Visual Culture blogs


  • Semiotics and structuralism
    • Key theorists Ferdinand de Saussure Charles sanders Peirce Roland Barthes
    • Signs and signifiers and signified
    • Texts
    • Iconic indexical and symbolic signs
    • Intertextuality



Signifier (significant)                       +                             Signified(signifie)

Form                                                                                     Concept




‘cat’                                                       +             (image cat)

The arbitrariness of spoken language’s meaning can be illustrated by looking at out writing systems:

A phonetic alphabet records the sound values 

i.e. the letter A corresponds with a particular sound.

Not all alphabets however are not based on the same theory

i.e. ideographic systems uses symbols to represent a thing or idea without indicating…


Iconic signs – look like the thing that they signify -E.g. portraits, photos, etc.

Indexical signs – refer to other knowledge’s -E.g. natural signs: clouds signify rain, footprints feet, etc.

Symbolic signs – have meaning only due to convention – E.g. colours, flags, etc.


Everything we encounter is a “text” that we “read”

Parole = spoken/individual usage of sings within a system

David carson 2013 – GD

Tim burton – animation

Langue = the structural rules and conventions of a system

Language of GD involves form, medium and tools.

Language of animation involves stop motion animation

-quick test

Pink-stupid girls


Let’s talk about sex… and gender

Why is it still an issue?

  • Equality act 2010 replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single act
    • Sex discrimination act 1975
    • Race relations act 1976
    • Disability discrimination act 1995
    • Legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society
    • UN declaration of HR rights 1948
    • Article 7: all are equal before the law are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
    • Equality of the sexes still not achieved.
    • 2011: UK gender gap for hourly wages = 20.1%
    • 2013: official figures analysed by the TUC show the hourly rate of pay for men is £26 and women £24

Why should you care?

  • *Affects how you have been, you are, will be treated and what’s expected of you
  • Understanding how your identity is constructed and perceived will help you understand communicate with the audience/consumer of your work more effectively e.g. ‘ben 10’ and ‘bratz’

What is a ‘man’?

  • Depends on who you ask
  • And ‘adult’ male?
  • Definitions of adult difficult to pin down
  • Age of consent is 16 both sexes in UK
  • Can’t vote till 18
  • Can join army at 16
  • Age criminality is 10
  • Sexual maturity now reached around 13 – puberty
  • Not the same as reaching emotional or psychological maturity
  • Biological definitions: chromosomes (X.Y)
  • Primary sex characteristics: reproductive systems/sex organs
  • Biological deterministic understanding of gender roles unhelpful
  • Culturally specific definitions: moassai boys most undergo ritual ceremonies and circumcision before they can considered a warrior or man
  • Natural attitude towards gender is that there are only two sexes
  • Idea is seen unquestionable and is founded on the assumption that gender is determined by an individual’s reproductive organs: it is an essentialist understanding of sexual differences
  • Assumes that the male/female distinction is natural
  • Assumes that being masculine or feminine is not a choice
  • Assumes any deviation is a pathology; that it is the norm to be either male or female
  • Biological determinism
  • Here interested in current cultural definition of man
  • Specifically that evidenced by the western cultural industries
  • And the different forms that man can and yet still embody masculinity
  • Dominant representation in UK cinema remains that of the white male (Star Wars/Matrix/LoR/James Bond/HP
  • Dominant representation of man; or more specifically desirable model of masculinity found in the mass media is:
    • White
    • Agentic (doing something/on the way of doing something) subject
    • Purposeful
    • Active
    • Independent
    • Heterosexual
    • Violent/fearless
    • Powerful
    • Strong

What is masculinity?

