; her back is exposed but facing away from him, suggesting she is hiding her vulnerability / sexuality. Whilst in contrast, what we see of the man; he is completely uncovered – which suggests his vulnerability which he is offering to her. She is dressed in all white – this colour is symbolic as it represents purity, innocence and cleanliness – but this is in complete contrast with her body language and facial expressions.

After we had exhausted the image and its connotations we decided to google Jil Sander and see if that could inform our analysis. We found out that she is a minimalist designer from the early 2000’s which is evident in the styling of the image.

When looking at the image as a whole, we felt that intertextuality was in play. We felt that the image had some biblical references. It made me think of images of Jesus Christ on the cross; wearing very minimal clothing (clothing that is worn is white) and with his bowed head. Both Jesus and the man in the image lower their heads; seeming vulnerable / defensless and like they have given in to a more dominant force. The similarities between the two images are very clear; as we can see below…



I found the seminar very useful as it allowed us to put into practise the skills we had learnt in the lecture. Being able to discuss with my peers was hugely beneficial as I was shown a different way of thinking – as each person has a different take on the image. From this I was able to build a detailed analysis and much better understanding of the image than if I had analysed alone.



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