This week’s readings about semiotics are very interesting, which remind me of my teaching and research experiences of visual materials. As Monaco wrote, “We do indeed read an image physically as well as mentally and psychologically” (p. 153).

I teach a library science course for SLIS named representation and organization. One session is “representation of non-textual materials”, because librarians need to index visual materials (e.g. images, paintings, etc.) besides textual materials (e.g. books). Basically, it is more difficult to index visual materials than textual materials: It’s hard to decide what attributes to index on. Do we index attributes of the image or attributes of the object in the image? Do we index attributes of purpose or attributes of function? For example, for this image, we can identify these attributes (at least):

  • Black and white photograph
  • Purpose/function: Photograph taken for purposes of tax assessment
  • The 1500 block of E. 18th Street, at the intersection with Paseo, housed an assortment of shops, including shoe shops, a beauty school, a pawnbroker and a post office.

So do we index the shops, the purposes of shops, or…? One solution is Kim Schroeder’s layered indexing of images, including three layers:

  • Object layer
  • Style layer:  the purpose for which the image was captured

e.g.  1) candids — documentary or special event
2) glamour — sales, studio or advertising
3) engineering testing — analysis and experimentation

  • Implication layer: tells a story

e.g 1)What is the point of this image?
2)Why would someone want to look at it?
3)What is unique or informative about it?

For my own research, I also use visual analysis. However, sometimes I have to balance two approaches: One is content analysis (Bell, 2001), which is more quantitative: What does the image show? What/who is depicted? In what manner? How frequently? What is the content and style representation? What is the denotation (literal meaning)? The other is semiotics and iconography (van Leeuwen, 2001 ), which is more qualitative: What does the image mean, ideationally, culturally, and ideologically? What are the ideas and values? What is the hidden meaning and connotation (symbolic message)?