  • Not femininity: it can only be understood relationally:
    • Not purposeless
    • Not an object
    • Not passive
    • Not dependent
    • Not womanly
    • Not fearful
    • Not powerless
    • Not weak
    • Mass media promotes an exaggerated version of human sexual dimorphism (physical differences between sexes)
    • Men appear hyper muscled, women physically weak
    • Mass media typically presents a heteronormative discourse (Simpsons – Marge and Homer)
    • Presents heterosexuality as the normal/natural sexual identity
    • Symbolic annihilation of other identities
    • To be seen as feminine or have feminine qualities is still framed as a negative and undesirable state
    • Part of the reason female dress has not be ‘unisexed’
    • And that househusbands are still viewed as anomalous
    • Implies a loss of ‘power’
    • Where power is equated with sexual and socio-political agency
    • Desire for power also frequently framed as masculine trait
    • Framed as unattractive in women: often labelled as pushy, demanding etc. (Devil wears Prada)
    • Gendered identities can be understood as ‘performative’: Judith Butler (1990), Gender Trouble
    • Identity as doing rather than being
    • ‘Encultured’ rather than biologically determined understanding of gender roles
    • Roles are normalised by their repetition and reiteration in the mass media
    • Laura Mulvey 1975 Visual pleasure and narrative cinema
    • Coined the phrase gender gaze
    • Highlighted use of camera to naturalise different ways of looking at men and women
    • Recognised the power of the gaze
    • Argued that women are coded to connote “to be looked at”
    • Camera employed to objectify women (and increasingly in mean)
    • And to normalise their objectification
    • Viewing/treating a person as an object is dangerous
      • Makes them easy to ‘dispose of’
      • Tom Ford – Terry Richardson 2007
      • Men-ups 2011
      • Avengers 2012
      • Culturally understood/defined gendered characteristics can be limited and limiting for all concerned
      • Gender stereotypes as harmful for men as for women
      • Through that harm nature - differently manifested e.g. boys don’t cry, suck it up and grow a pair, man up


Why should you care?

  • Because cultural understandings of gender effect all of us
  • Also affect your work’s audiences/consumers
  • As do cultural constructions of race, sexuality, aging, disability, fat, beauty, etc.


  • Historically and currently influential practitioners in your field: are they mostly male, female, transgender or an equal mix?
  • Practitioners whose work you are most inspired by: are they mostly male, female, transgender or equal mix?
  • People represented by these practitioners (whose images appear in their work): are they mostly male, female, transgender or equal mix?

Birth of modern era:

  • started in the late 18th century
  • James watt patented steam engine in 1769
  • Larger scale industry in UK and us e.g. Railways, mining, textiles etc.
  • Society experienced a ‘paradigm shift’ – re-conceive realisation in the world
  • Radical break with preceding way of life and value systems (people having to move into cities to find work)
  • Industrialisation of farming led to mass unemployment in countryside. E.g. threshing machine invented in 1784
  • Shift in population from rural to urban
  • Industrialisation changed how people related to the world and each other e.g. SS Great Britain 1843 combined steam and sail power. Could guarantee getting to Australia in 120 days
  • Culture vs. nature – sense of confidence to be able to control things in (mainly in the western areas) domination and ownership of the world with no consequences.
  • Mechanisation of warfare – first machine gun invented in 1884
  • Showing superiority to nature and other people.

Birth of consumer culture:

  • Mechanisation of production impacted on every aspect of people lives resulted in standardisation of weights and measures – came out of the need to collaborate
  • The birth of consumer culture – grosses of specialist
  • Creation of ‘leisure’ – due to standardisation and agreement of time i.e. distinction from ‘work’
  • Birth of ‘designer’ – distinction between those who operate the machines and or factories and those who determine d what came out from them
  • MARXS – the alienation of the worker (distance from your labour leading to depression) lack of authorship and ownership. However things like these made prices seem cheaper
  • Steam powered printing press – production increased, reduction of prices but unemployment rose. This increased speed with which info spread. Also increased literacy levels in printed materials and also became more affordable
  • 1848 WH Smith opens first bookstall at Euston in Manchester 1852
  • First free public library in UK in Manchester in 1852
  • Boom in typographic design as competition grew
  • Birth of graphic design as a recognised profession
  • Birth of advertising industry
  • Birth of the brand – e.g. Bass Ale (first registered trademark in UK 1875) – still with us today
  • Boom in packaging design – pre-packaging able to push products and sell
  • Boom in ‘lifestyle’ magazines – a way to make people jealous and telling people what they should aspire to be or how to live a certain etc. – creation of childhood (protection of children) conceptualising how they should behave etc.
  • Photography: daguerreotype – 1839 louis Jacques mande daguerra presented the process behind the production of the ‘daguerreotype’
  • Portraiture became available to all classes
  • By 1850 over 3 million daguerreotype were being produced in the US alone. (The need to record themselves)

