Concepts & Methods of Visual Culture
Due date: October 8, 2018
One goal of this first assignment is to encourage you to make use of the concept of the sign as it is understood by linguistics and semiotics. As we have discussed in class, the two components of the sign are the signifier and the signified – in language the signifier is audio-visual (also in contemporary film, performance art, theater, dance, etc.), whereas other cultural phenomena make use of only one of these dimensions (radio and recordings: audio // painting and sculpture: visual). When writing this paper, please be sure to use the concepts of the sign, the signifier, and the signified in your discussion. [Remember; not all signs point to material objects, i.e. not all signs have referents, but all express one or more meanings, i.e. signifieds.]
1/ Begin this assignment by choosing two photographs from your personal, family history. One of these should date from before your birth, and display a scene, person, and/or objects that you never had a chance to experience in person. The second of these should include you as a very young child, 0-3 years of age, perhaps with other people, objects, buildings, and the like. Be sure to scan these photographs and include the appropriate image at the beginning of each main section of your paper.
2/ You can start your paper with an introductory paragraph that establishes the cultural context for the photographs. In it you can indicate: your family’s ethnic background; whether other languages besides English were spoken in your childhood home; your economic situation; whether you lived in an extended family, a nuclear family, with a single parent, etc.
3/ The body of your paper should be divided into two main parts, each displaying the photograph under discussion, followed by your analysis of the visual signs contained in it. In a semiotic analysis (i.e. a discussion of the cultural meaning of signs), the writer seeks to understand more than the strictly personal meanings of things, more than the personal associations that he or she has with the contents of the image. Look at the “stuff” in each photograph -- the toys, furniture, appliances, clothing, hair styles, makeup, facial expressions, architecture, plants, pets, time of day – as if you were a stranger looking at archaeological evidence from a foreign culture. What meanings can you “read” in each photograph? What can you say (politically, psychologically, aesthetically) about the society that produced these images? I’ve specifically asked you to choose old personal photographs so as to help you distance yourself enough from the material that you can produce a more “objective” analysis.
4/ Be sure not to wait until the last evening to begin your paper, do a word count and a spellcheck, and proof-read it before you turn it in. Because of the uniquely personal nature of this assignment, it will not be necessary to submit it to SafeAssign. Try to avoid using such expressions as “in my opinion,” “it seems to me,” and “I think,” and generally avoid excessive use of the pronoun “I.” Put the name of the course, your name, and the due date in the upper left-hand corner of the first page (only); number each page in the upper right-hand corner; don’t include a separate title page, binder or folder; and staple your paper in the upper left-hand corner. The title of your paper should be Personal Signs.