Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols that originates in linguistics. Signs can be read in many different ways and everyone interprets these signs differently based on their ideological positions. So to put it simply:

  • The sign conveys meaning
  • The signifier is the thing that gives meaning and is also known as denotation
  • The signified is what you make of it in your mind and is also known as connotation

This video taken from ‘The Big Bang Theory is being used a lot for this weeks topic but it is an excellent example of what semiotics is and also helps to explain it a bit more:

This picture taken by Tom Hussey is just one picture from his collection titled ‘Mirrors’.

How we were: An elderly woman clutches a comb for her white hair while the dark-haired reflection of a young school teacher, a notebook and red apple in her arms, reflects back in her mirror

Photo Credit to Tom Hussey

During my first glance at this picture without knowing any background information, I saw what I thought was simply just an elderly woman looking into a mirror and seeing her past life, a younger self, remembering what used to be, therefore the signifier would be the elderly woman’s reflection and the signified would be the conclusion I made from simply looking at the picture.

The truth of this photo is, that it is one of many in Tom Hussey’s collection of photographs with the underlying message of the effects on individuals whom suffer from the debilitating disease, Alzheimer’s which gradually takes a victims newer memories only leaving them with the ones from their youth. In this particular photo the woman still believes she is a young teacher therefore when she looks into her mirror that is what she sees, not the elderly woman she has become. Hussey got the idea for these photographs from a war veteran whom expressed his disbelief in his actual age “he didn’t understand how he could be 80 years old as he felt he was still a young man”.This picture is an example of how signs and symbols are used in photographs to help read the picture in more ways than one.


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