Industrialisation also resulted in

  • diffusion of money and hence power to the middle classes
  • status came to be designed by property and wealth, not land and titles
  • also an increase in separation and domestic and public domains
  • middle class men were demanding and getting political right s and power that equalised their new economic power
  • mid class women remained relatively powerless as they could ear and own nothing in their own right – women were paid less
  • items were produced to communicate the tastes and values or their consumer – increased lifestyle magazines
  • object were not valued according to their ‘use’ or even their ‘exchange’ (Markx) value but increasingly for their symbolic value (Jean Baudrillard)
  • in a capitalist system, money=power
  • conspicuous consumption
  • conspicuous leisure
  • Thorstein Veblen’s (18899) Theories of the Leisure classes

Spaces of consumption:

  • New kind of consumer, new spaces of consumption were created – shopping arcades, department stores, (it’s about where you can go and buy things not necessarily what you buy
  • Term ‘coined’ by Charles Baudelaire
  • Someone who walks in city to experience it, who frequents shops or for the experience, - the performance and to be seen
  • The museum – British museum (1753) first national museum in the world, expanded in 1857. Victoria and Albert Museum established in 1852, moved to current location in 1857
  • The national gallery (1838) –central location (Trafalgar Square) and free admission
  • The theatre – entertainment industry e.g. Bristol Old Vic (1793)


  • Tech innovation radically altered in UK
  • Way of life led to ‘modern era’
  • Saw birth of consumer culture – person’s identity became increasingly tied to what they consume. Consumption no longer driven by necessity but by desire. It was all about performance to show off power and status


Primary Research: Planning filed work – Rachel Miles

  • Primary research, approaches and what to look at and why

How to look at your site visit and how to record findings during site visit

  • Participation/Observation?

Observation (ethnographic) – positions research as separate from/external to the cultural practices being studied

Participant observation – researcher takes part in cultural practices being studied

Both require planning and methodical executions…

Be aware of age, gender, etc. it may impact on how you are treated

Consider the ethics of how you record your findings – e.g. unethical to record them without consent. Appealing for consent and telling them why you’re doing will affect the response and findings you get.

Post findings on blog.

Not all apparently ‘public’ spaces are… e.g. Cabot, Bristol has no photography without permission policy

Consider - anonymise any photographs you take without permission, no picture of children without permission from their parent or guardian

List of experience factors that contribute to the site e.g. structure style of building, lighting (sources, angles, colour etc.), environmental and ambient noise (i.e. background, unintentional sounds), how movement through spaces controlled (e.g. via marked routes like in IKEA), surrounding items – say why (e.g. smell), explanatory copy (as in a gallery or exhibition including details of scale, typeface, emphasis medium (printed on foam board or vinyl lettering direct onto the wall). Branding of the wider space. Other consumers and viewers – what are their approx. age, how they’re dressed and what it tells us about their ‘class’


Task: make a list of different phenomenon impacting experience and how you should record these.

  1. The Bear Pit:
  • Hazards may occur depending on time of visit e.g. projecting an individual piece up onto a wall within the Bear Pit or within one of its underground passages late on a Saturday night may cause some problems coming into contact with drunk and potentially dangerous people. Drunk people would probably the least of the problems as the Bear Pit is also known to come in contact with certain types of drug dealers. However if we were just to observe and not participate (depending on what we are observing) it would be best to carry out the project during the day. If we were to carry it out at night we would have to make sure it’s not too late in the night.


Title question

Case study –analytics

Brief account of rationale behind your choice



Format – a4


Layout and designed

No less than 250 words no more than 500

Hardcopy of poster to be handed in on mon day 3rd march by 2pm

Work displayed fromo Tuesday 4th to Friday 7th march in F block

400+ posters on show

Opportunity for you to see what other studets in programme are looking at and share ideas

Review: Unity vol. 4

Unity vol. 4: The United by Matt Kindt and Joshua Dysart (writers), Cary Nord, CAFU, Trevor Hairsine, and Robert Gill (artists), Jose Villarubia and Brian Reber, and Dave Sharpe (letterer)

After blasting onto the scene with To Kill a King, it seems like Unity settled into a fairly averaged title. Volume 2 was a major disappointment, and, while I eventually came around on the Armor Hunters tie-in, it failed to meet the standard of the first volume. Fortunately, The United is easily the best installment of the title since then. 

