A Taxonomy of Visual Grammar

An inspirational tool for image makers, and a cheat sheet for decoding meaning.

What are the effects provoked by the constant bombardment of persuasive visual messages? How can this affect our choices? Does it influence our political attitudes, our lethargy or proactiveness? To foster comprehension we are collecting, describing and organising the elements and rules with which we give meaning to images.

The research started when needing a method to show students that theory and practice are not separate entities. Diving into the characteristics of play and game mechanics, we designed a toolbox that is a game as well as a source of inspiration. Combining rules and genres, the player explores the concepts of visual grammar and experiments with infinite combinations and effects.

An adaptation for children followed, alarmed as we are of the lack of visual education. In a world where we are unknowingly ready to read sequences of images with the logic of their syntax we should aknowledge the ways to use this grammar since primary education.

Another derived was the Taxonomy of visual grammar, a handy cheat sheet.

From being sensitive to inclusivity we became daily activists in countering deniying and racist attitudes. This induced us into looking at how commercial images (the billboard project) might affect our perception, unconsciously processing visual stimuli with meaning. If subliminal perception and visual pre-attentive processing are used in advertising, why aren’t we paying attention to its effects?

From a postcolonial critical approach, we had to consider how the commercial images populate the places where Europe was exploiting the soil and lifes. Because European representation was another way of colonizing the world. Images were used to legitimize colonialism: photography, for instance, portrayed peoples ethnicities to promote the need to bring “civilization” and standardize the world. Visual misrepresentation played an important role in the system of domination, emphasizing differences and comparison with the Western world. Through all kinds of images (book illustrations, maps, paintings, postcards…) the explotators and the consumers grew in their assumptions of superiority. But scientists, artists and photographers encountered resistance in the way things were (the variety of the world does not fit narrow minded white men): “The frustration felt by the colonial photographer in the presence of a veiled woman, Alloula posits, occurs when he realizes that the exoticism he thought he could easily capture resists his lens and desire to uncover the mystery. The veil represents a form of resistance and a symbol of cultural identity that refuses to yield to colonial intrusion.”(El Kaidi, 2019, Alloula 1986.)
Do the indigenous cultures still make it difficult for the intrusion of capitalism? The consumerist way of life (and multinationals) are still colonizing minds and bodies. How do other visual cultures fight this battle? We are discussing this with artists in places like Morocco, where the culture refuses to accept uniformity.

Look At Me

“The gap between the wealth of visual experience in contemporary culture and the ability to analyse that observation marks both the opportunity and the need for visual culture as a field of study ”.

Nicholas Mirzoeff

An interrogation on the persistence of polluting images. Look At Me consists of a growing collection of billboard- photography and social media posts. We edited a video-essay to ignite conversations.

When we move around our cities we see printed faces all around. Our eyes see all the time; only if we are blind we can avoid it. Subliminal messages, constantly seeing misrepresentation and manipulation without any control, alter our sensitivity.
In a more private setting, we imitate the dream of the commercials becoming billboards ourselves. When we dive in the online social media were we participate, the continuum of images (and texts) from our social network is often too intimate, almost pornographic, even paranoid: how did we end up sending messages to our dead parents or unborn children? Can we stop polluting with complacent pictures our “owned”, private spaces?
We stringed together our social media friends, removing their pictures (their visuality), with faces of our commercial friends. Both always present.