Language Of Visuals

Language of Visuals #

People who use graphics, images and film to illustrate and depict issues will use both an objective and a subjective approach.

Text types that: Illustrate, depict , diagram or use moving images

They say that “pictures never lie”, but we know this is a half-truth. Through various filmic techniques, pictures and especially moving images can manipulate the viewer’s emotions and distort the actual truth of the scenes they depict. Further it is our limitations of vision, and the inevitable idiosyncrasies and distortions involved in the act of looking — in particular, looking at photographs.

It was believed the invention of the camera would create objective impersonal and neutral documentary images because of the decisive momentary, instantaneous and accidental nature of capturing an image. However, photos can be manipulated, improvised and deceptive depending on a number of factors concerning the truth revealed. Collaboration between the photographer and subject by implicit or explicit invitation can influence our perceptions of posed or natural shots.

Characteristics of Visual language: #

  • Capture, Focus and maintain our attention on a central message.

  • Communicate instantaneously – “a picture is worth a 1000 words."

  • Sensual awareness; Composers try to recapture scenes and objects through the appeal of the five senses, visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory, gustatory.

  • Use of Graphics, Layout and Language.

Analysing a cartoon: #

Write about each, including the following information.

(a) A statement of the subject (story line) the cartoonist is commenting on.

(b) The message the cartoonist is trying to convey on this subject. (Purpose)

(c) An analysis of the visual techniques noting any unusual features.

Everything in the frame speaks to us and we need to learn how these elements affect us and create meaning for us. Secondary motifs such as clutter, other photographs in the background – everything is recorded as it cannot be selective and all props add to our impression.

Setting, Characters used, Caricatures or Stereotypes

Caricatures are exaggerations or enlarged features to identify individuals. In Political cartoons distinguishing features such as hair styles, noses, chins, or any other distinctive individual trait is highlighted.

“Caricature involves singling out features disproportionately”

How is meaning created in visuals? #

Meaning in a film is created by cinematography also called mise en scene or sub- text. Spectacle includes colour, sound and language. Pure sensual pleasure is an important part of all recreations, especially cinema.

Everything on stage or in the frame speaks to us and we need to learn how these elements affect us and create meaning for us. It is through performance - action, interaction and spectacle that we experience and glean meaning often sub-consciously.

Film, including all moving pictures, is a cool medium in that almost everything is done for us and so we lie back and absorb it without really exerting our inner mental eye. Reading and listening, according to the guru of media studies, are hot medium because they engage our imagination.

Especially in drama or film, body language through stance, position, deportment, facial expression, posture and thousands of subtle features convey meaning. Then there are the other cinematic factors, such as staging, casting, props, sound effects, lighting and costumes that influence how a play creates and we derive meaning. These are factors that must be valued and the director’s role is critical in determining how a play is presented and received by a live pulsating audience.

Trying to put you into the shoes of the main characters can be an immersive experience. In film “jacking in”, recording thrilling experiences through subjective camera angles, can replicate them in alluring immersive techniques so we can experience them vicariously. Film can convey the lived experience behind the facts and figures that even a filmed documentary can not.

The Camera can come in much closer to the characters. The silver screen is a more effective medium to depict the craft of performance and highlight the power of Shakespeare’s language.

Conversely, a good story teller can conjure imaginative pictures even more picturesque with the right words.

Performance communicates instantaneously – “a picture is worth a 1000 words” so language is secondary and often difficult to follow.

Good actors become their characters and even without dialogue, convey emotional nuance, empathy or menace. Just with their presence they project elation or deep despair. Language becomes secondary. Developing a rapport with the audience creates trust so they identify and become interested in trivial detail and apply it to their lives.

They say that “pictures never lie”, but we know this is a half-truth. Through various filmic techniques, pictures and especially moving images can manipulate the viewer’s emotions and distort the actual truth of the scenes they depict.

You will find more information on visual grammar under the Language of Visuals.

It is through performance - action, interaction and spectacle that we experience and glean meaning often sub-consciously.

Comparison of two film adaptations involves looking at cinematic factors, such as: setting, staging, casting, props, sound effects, lighting and costumes.

A new trend called ‘slow cinema’ is characterised by long shots, minimal or observational style and a de-emphasis on plot. Simultaneously, distancing and identifying, it can be haunting. Cuarón’s, Roma, Kantemir Balagov’s, Beanpole,

“My aim is to collide different genres—history, analysis, reportage—so that reality emerges in the collision between them,” Peter Pomerantsev explained to Joanna Kavenna, “Montage creates the space for meaning.”

