Signs and symbols within the photography

It all starts with a sign and ends up with a symbol. When considering visual communication, photography plays the role of information source, which is being interpreted with the help of signs. At the very beginning you have to ask yourself the question – what those signs and symbols really are, and what is their meaning as part of the perception of the photo?

The meaning of signs within a picture

The idea of sign itself is to tell you about something, which in case of another person, stands for something else because of some features and / or because of some other quality. In other words – sign is a kind of reality piece, which could be observed, however, it’s not relevant on its own, concerning its features, but within the relation to another piece of reality, which it refers to. Somewhat, it plays the role of information carrier, e.g. – the perception of natural environment is being interpreted with natural signs, such as dimmed, cloudy sky in case of rain, or smoke as a sign of fire.

Within the sign itself, two elements could be recognized: the marked element, as the actual size of the symbol, which has the literal meaning and the marking element, that is mental, thought and symbolic. We can divide signs into three categories – indexes, symbols and icons.

In this article, we will focus exclusively on the sign, looking for its meaning concerning photography. One should bear in mind, that every symbol is a sign, nevertheless, not every sign is a symbol. Signs could only stand for signs, or additionally carry a symbolic meaning. Casual sign refers to something in a clear-cut way, symbol, on the other hand, would carry ambiguity and representation of something. Symbols are one of the most expressive means of communication within photography. It doesn’t put anything bluntly, literally, whereas it stays conductive to thoughts and guesses. Symbols are polysemic, synthetic and unintelligible. There’s something sensual about it, something extrasensory, making you spiritually aware.

Symbol leaves you space for your very own interpretation of things presented in the picture, as well as, it allows you to take a stand in front of your own subjective experiences, feelings or emotions. The role of symbols is not to directly communicate something, but to portray. It’s been made to get you across. It takes the viewer to another, however, a really close reality, as a part of visualization of the unseen. Symbols have polyvalent value within their structure. Symbols can expose, but sometime their role is to cover things before the eyes of uninitiated. Symbolism adds new value to the content of a picture, without violating its direct values, but rather opening them.

Read more on how to pass on a hidden message within photography.
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