Reading Photographs

In the lecture today we learnt about semiotics.

Honestly, I thought it would be one of those lectures where you sit there and don’t understand what on earth the lecturer is talking about.. but it wasn’t.

Semiotics is about studying signs – it can be any kind of sign I think but in the context of photography, it is about reading the connotations and denotations within an image, as well as any linguistic messages that one can see. It sounds kind of tricky when you write it down, I think, but it is something that we do automatically without realising it.


An easy example of using semiotics is studying this sign for a unisex toilet.

We can read the words ‘unisex toilet’ in white writing against the blue background. Underneath that we can assume that it says unisex toilet in braille. Above the writing there are two images – one wearing a dress which indicates that women can go in there, and one not wearing a dress which indicates that men can also use this toilet. There isn’t a picture of someone in a wheelchair so presumably these toilets are not suitable for disabled people to use.

The sign is blue because it is giving information – all blue signs give out information and they normally have white writing on them too, just like this one. It also means that people are more likely to notice the sign because our eyes are automatically drawn to blue signs.


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