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Visual Culture Communication Culture
Visual communication is gaining more importance and relevance due to the preference that is given due to its easily digestible and simple content that appeals to people’s emotions. More reactions and engagements are gained by pictures, videos and photo albums in comparison with content that does not use images. The breakdown of data using visuals, and infographics popularity have gone up in the digital era due to the increased speed of information consumption (Howells and Negreiros,2012). Images also appeal to the perception of the credibility of the person who is delivering the message and the believability of the message that is being conveyed. Using photos tend to make the news that is being communicated more credible as compared to not using them. Visual communication plays an important role especially when communication is between different countries and cultures (Jenks, 2002).
Propaganda alludes to a communication form used in an attempt to achieve a specific response to further a particular interest of the propagandist. Images are increasingly being used in modern times to share propaganda and they are becoming very powerful tools. Especially in an age where social media has taken over the world more explicit propaganda and photos are being used in social media platforms that appeal to millions of users around the world. Visual framing of events has been found to have a significant influence on the emotions of the viewers and it has had a significant influence on the communicative quality. There are a lot of situations in the modern world where propaganda is used by different factions to promote their interests. This includes various government entities that use the media for propaganda purposes. Using propaganda has been part of the history of mankind since ancient Greece. However, there has been a lot of developments that have affected the tools of communication thus influencing the techniques used in spreading propaganda (Winkler and Dauber, 2014).
Using Visuals in Propaganda
Propaganda efforts have been hugely successful in the recent past due to the use of visuals to communicate information. To capture the public attention and crystalize the sentiments of the people the use of images is emphasized. In the recent past, there has been an increase in the use of images by political leaders who aim to share their ideologies with the people as they have discovered that this will go a long way in shaping the perception of the people thus working to the benefit of the politicians (Seo and Ebrahim, 2016). The political agenda in the past was projected using fine arts, film and photography to spread visual propaganda. Most countries in the world are currently applying the use of social media that is visual focused to cultivate a countries perception that is more positive aimed at boosting their image in the eyes of foreign publics.
There has been significant growth in user-friendliness and popularity of cameras as well as technology thus increased the use of visual media to appeal to various interests. There has been widespread use of various platforms especially social media to spread images especially in times of conflicts by propagandists. An example conflicts between Israel and Hamas where both sides use graphic internet videos and photos to justify their actions. There are interesting similarities and differences that were used by both sides to promote their political interests and agendas (Seo, 2014). This was also witnessed in the 2011 uprisings in Syria that had resulted in conflicts. The countries government made efforts in support of its narrative that the president was a leader who was fearless using visual frames. Besides, visual frames were also used to show the world that the president was protecting the people and that life in the country was normal. On the other hand, the country’s opposition made efforts to falsify this by using images of the brutality of the Assad’s regime and how the citizens in the country were suffering as a result of his ruthless way of ruling. This resulted to significant differences being observed in terms of the reactions to the various images that were used, as well as great confusion of what was the exact situation in the country. The spread of propaganda involves using photos and images, as well as using various captions to create illustrations that appeal to people’s emotions and perceptions with regards to a specific issue (Beudert, 2008). Photos represent real images that have been captured whereas illustrations allude to the creation of images by enhancing them using graphic and enhancement software. This involves the distorting of facts to make them appear in the way that you perceive will have the desired impact on the audience. The propaganda frame used may be emotional or analytical when using the visual mode of communication. Analytical frame involves the use of factual elements to convey the message on the actual situation thus appealing to the reactions of the audience based on the true situation. On the other hand, some factions use a propaganda frame that is emotional to increase the effectiveness of the messages that are received by the intended audiences. An example is the use of images showing injured or dead people to appeal to people’s emotions. Visual propaganda is mainly used to call for action in the modern world by sending messages that call for action by a specific audience. In the age of digital media, photos are accompanied by captions and are used as a propaganda tactic to appeal to a certain reaction from people.
There has been heightened sophistication in strategies that have been crafted to make online appeals by people and groups who want to push for specific agendas. The messages that are being sent have gained much clarity and are boldly sent out to audiences. The propaganda efforts using images and photos are ever-improving and they are gaining more ability to engage the minds and the hearts of the target audiences. The development in technology has highly assisted this cause as there is an improved ability to interfere with and creating images that fit the intention of the person that is using the visual images to communicate. The intention of the propagandist is easily achieved due to the new ways and fitting technology to help in persuading the audience.
