Polysemy Images

#17

Assignment 2 Part B
A drunken night in Vegas starts out good ends up bad…

That’s the jist of my random images. At first glance I thought my subjects have got a hard time considering these images as one story but after studying them a bit more a basic story emerges that can be varied in many ways. Factoring in a subject’s upbringing, nationality and basic knowledge of culture and habit allows these varied stories to materialize. You read the images from how you know the world – based on your knowledge as an individual.

One of my pictures – the order of images is irrelevant – is a simple image of balloons. Further analysed however they become pink balloons on a sky blue background. Even further they are a large set of pink balloons about to be let off into the summer blue sky, either intentionally or not. However that is one interpretation – my own – and others may read this differently especially when set adjacent to a different image.
To understand this image initially you must have the knowledge of what balloons are, what colour the sky is and to be able to differentiate between colours. This is the un-coded iconic message, the literally meaning of the image as Barthes explains; these messages are what they are they do not offer anymore than that.


The picture of casino chips and a card from a deck again requires basic knowledge of what these objects are and what they are used for. The connection made usually concludes gambling or a poker, a card game of some sort. The connotations of these signs however can read as a representation of Las Vegas, but to acquire this assumption the reader must have a certain knowledge of a culture that associates with gambling and Vegas. Based on a person’s individual culture and upbringing will determine whether these visual signs will be translated as that conclusion.


Out of the three, the image conveying a jeep angled out of a hole in the sand seems to be the most abstract. It is very open to interpretation and without assistance from the other two images the story from this image could be very vast. Again like the other images a basic knowledge to understand the image must be present in the reader; sand – desert, jeep – off road vehicle, stuck in a hole – trouble.

Part C

The first experiment was a sort of pilot to initially test the grounds of what people read the opening images as. I expected a varied response to the photographs but thought that there may well be a reoccurring theme connecting the stories together.

First response;

Rachel Laing, 19, Design Student, Scottish
– “Reminds me of the film ‘The Hangover’. What starts off as a good night out soon turn’s wild, resulting in the car in the sand.”

Connotations of ‘The Hangover’: A story of a group of guys on a stag weekend to Las Vegas, they gamble, get very drunk and end up in a lot of trouble.

I found this analysis very interesting because not only did the images provoke a story but they also stimulated reference to an existing story. They induced memories. Along with suggestion to a film, this analysis becomes quite literal as she described the car being “in the sand” just as the picture literally depicts.

Ross Lesslie, 22, Design Student, Scottish
-“This is about somebody who likes the partying lifestyle. They seem to gamble and spend all of their money on silly things. This then led them to get stuck in a rut. They are struggling to sort out their life and it is like they are stuck in a hole.”

On the other hand this interpretation takes a more symbolic view of the story. Rather than looking at the literal meaning of the car in the hole, he reads it as a metaphor of being “stuck”, at a dead end in life due to their ignorance of gambling. Both this analysis and the first pick up on the partying and gambling portrayed from the images however both pick up on variations at the same time.

Sarah Mettleton, 20, Design Student, Northern Irish
– “It’s summer again and time for a holiday. Our destination – Las Vegas. Sun, sand and casinos. Everyday was spent sunbathing and the nights spent having fun in casinos. We even won a major prize and celebrated with champagne and balloons.”

This was the first response that highlighted an actual location – Las Vegas. In order to relate gambling to Las Vegas a certain knowledge is required (Barthes reference to the third message) about the culture surrounding this location. It so happens Las Vegas is publicly and famously advertised for gambling and casinos so the knowledge required is not uncommon but still is required to come to this conclusion. To add, this analysis is in ‘story-telling’ form differing from the previous two which follow a more analytical form.

Mark Ward, 23, Chef, Scottish
-“One man, went to Las Vegas for his birthday, lost all his money so decided to drive into a ditch in the desert.”

Again this response picked up on the actual location on the story (Las Vegas) and also follows a similar story to Rachel Laing’s analysis. It doesn’t necessarily mention ‘The Hangover’ but follows that story line. Hint of the ‘story-telling’ form.

Alberto Vantool, 42, Business man, Italian
-“A friend’s birthday to Las Vegas goes horribly wrong as a jeep is stole and police chase it into the desert when they seem to get into a bit of trouble.”

This analysis picks up on the celebratory balloons, the location, and the dilemma faced at the end of the story. Although there is no literally reference to the poker chips and gambling, it is assumed that Las Vegas has connotation of this therefore he feels no need to ‘state the obvious’ as he believes this is common knowledge.

Dorothy Sichi, 49, Literacies Tutor, Scottish
-“… couple on a ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday in the Sahara Desert … huge problems with their vehicle … lost control of it in a bid to escape bandits in … the Sahara. …they had taken part in an impromptu game of poker … When they were finally rescued by the police in a high speed chase… the next time they want to celebrate a birthday they will stay at home… have a huge party with all the trimmings in the safety of their hometown!”

This response was the first to take a different (but not completely) direction. Instead of what was seen as the ‘obvious’ choice in location, the Sahara was chosen, perhaps because this person either wasn’t that aware of Vegas or maybe doesn’t approve of Vegas so subconsciously avoided using it in the story. However they do pick up on the birthday element and also the gambling signals nevertheless varied slightly from the other stories.

Albert Sichi, 57, Learning Assistant, Scottish
-“A man went on an adventure after winning an on line poker competition. He bought an expensive off road car and decided to try it “off road”. He travelled to the Sahara desert where he became a cropper. Unfortunately the only way he could be rescued was by balloon.

The only reaction that came to the conclusion of an ‘online’ casino was the last of the stories. What I find quite ironic is that the eldest of the readers was the only one to suggest what is classed as the ‘new, modern, up-to-date’ version of gambling when students apparently are the generation of next!

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