Representational Photography

This essay sample on Representational Photography provides all necessary basic information on this matter, including the most common “for and against” arguments. Below are the introduction, body and conclusion parts of this essay.

So what is special about this photo? In Semiotics this picture is identified as a Representational photograph which ‘present us with a problem because they often appear to have been caused by real events’ (Sean Hall 2007, 16) The use of semiotics in this picture had enabled viewers to understand the perception of the “real word”.

It gave them an idea of what the life is like in countries where majority people and animals are famine.

Kevin Carter knew that this picture was going to be tensioning because the child in the photo was innocent, poor, fragile, hopeless and powerless. The existence of vulture hoping to make a dinner from toddler’s flesh is worrying because the child will be its prey, which is unbearable for humankind. Normally the vultures in poor countries often in African continent are responsible for cleaning the environment and they are valued for their existence because government is incapable of completing this duty.

Theoretically Kevin Carter had captured a moment where he suggests what might have come before the moment and what might occur after it. The stillness of the action is the concept that creates narrative tension and expectation.

Starving Child And Vulture Analysis

With effective analysis of a picture with semiotics; this photograph would highlight the very real and disturbing difference between how we might feel about an image of an actual death.

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Vultures are incapable of killing a prey on their own. This is the main reason why Kevin Carter put two living entities in one frame as both are incapable and in need of food in order for them to survive. They are both fighting for their existence. The girl is short distance away from the camp but does not seem to have the potential to carry on. The posture of the little girl signifies that her power has come to an end and about to loose the battle of clinging to the life. An effective interpretation of signs enables viewers to understand the idea that is tried to be communicated.

Another connotation the viewers get from this picture is the effect of Humanitarian disaster. In Africa the main natural disaster is draughtiness. The picture was taken in a sunny day which gives the viewers assumption that Sudan is more like a desert where it’s very hard to improve the area for the benefit of Sudanese residents. In this perception the use of semiotics enables viewers to understand that the current situation is getting worse day by day and something must be done.

This photo brings anxiety to the viewers when the use of semiotics comes into play to explain how this meaning is produced from signs and codes in the frame i.e. the girl, the vulture, the dried crops and the soil. In detail the dried crops on the background are a sign which gives this notion to the viewers of struggling abandoned area. In relation to this Global warming is another connotation which might be an assumption that is grown up around the signs such as dried soil emphasises that there hasn’t been a drop of rain at Sudan for a very long time. Realistically in Semiotics terms a failure to detect the casual link between the signifier and the signified is important when we realize that a failure can result in mortal danger.

The posture of the scrawny girl enables viewers to think deep and encourages viewers to ask them selves the question of ‘what are the odds the little girl is alive today?’ They then reach the conclusion that she is probably dead or if she is alive she probably has permanent damage after encountering such a difficult time of starvation. In this picture with the use of semiotics, mystery gives the readers a place for speculation. Kevin Carter uses a narrative moment of life which the viewers can only wonder.

Others put themselves in Kevin Carters shoes. There have been so many arguments that the photographer should have intervened as soon as possible instead of taking the photo and literally it’s one of the theories of his ultimate death. The difficulty position of the little girl could also be blamed on civil war that has been continuing for twenty-five years. Her parent’s absence gives the viewers a thought that they have been a victim of violence or an infection of deadly disease which is another big causal of death in Sudan.

Here we realise the value and effectiveness of Semiotics which allows the readers to see and understand how meaning is built and passed over in a visual image of Kevin Carters award winning photograph. In addition it enables the viewers to think about range of meanings and attributions that are offered from mixtures of signs in the frame. This image brings doubt to Theist viewers, whether if God exists or not.

The posture of Sudanese girls is the sign that brings tension to the ongoing arguments of existence of god. If there is a god, it would not allow the sweet innocent girl to be in this sickening situation which outrages the viewers. At ideological level of this picture some people remember the stupidity of mankind. Instead of money being spent on weapons and war it would be very favourable to stop millions of both human and animals suffer unbearably daily. Therefore an effective use of semiotics enables viewers to realise their own action and encourages them to change their attitude towards factors. For example from Kevin Carters Picture a final thought of ‘Unfortunate Africa’ is evoked which encourages viewers to be more charitable and active for an improvement towards poverty.

But on the other hand William Leiss argued that effective analysis of media depends on individuals personal skills ‘….can do little more than state the obvious in a complex and often pretentious manner’ (Leiss et al. 1990, 214). This would mean that semiotics would not be very useful for some individuals as it does not provide any benefit to them of analysing a picture more effectively. In this instance “our ability to decode and interpret a message depends very much on what we know about and how we judge”. (Sean Hall 2007, 32)

Semiotics can also persuade individuals to make wrong analysis of a media source. The destination is the end point in the journey of the message which could mean that the message can be altered during its journey because of an ambiguity in its expression. Theoretically Dominic Strinati concluded that the relationship between signifiers and signified may be ‘ontologically arbitrary but not socially’. Strinati, Dominic (1995, 125).

Realistically a bunch of roses could signify passion between two lovers. If it’s interpreted this way, an individual would be bias on the social relationship which the sign is located. For example they could have in fact been sent as an insult, joke, harassment and so on. In this example semiotics cannot be regarded as a useful approach to the analysis of the media because people could make interpretation which would change their attitudes and behaviours towards certain concepts. Another disadvantage of semiotics is that there is no final conclusion of a visual image. There are so many ideas evoked from the picture which confuses the individual’s belief. In this example it brings doubt to the individual which makes them uncomfortable. In simple terms individuals are not determined by semiotics process but are shaped by them.


Semiotics can be regarded as crucial skill for people who want to understand the complexity and accurate analysis of media which is an important feature of the modern world. Those who doesn’t have this essential skill are in danger of those skilled ones, where there own opinions will manipulate them. Bill Nichols has made this clear in one his books ‘As long as signs are produced, we will be obliged to understand them. This is a matter of nothing less than survival’ (Nichols 1981, 8). Given that media is the central concept of communication, people now make more accurate analysis of visual and textual language compared to old times.

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Representational Photography. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Representational Photography
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