Understanding cultural identity and visual communication in the appropriation of iconic photojournal



Photography, Film & Multimedia


  • social learning, cultural influence, visual communication


Modern society experiences the world predominantly through their eyes and the recognition of vision‘s unique power has led to the development of many new forms of visual communication. Photojournalism is a relatively 'young' form of visual communication; however, photojournalists appreciate that a single iconic image may convey a common understanding of an entire event. It is the aim of the paper to review how the appropriation of an iconic image may suggest original associations, particularly within a South African context.

In their book No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy, Hariman and Lucaites (2007) synthesize ideas from visual studies, communication studies, the study of political rhetoric and public culture as well as previous analyses of iconic photojournalism. They use this foundation as a point of departure to build a comprehensive theoretical/interpretive framework for explaining the role of iconic images in American social consciousness, civic identity, and political affiliation. In order to contextualise the reading of the appropriated image this paper reflects on how these authors have reviewed appropriated versions of the iconic photograph Flag Raisings at Iwo Jima. Appropriated versions of Sam Nzima‘s iconic photograph of Hector Pieterson are then reviewed to determine how appropriation of the image reflects on particularly South African society.

Robert Hariman and John Lucaites (2007:180) state that ―the iconic photograph is not concerned with informing the public, but rather that it offers a performance of social relationships that provides a basis for moral comprehension of and response to what is already known

In its appropriated form the iconic image has the ability to transcend the boundaries of the photographic form to be presented for example in advertising, cartooning, as a statue, replayed in film and artistically represented. It therefore becomes a malleable visual communication source. The significance of this paper lies therein that the findings reveal a deeper understanding of the role of the image as a frozen moment with the ability to become a crucial resource for reflecting on society at a particular point in time as well as to link to a common source of identity within the South African perspective.

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