Look for a unique angle from which to film and tell a story: finding what Shklovsky called ‘estrangement,’” Pomerantsev said. “So I’m always fixated on the question of where do I put my camera when I write, what’s my unique perspective.”

Aural Manipulation #

Anybody with the most basic understanding of film editing will tell you there are many words to describe different kinds of techniques. Montage. Juxtaposition. Fade. Dissolve. Wipe. Jump cut. Shot reverse shot. Fast cutting. Slow cutting. Cross cutting. The list goes on.

The renowned editor Jill Bilcock infused the director Baz Luhrmann’s first three films – Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge (aka the red curtain trilogy) – with a famously frenetic, flashy, in-your-face style. The term she and the glitzy auteur coined to describe their approach is unlikely to be added to textbooks any time soon: they call it “frame fucking”.

The genesis of frame fucking is unpacked (with excited testimonial from Luhrmann himself) in the director Axel Grigor’s new documentary that explores Bilcock’s long and distinguished career.

“When you talk about frame fucking, it’s actually about music. Everything is about rhythm,” Bilcock tells Guardian Australia. “Baz and I have a very low attention span. We tend to think everybody can see everything in a few frames. It’s a tapestry: the sum of the whole equals the end result. It may feel like it could be a bit fast, but it’s actually adding up to a dramatic, emotional effect.”

Most people don’t really understand or recognise the work that a film editor does, Bilcock explains, or know whether the editing is good or bad: “You don’t know what they added or how much they broke through barriers. Possibly none of us will ever know, unless you were there. But I think we are all editors at heart. Your mum might come out of a movie and say, ‘Oh, I really like this, but it was a bit long.’”

Most of us are familiar with the terribleness of Muriel, Toni Collette’s dweeby, husband-craving desperado who lies, cheats, backstabs and happily abandons her already wobbly principles at the drop of a hat.

But you may not know that Muriel was originally much more terrible. After the film’s initial edit, Bilcock and the director, PJ Hogan, looked over the footage and were struck by how unsympathetic the character was. Bilcock was assigned the job of re-editing the film to make Muriel more likeable.

“That took quite a lot of work, believe me,” she says. “It was a matter of paying attention to small human details. You can find a funny little giggle, for example, and add it to a scene, even if you’re taking it from another shot in another part of the film.

“It’s about focusing on those little looks, like between her and the traffic cop. It’s also about adding different sound; different music. And, always, it’s all about timing. You need to feel for her when she’s making an idiot of herself.”

Manipulating time – and ‘the clap’ – in Strictly Ballroom #

Baz Luhrmann’s feature film debut memorably concludes with an epic dance-off, Scott (Paul Mercurio) and Fran (Tara Morice) strutting their stuff at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. When a swinish foe kills the music, they “dance from the heart” by moving to the rhythm of the crowd clapping.

Except in reality, the crowd wasn’t clapping much at all. In the editing room, Bilcock spent days extending this sequence by padding it out in various ways, creating the impression the audience were continuously putting their hands together for a sustained period of time.

“I got one clap, then, on the soundtrack, I created different claps, making it go from slow to faster and faster,” she says. “Then I elongated the process, finding pictures that went with that, taking a whole lot of scraps and throwing them together. I manually chopped up shots and stuck them together with tape, trying to get the rhythm right.” The Guardian, Australia

Visual Manipulation: Keeping the Reel - Real #

The ultimate goal of an artwork is to resonate with the audience holistically, especially through emotion. The total affect is created by the co-dependence of the relationship between director, designer, choreographer et el.

Production designers are image obsessed, hopefully image savvy; the soul of a film. They need to create the images using tools both ancient and modern that will compel us to look at something new – something different, something foreign and connect.

3 Generations of visual effects: #

  1. William Cameron Menzies, 1939, technical spectacular Gone With the Wind – the high water mark of studio set design including Tara’s mansion to the burning Atlanta built on David O Selznick’s studio lot.

  2. Richard Sylbert’s 1970 Chinatown obsessed with authenticity and grit so filmed sets on location.
    The films of Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas soar to the heavens and cling to the earth. He renders magisterial themes - death, sex, love, fidelity and redemption - with a sharp, appraising eye for the banal. He only uses natural sounds, light and scenery. In Silent Light, he avoids professional actors, preferring real ordinary people.