The trade opens with the zero-issue, which is concerned with Unit Y, the original Unity team which operated under the command of Gilad during WWI. For the most part, this is a done-in-one story, although it does set up the United’s Stock as a legacy character as well as enable further iterations of the team,* but I love nearly any media set during WWI. Furthermore, Kindt does an excellent job of characterizing all of the new members in a few mere panels and setting up an engaging story with a clever twist. 

After a strong beginning, the “The United” arc begins (with the Harbinger: Faith #0 issue taking place between Unity #12 and #13). At first, I was concerned that the technically 3-issue arc would feel rushed much like the “Dr. Silk” arc; however, Kindt’s pacing is spot-on. Essentially, the first issue is devoted to set-up, while the second introduces the antagonists and allows the reader to see Faith’s first outing as part of the Unity team, while the battle between the two teams occupies the third. Admittedly, this does leave the reader wanting more to a degree, but given the decompressed nature of modern comics’ storytelling, this is probably a better alternative than boring the reader with a multi-issue fight scene.

One of the interesting aspects of The United is the way that Kindt and Joshua Dysart use perspective. Two issues–Faith #0 and Unity #13–are told from Faith’s perspective, and the change in her attitude about joining Unity from excitement to horror is one of the best parts of the book. Her first impression of Gilad–A–provides the perfect contrast with her thoughts about him after the mission, “Smelly.” Although the reader has (presumably spend 15 issues with the team, Faith serves a stand-in for the reader and forces them to consider the characters in a different way.

Another interesting device is the way in which the final issue is framed. The bottom panels are devoted to a Hardball-style debate between a political commentator and the Eternal Warrior. This is a very high-risk storytelling device; if it’s not executed perfectly, then it will across as cliche. This script, however, is not cliche. Not only is the debate relevant to the story itself, many of the points brought up also reflect current political debates (the obvious being the NSA debate). This is not to say that this is first instance of these ideas and themes appearing in Kindt’s Valiant work, but due to the device, it’s more obvious here than elsewhere.

The artwork for the main plot is drawn by CAFU, while the Unity and Faith zero-issues are drawn by Cary Nord and Robert Gill, respectively. So all three artists should be familiar for Valiant readers, although only CAFU has contributed to Unity before now. His artwork emphasizes clarity over style with crisp, clean lines and straightforward panel layouts. As someone who generally prefers substance over style in my comic art, I always look forward to a book drawn by CAFU.

Nord is likewise another meat-and-potatoes artist, but he inks his pencils with thicker lines to achieve a murkier effect. He’s the perfect artist for a comic set during WWI, especially as Nord has always excelled at maintaining the chaos of the battlefield while simultaneously organizing the panel in a way in which the reader is able to follow (see also his artwork on Conan the Barbarian, X-O Manowar, and The Eternal Warrior: Days of Steel).

Finally, Gill is something of a rising star at Valiant, especially since he is a mostly “homegrown” talent, having done little outside of the the publisher. Faith #0 provides a nice contrast with Armor Hunters: Harbinger as it’s a more personal tale with no real action. More importantly, it gives Gill the opportunity to really demonstrate his range as an artist. As strong as Joshua Dysart’s script is, it wouldn’t work without an artist who can really show his characters “acting.” Scenes like Faith and Torque’s argument work, because the reader can see every emotion that they are experiencing on their faces.

Altogether, The United represents a return to form for the title. More importantly, while it does tell a complete story in itself, there are plenty of potential story hooks for Kindt to return to. Since I started doing advance reviews of Valiant books, I’ve actually already read the next story arc of Unity, which is just as strong as this one. Needless to say, I feel very encouraged about the title going forward, and I hope that others share these positive feelings.

*-One of which, the WWII team, we definitely saw in one panel. I would love to read a comic about that team.

Marvel Deluxe. Los Vengadores : La era de Ultron

Marvel Deluxe. Los Vengadores : La era de Ultron


Edición original: The Avengers vol. 4, 12.1 y Age Of Ultron 1-10 USA
Edición nacional/ España: Panini Comics
Guión: Brian Michael Bendis
Dibujo: Bryan Hitch, Carlos Pacheco, Brandon Peterson
Entintado: Paul Neary, Roger Bonet, Roger Martinez
Color: Paul Mounts, Jose Villarubia
Formato: Libro en tapa dura, 320 págs.


El estreno de la segunda entrega cinematográfica de Los…

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