Reading Log Week 7

Stuart Hall: The Work of Representation

I have studied Hall’s work previously, his reception theory which was related to representation, so I am interested to learn more about his work. I was not intending to include people in my work at all, but I have been considering a project that might include people so hopefully, this reading will help me with this endeavour.

As Stuart Hall says, “representation is the production of meaning through language”. I feel this summarises this reading.

He says that language shapes representation and representation is formed by category. To categorize something is to give it a named representation and this is shaped by the relationship, in this case, of a photos denotations. This could be composition, lighting, contrast, colour, lack of colour and subject. These signs convey a meaning that are in turn interpreted by the ‘reader’ of the image.

For my images, meaning will be interpreted through a number of specific denotations.

  • Each subject’s facial expression
  • The lyrics on each subject’s face
  • The colour I have used for each photo
  • The length away from the person’s face in the photo
  • The background of the image around the subject
  • The subject looking down the lens

The next Chapter is called:


Hall opens with,
“For Saussure, according to Jonathan Culler (1976, p. 19), the production of meaning depends on language: ‘Language is a system of signs.’ Sounds, images, written words, paintings, photographs, etc. function as signs within language ‘only when they serve to express or communicate ideas. … [To] communicate ideas, they must be part of a system of conventions …’ (ibid.).” p. 16

Also adding,
“There was, he argued, the form (the actual word, image, photo, etc.), and there was the idea or concept in your head with which the form was associated.” p. 16

This was a theory that I learned in school, the signifier and what is signified, these are basically denotation (signifier) and connotation (signified). He talks about the relationship between the signifier and what is signified and says how in language, this link is permanent. I would agree with this. I would argue that as cultural signifiers develop and language develops, old signifiers meanings can change. Some stay the same, for example, the colour red signifying danger, but a lot of signifiers change as society does and the same signifier can mean different things to different people, for example;


This image has a lot of connotations to different people. For some, it is a symbol of new order, of taking control of their country, for some it a symbol or racism and oppression. These two opposite views come from the same simple signifiers, so I would agree with Saussure,

“the relation between the signifier and the signified, which is fixed by our cultural codes, is not – Saussure argued – permanently fixed. Words shift their meanings.” p. 18

Hall (p. 20) summarises Saussure’s theory, “the intentional theory reduced representation to the intentions of its author or subject. The constructionist theory proposed a complex and mediated relationship between things in the world, our concepts in thought and language.”

Hall goes on to talk about denotations and connotations (p. 23), and then on to discourse.

“Models of representation, […] ought to focus on these broader issues of knowledge and power.

Foucault used the word ‘representation’ in a narrower sense than we are using it here, but he is considered to have contributed to a novel and significant general approach to the problem of representation. What concerned him was the production of knowledge (rather than just mean- ing) through what he called discourse (rather than just language).”


In Conclusion

Representation is created by a number of factors used by the author of a photograph and how the reader of the image interprets these signifiers. Each aspect of a photo combines to make the photos meaning.




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