  3. Rick Carter, the computer enhanced Jurassic Park where computers have replaced cialised designers, only to create a whole new field of digital designers who collaboratively craft our collective fantasies. Improved digital technology allows for increasing control over every nuance of sets and designs; some with really deep probing imaginations.

The paramount objective of design is to create verisimilitude; make the fake look real – a deliberate artificiality, to nudge a manipulated audience into willing belief through understanding an associative visual vocabulary and visual references. The audience becomes so taken with special effects, they forget they are watching a movie. From Keeping it Real - Boris Kachka

Structures: (Scaffolding) #

Graphics: Drawings, pictures, photographs, montages, tables, graphs, diagrams, symbols, logos…

Backgrounds: Colour, Black and White, White on Black, texture, materials, - muted colours or intense vivid fluorescent colour. Pale or saturated loud colours.

Here are James Loehlin’s comments on Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet:

The film’s frenzied camera movement, staccato editing and pop music score uses a whole range of self-conscious cinematic tricks and rock-video flourishes. The film reels with hand-held-shots slam zooms and swish pans as well as changing film speeds, jump cuts, and lush, unnatural saturation of colour

Sound Effects: #

It begins and ends as television broadcast, and sets several scenes in an abandoned cinema, the Sycamore Grove. The film features an elaborate sound design with sophisticated layering and sampling, amplified sound effects and a wide range of musical styles, including many alternative pop songs commissioned especially for the film and incorporating lines from the play, such as the pounding hardcore rap of ‘Pretty Piece of Flesh’ by One Inch Punch. This sonic and visual flair is needed to balance out the weaknesses in the film, notably the shortcomings of cast. James N. Loehlin, These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends.

Borders: #

Framing: Centred, off-centre, marginalised, focussed, blurred,

Perspective: #

· Distance, Panoramic or establishment shots,

Panoramic shots are used to establish the overall scene and provide orientation.

Other distant shots can be used to detach us from the characters or to indicate their isolation or loneliness.

Horizontal or level shots,

These are neutral shots and make us equal to the characters.

· Frontal shots.
as long as the character is looking past the camera we are induced to accept and identify with the character. When the character looks at the camera and talks to it, all illusion of immediacy and drama is broken. We now know that we are not voyeurs watching real action.

· oblique (profile) shots

Create the illusion that the character is unaware of us or the camera.

· High (Overshots overhead),

Make the characters look diminutive and we are encouraged to look down on them condescendingly.

· Low angle (Undershots)

Make the characters look larger than life and we look up to them perhaps in admiration.

For illustrations see:

Space and Depth: #

Paintings can build on complex fields of depth and space that allow for multiple perspectives in constituting meaning. Because of the depth, from the foreground to the picture horizon, picture may convey multiple layers of orientation and context.

Editing and Cuts #

The editor controls the sequence of shots, their juxtapositioning, the cross cutting between scenes. These can be done gradually or smoothly or by “Jump cutting” – back and forth quickly. Another device is to split the screen into two or more windows to compare or contrast scenes.

Gaze, -eyes direct/averted, - uplifted/downcast, #

  • Demand/Offer,
  • Confident/Defeated.

For an image of the Mona Lisa see:

In 1974, after a decade of life under military dictatorship, a Brazilian artist named Anna Bella Geiger made a video that runs sixteen minutes, eighteen seconds. It shows her head and upper torso against a white wall. Her expression is neutral, maybe a bit tired. Her eyes don’t seduce or challenge the camera. The camera never moves or cuts away. She doesn’t speak. What statement is Geiger’s Statement in Portrait No. 1 making?

It may simply be: I’m here. I don’t seek your approval.

Superbly curated by Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta, with Marcela Guerrero, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 at the Brooklyn Museum offers an electrifying range of work by 123 artists who have in common a drive to assert the fact of their bodily existence in the world and who expect the world to receive that assertion as a radical political statement. Returning the Gaze, with a Vengeance - Esther Allen

Fashion #

– Costuming, Clothing styles, period pieces, material, neatness, grooming and appropriateness.

Body Language: #

  • deportment,
  • stance,
  • gestures,
  • arms,
  • facial expressions

Vectors: #

  • Invisible lines that divert our eyes to a focal point of attention.
  • Our eyes are trained to look from left to right and top to bottom.

Layout: Arrangement of Page:* #

  • Columns and Boxes

  • Headings and subheadings

  • Font – types, size, Case; upper/lower

  • Subscripts/ Superscript