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Terms to Use When Analyzing a Visual Text

Updated on November 8, 2016
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Erwin Cabucos writes from Brisbane, Australia. He has Masters in English Education from the University of New England.

Image by E.C.
Image by E.C. | Source

Useful terms when analyzing an image

By Erwin Cabucos

Analysing a visual text involves examining all elements of the image so that a feasible and convincing meaning and interpretation could be achieved. This may mean looking into the subjects in the photo, the words that are printed on the page, the setting used or the colour applied in the image. But there are more than that.

The book Interpreting the Visual by De Silva Joyce, H. and Gaudin, J., by Phoenix Education, published in 2011 gives thorough explanation of the important aspects of the image that a keen reader must see in a visual.

Here are some important terms for those elements. Like any written texts, multimodal and visual texts have rich repository of meanings where discourses and representations of peoples and ideologies can be found.

  • Participants – refers to people, animals, and objects that are prominent in the image.
  • Perspectives - involved in representing 3D space on a flat 2D picture surface. This enables us to see the framed painting as a window onto a space that is different to the one we occupy.
  • Vanishing point - corresponds in the picture plane to the point in the eye where light reflected from objects in the real world can be seen to converge. Eg, situating the vanishing point at the level of the viewer's eyes will appear to out the viewer in the picture.
  • Raised vanishing point - refers to high-angle shot where the subject is shown downwards, as if the audience is looking down. This suggests lesser power for the participant, or begging for sympathy from the audience.
  • Lowered vanishing point - or high angle shot, giving more power to the participant, demanding for respect from the audience.
  • Vectors - the actual or imaginary line showing the direction of action or lines of movement or of an image. Integral to understanding narrative processes in the image.
  • Narrative processes - refers to the way an images tells the story or explain a causal process that takes place over time. It is important to know the distinction between narrative and conceptual. The vectors connect the participants. Narrative processes may be active, reactive or telling a conversion process.
  • Conversion or thought processes - This is often evident in diagrams where the action shows conversions or cycles.
  • Speech and thought-processes - This is often shown on images with speech balloons and thought bubbles.
  • Action and reaction processes - participants doing action in the image. The vector originates from a participant and usually directed at another participant. In some images, this element of the image tell a lot of gender relations. Notice how the action originates from which gender and received by another, suggesting power relations in the gender.
  • Circumstances - they refer to the setting, providing a wider context in the image. They may also refer to accompaniments of the participants, giving more information and backgrounds to the participants. There are participants in the image who are not linked to other participants by vectors; they are circumstantial participants.
  • Embedding - the process of combining more than one representational structure within a single image. This shows the versatility of the image that it may perform other function other than the main participants or circumstances they are showing.


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