After reading This Means This This Means That by Sean Hall, I now have a better understanding of how I can discuss images of the natural world. In my previous post, I presented this image:
However, I lacked the knowledge to discuss this photograph in detail. Using some of Hall’s terms, I’d like to try again with the photograph of the tiger is by Pam Wood. In terms of icons, this digital color photograph resembles a tiger underwater. Therefore, the picture could be considered an icon for a tiger. For most people, this is obvious, but the distinction is important. If I pointed to the image and asked, “What’s this?” you might be tempted to say, “a tiger,” but technically, it is a digital representation of a color photograph taken of a tiger. It is not actually a tiger.
Similarly, index (another term that Hall defines) shows a causal relationship between the signifier (the digital photograph) and the signified (the tiger underwater). Hall explains that the photograph is caused by the tiger swimming underwater. (Meaning, if the tiger hadn’t been there, the photograph would have never been taken.) Okay, so how do these terms help us to better understand the photograph? Well, first, they help us develop a context in which the photograph was taken. I know from finding the photograph, that it was taken by a woman named Pam Wood in Vallejo, CA in July 2008, and it placed as a finalist in Smithsonian Magazine’s 6th annual photo contest. When I first looked at the image, I did not picture the sender (or photographer) as a part of it, but clearly if Wood was not there to take this stunning photograph, it would have never reached its receiver(s) (me and countless others who have seen it). Again, if the photograph was not mechanically transmitted via internet, it probably wouldn’t have reached my eyes.
As far as meaning, I can try to interpret the sender’s intention or the message of the text (if one exists), but that is something I may never fully understand. I can guess that Wood enjoys wildlife. I can also guess that because tigers are solitary creatures, and because of the expression on the tiger’s face, this photograph could represent the anguish of solitude. If I add in the context that it was taken in CA, where no wild tigers live, I might be able to say that it depicts the anguish of forced solitude in a creature that usually dwells so expansively in its natural habitat. I cannot say that any of these statements are the absolute truth, but they can’t be ruled as impossible, either. According to Hall, I’ve just ventured into some of the “ways of meaning.” These possible interpretations sound a lot better than my previous interpretation, which was more or less: This is a gnarly picture of a tiger underwater.