By Charissa Dechène

We live in a hyper visual world and every day we are being confronted with a variety of visual images. These images are mediated, they are indirectly connected to social notions and ideologies. W. J. T. Mitchell, a professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, has argued that to live in any culture is to live in a visual culture. Visual culture should include all human social acts in relation to visual images. Images, he stated are

 ‘go-betweens’ in social transactions, as a repetoire of screen images or templates that structure our encounters with other human beings…these images are the filters through which we recognize and ofcourse misrecognize other people

Visual culture is different ways of seeing, or looking. It is the study of the social construction of the visual field AND the visual construction of the social field (Mitchell 2002).
Seeing is, according to visual culture studies, culturally determined. It is an act which is culturally structured and thus learned and adapted. Nicholas Mirzoeff, a professor of Media Culture and Communication at the University of New York, argued that culture in visual culture should refere to the politics of the act of seeing. We learn how to look at images and form internal thoughts, we are trained how to see things. We have visual literacy.
Just think about how we ‘naturally’ read pictures and advertisements. For example we have learned that the subject in a photograph is usually in the foreground and that two people posing with two children represent a ‘happy’ (nuclear) family.

As a cultural anthropologist with a special interest in media and visual culture I often look at visual images and connect them to wider social constructions, such as gender and politics. By using this blog I want to challenge the way we see everyday visual images.

If you want to contact me, please leave a comment or you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

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