Our reading this week has been about the process of Visual Analysis.

We are introduced to six ethical philosophies that should be used in analysing pictures.  The Golden Rule is about being cognisant of the receiver of your comments and not harm or upset them.  Hedonism, developed by philosophers such as Aristippus, suggested that you should focus on the pleasure of today and not worry too much about the future.  Ben Jonson summarises the basis of this philosophy:

“Drink today, and drown all sorrow;  You shall perhaps not do it tomorrow; Best, while you have it, use your breath; There is no drinking after death.”

Moving on to the Golden Mean of Aristotle, his philosophy is about finding a compromise between two opposing views – finding the middle of the road.

The Categorical Imperative of Kant is about applying a consistent approach for actions, ideas, behaviours and opinions whilst always ensuring a positive effect.

Utilitarianism, espoused by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, is about ensuring the greatest happiness experienced by the largest number of people, having weighed up the possible consequences of a particular action.

And finally, the Veil of Ignorance articulated by John Rawls is about considering all people as equal, as if they were wearing a veil, with all visual and other cues removed.

Having taken all of these basic philosophies and approaches into account we are then asked to prepare ourselves for the process of visual analysis by undertaking nine preparatory steps:  these include undertaking a detailed itinerary, looking at compositional elements, colour, form, depth and movement, undertaking a Gestalt analysis, identifying various signs, looking at semiotic codes, cognitive elements, considering the purpose of the work and whether the picture is aesthetically pleasing.

The example in the reading demonstrates this approach extending to nearly six pages.  Only now are you ready to undertake the visual analysis.

The Six Perspectives is the bit I found particularly helpful and takes us through a consideration of the image from a number of perspectives:  personal, historical, technical, ethical, cultural and critical.  Reading more about the personal perspective led me to think about my current approach to reviewing images, such as it is, and I am very conscious I tend towards drawing a quick conclusion based very much on my personal preferences.  Furthermore, having sat in many Camera Club judging sessions, as well as distinction panels, this appears to be their approach too!  I recognise that this cursory review can lead to me missing some of the intentions and more meaningful messages of the author.  Moving on from the personal perspective, is historical, and a sense of the importance of the image in history, technical, such as the use of light, ethical, cultural metaphors and symbols and finally critical – a more reasoned critique.

Like other readings on the course, this week’s work on visual analysis has widened my perspective of how an image should be considered and the different techniques that might be used.  It is clear that taking a personal perspective is only the first and initial response to an image and one can miss out on a lot by not undertaking a more systematic and robust analysis.


‘Lister, P M “Visual Analysis” in Visual Communication: Images with Messages’. n.d. Available at: http://paulmartinlester.info/visual_analysis.pdf.

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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