Visual Propaganda by Extremists
In addition to increasing the number of people that a message reaches and the attention, recalling of messages is also heightened by visual images especially in persuasive campaigns. In case there is any kind of conflicting information the audience has more ability to recall images. The new revolutionaries have employed the use of efforts to foster visual propaganda specially to achieve social transformation or start a revolution. Propaganda is mostly applied in deceiving rather than persuading. Thus, the use of images in most cases is to prevent false information and not true information to sway their perceptions to pull them towards the thinking and the interests of the propagandist. The intention is to manipulate the beliefs of others and inducing action which will benefit the propagator by ensuring that the wrong or manipulative message is drilled into the heads of the intended audience. This drives the audience towards accepting the message sent by the propagandist voluntarily and influences them to agree on the course of action that is suggested by the propagandist. Use of visuals promotes all these efforts due to the ability to capture more attention and convincing more people to believe of the state of affairs as they are represented by images which in most cases are altered using the modern technology (Mitchell, 2002). It is also difficult to distinguish between what is the true visual presentation and what is false especially considering the advanced use of the modern technology by individuals and groups to promote their interests (Warr et al., 2016).
Visual propaganda has been boosted by the modern-day online environment as a mobilizing tool for raising resources, and a channel of legitimizing actions by individuals or groups across countries and societies. Visual communication has been highly effective in reaching target audiences and appealing to their sympathy, and intimidate individuals and groups by opponents who may be having opposing views. The use of visual media to connect and make these appeals have been largely unethical as individuals and groups try to falsify the reality to attract attention and to achieve their interests.
Beudert, L., 2008. Spectacle pedagogy: Art, politics, and visual culture: A. A Review Essay.
Howells, R. and Negreiros, J., 2012. Visual culture. Polity.
Jenks, C. ed., 2002. Visual culture. Routledge.
Mitchell, W.J., 2002. Showing seeing: a critique of visual culture. Journal of visual culture, 1(2), pp.165-181.
Seo, H. and Ebrahim, H., 2016. Visual propaganda on Facebook: A comparative analysis of Syrian conflicts. Media, War & Conflict, 9(3), pp.227-251.
Seo, H., 2014. Visual propaganda in the age of social media: An empirical analysis of Twitter images during the 2012 Israeli–Hamas conflict. Visual Communication Quarterly, 21(3), pp.150-161.
Winkler, C.K. and Dauber, C.E., 2014. Visual propaganda and extremism in the online environment. Army War College Carlisle Barracks Pa Strategic Studies Institute.
Warr, D., Waycott, J., Guillemin, M. and Cox, S., 2016. Ethical issues in visual research and the value of stories from the field. In Ethics and visual research methods (pp. 1-16). Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Power to the pictures: The evolution of propaganda
From ancient carvings to Norman tapestries, political portraits to public health posters, propaganda has taken man forms over the centuries. Holly Williams charts its evolution
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:10
Power to the pictures: The evolution of propaganda
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Propaganda has become something of a dirty word. Until the end of the 19th century, it held a neutral meaning, true to its Latin route: the propagation of a particular doctrine or practise. Today, propaganda holds implicitly political – and negative – connotations. It’s something our enemies use against us.
But when we think of propaganda, we may also think of a certain visual style: the propaganda poster, using a modernist aesthetic – all bold block colours, strident text and simple imagery – to convey a crude but effective message.
Visual imagery has long been used to convey a persuasive message, from the Mesopotamian relief carvings advertising a victorious battle in 2250 BC to the Bayeux Tapestry propagating the Norman take on 1066 to Napoleon’s keen grasp of the power of a good portrait. But visual propaganda as we tend to think of it didn’t kick off until the time of the First World War, when the political poster was born.
The impact of striking images and simple slogans was harnessed for the war effort, and a secret propaganda bureau was established in Wellington House in London to encourage enlistment at home, and to aid the cause in America. Chunky text – “Help Stop This”, “Women of Britain Say ‘Go!'”, “Fight for the Dear Old Flag” – sat above cartoon-simple images, in bright primary colours or nostalgic sepias.
Graphic art also proved a vital tool during the Russian Revolution. Avant-garde artists were quick to lend their skills to the Agitational-Propaganda Section of the Central Committee of the Communist party (Agitprop), and images were deemed crucial for spreading the message to the illiterate working classes. This gave rise to Constructivism, the Russian school of “production art” that embraced machine-age design functionality and ditched the decorative. Simple flat colours, short, sharp slogans, geometric shapes and diagonal lines combined to produce bold images that are now often celebrated as works of art in their own right.
