Representation – Stuart Hall.

In my APT with Anthony, he advised me to research representation. This is important as essentially I will be ‘representing’ Seasonal Affective Disorder and by researching it I will be able to get a good understanding in order to help me present my work appropriately.

The book begins by discussing a number of meanings for the term ‘culture’ with what I felt the most relevant being “in a more ‘social science’ context, the word ‘culture’ is used to refer to whatever is distinctive about the ‘way of life’ of people, community, nation or social group.”(Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: XVIII). “Culture is about shared meanings” (Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: XVII) and these meanings are created through representation, whilst representation is created through the meaning behind particular things which we know and recognise through a system of signs. It goes on to discuss “in any culture, there is always a great diversity of meanings about any topic, and more then one way of interpreting or representing it. Also, culture is about feelings, attachments and emotions as well as concepts and ideas.”(Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: XIX). This made me consider how mental illness can be interpreted in a great number of ways, dependant on whether you are a sufferer yourself, whether someone close to you has suffered or even if you are just an outsider looking in. Sadly, there is also a lot of stigma that comes with mental health, often with people not being able to understand the various illnesses or thinking they are easy to get over. Is it fair to argue that in ‘today’s’ cuture, we have been lead to believe this stigma behind it all because of how it has been represented? I have noticed recently the various campaigns to encourage the discussion of these illnesses rather than suffering alone, but have these always been encouraged? With the misrepresentations created in the first place, it could be argued that these particular attitudes towards them may not change unless someone experienced an illness themselves and the horrific ordeal they can bring. This is a vital reason as to why I have chosen to do my project and challenge this stigma behind mental health through the power of photography.

Hall considers how “we give things meaning by how we represent them”. (Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: XIX). For me and my project this is important because the way I make my images will give them meaning and influence how they are interpreted. I feel that text could also enhance this, as this representation will suggest the text supports the image and allows the viewer to draw on that to create their own opinion.

Hall discusses how “meaning is constantly being produced and exchanged in every personal and social interaction in which we take part”. (Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: XIX). This is an immensely important point for my project as it again highlights importance and purpose of why my decision to attempt this kind of project is vital in challenging the stigma of mental health and how it can be represented negatively. It also brought to my attention how easily the representation of something can be changed – if more people begin talking and sharing their experiences with mental illness the meanings can begin to change, no matter how small.

Another interesting point made in the book which is quite relevant to my photographic practice is how Hall contemplates “is it worth emphasizing that there is no single or ‘correct’ answer to the question, ‘what does this image mean?’…Since there is no law which can garuntee that things will have one, true meaning, or that meanings won’t change over time, work in this area is bound to be interpretative.” (Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: XXV). It shows how powerful the image can be in representing a message but allowing the viewer to absorb and digest it their own way – there is no right or wrong way to read an image. The photographer or artist may have a particular message or meaning they want to share but this doesn’t create limitations to the viewer’s personal translation. Representation encourages us to understand something in a particular way which we are able to do so through the system of signs which we know and recognise in images, as Hall mentions, “visual signs and images, even when they bear a close resemblance to the things to which they refer are still signs: they carry meaning and thus have to be interpreted”. (Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: 5) However, it is our personal opinions and also the culture we are absorbed in which can influence these various interpretations.

Whilst discussing three different ways in which ‘representation of meaning through language works’, Hall talks of the intentional approach where the person suggesting the meaning, such as an author, determines what something means. (Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: 10) He states “our private intended meanings, however personal to us, have to enter into the rules, codes and conventions of language to be shared and understood.” (Hall, Evans and Nixon, 2013: 11) I think this this will be relevant to my project as through my images I will be hoping to represent a particular meaning for the viewer to understand, essentially through ‘my language’. However, I need to make it possible to be read by other people, they must be able to understand my language which is why Hall argues how meanings have to convey to particular regulations to be determined by others. It is important that I make my project relatable, particularly as I am trying to address a message to a wide audience and also because of the ‘new’ representation I am trying to create.

It is important to take these points I have taken from some of the book about representation when creating my body of work for my project. As representation is something we encounter everyday, even how we intend to represent ourselves by wearing certain clothes for example, I think it would be fair to argue that it can often not even be noticed, it has essentially become the norm, it has formed our ‘culture’. Representation is built up through meaning, and meaning is created through the system of signs – this is where it becomes relevant in my practice to photograph in a way that the viewer can recognise these signs and comprehend the representation of SAD. It has also brought to my attention that it is important for me not to misrepresent SAD, it may be viewed as my own interpretation. It also made me consider how will I make it relatable, as previously discussed that private meanings have to meet typical regulations of language to become understandable by others. As a photographer, is it easy for the viewer to be able to understand my thought processes and reasons for representing something in a particular way? As I want to help change the mental stigma of mental, I am addressing a large audience therefore my language has to be suitable for many, something which I had not considered before.

Hall, S., Evans, J. and Nixon, S. (2013) Representation. 2nd edn. London: SAGE.

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~ by victoriasimkissphotography on January 16, 2015.

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