Colin Moore is the author of a new book, Propaganda Prints, which brings together a history of visual propaganda, from its earliest incarnations to the iconic, bold prints we associate with similarly bold political messages. “An effective piece of propaganda is often also a striking piece of art,” says Moore, whose own background is as a “visual communicator”: he’s worked as an architect, brand consultant and print maker. “I think the Russian Constructivists were geniuses – I kept finding images and thinking ‘this is fantastic’.”
But even if it has value as art, propaganda always has a purpose too – and often a sinister one. The Nazis were alive to the possibilities and importance of propaganda, with Hitler devoting two chapters of Mein Kampf to the topic and employing Joseph Goebbels as propaganda minister. As Moore writes, Hitler insisted that “visual presentation was of fundamental importance. So it was that Nazism, as brutal and depraved a regime as the world has ever seen, was provided with one of the most effective corporate identities ever devised.” Both abstract and associative symbols were utilised – eagles, swastikas, flags. In the 1930s, the regime even had a favoured Germanic typeface – Fractur Blackletter – which lent visual drama to basic imperatives.
In 1966, the Cultural Revolution launched by the Chinese Communist Party also got in on the poster-printing act, the enthusiastic young Red Guards plastering propaganda posters on walls, windows and pavements. The most prominent image was of Chairman Mao himself, standardised and repeated endlessly. Sunbeams frequently shot off him; one poster called Mao “the reddest reddest sun in our hearts”, and showed his face shining down onto a cheery crowd of arm-band wearing youngsters.
Elsewhere, however, the emotive impact of a strong image was being used not by governments, but by counter-cultural groups. Opposition to the war in Vietnam was driven by media reporting: photographic images brought home the true horror of war in way never before experienced. One chilling poster by the Art Workers Coalition printed a quote from an interview with a soldier – “Q. And babies? A. And babies” – over an image taken by photographer Ronald Haeberle at the My Lai massacre, showing slaughtered South Vietnamese women – and babies. The shock of My Lai proved a crucial turning point in American feeling about the war; such simple text and gut-wrenching images proved impossible to ignore.
“Many images in the book are key images which really changed things,” says Moore. “Some are great works of art, but sometimes they change things because the content is so powerful – like the image of the victims of the My Lai massacre.”
Propaganda isn’t just political, however. While today the term is used quite narrowly, Moore suggests that actually “propaganda is any type of targeted information with a purpose which benefits the sender not the receiver.” He includes advertising images, promotional posters, and health and safety campaigns in his collection, which reflect the interplay between political and commercial “propaganda” in terms of design. American and British health and safety posters from the 1930s and 40s, while not exactly seen as art in their moment, now seem like exemplary Modernist pieces. They exhibit the influence of Agitprop and other political prints, even if their slogans are a little more prosaic, or even amusing: “Keep Your Teeth Clean”, “Prevent Syphilis in Marriage”, “Wear Goggles or Use the Screen”.
As the areas of marketing, advertising and public relations developed throughout the 20th century, the lessons learnt from political propaganda weren’t lost on those industries. Pictures and photographs are powerful tools to make us think or feel a certain way – or buy into a certain product and lifestyle. Edward Bernays, credited as the father of PR, even unabashedly entitled his 1928 book ‘Propaganda’.
But more recently we’ve gone full circle; artists are subverting advertising conventions to make political statements. Consider the poster which turned the Coca Cola ad into an ironic tourism slogan: “Enjoy Sarajevo”, in 1993, or Forkscrew Graphic’s “iRaq” poster, morphing the well-known iPod adverts into an anti-war statement.
And if you thought the heyday of the traditional political print was over, don’t forget the American election. The “Hope” poster, featuring a stylised stencilled image of Barack Obama, self-consciously utilised the classic features of a good prop print: bold lines, primary colours and a simple slogan. But in the digital age, the visual interplay didn’t stop there. The image was endlessly copied, parodied and satirised by both supporters and dissenters, and quickly spread across the uncensored internet.
It’s become easier than ever to disseminate imagery – but we’re also increasingly surrounded by commercial “propaganda” and advertising. “The internet and social media are really changing the game,” says Moore. “We’re probably touched by hundreds of images every day, all propaganda of one kind or another. Propaganda has helped define our lives, and it’s everywhere now: we just don’t call it propaganda.”
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