Politics of Visuals in decoding Visual Culture

By Richard Howells & Joaquim Negreiros.
Visual Culture. 2012, 2nd edition. Cambridge, Polity Press.
Pp 346, Price: Rs 1752 (paperback)
ISBN-10: 0745650708
ISBN-13: 978-0745650708


Our world is full of images, pictures and visuals. We see them daily, on roads, in museums, on TV, in films etc. Have we ever thought what do they mean? How they are affecting us?  Are they as innocent as they look? Is there any politics behind them? Are they conditioning us in certain ways or affecting our thought process? This book sets you thinking by engaging with such questions. The revised, updated, expanded, second edition of this book, like its predecessor aims at visual literacy which tries to decode the hidden meanings behind the images and how they get transmitted in our culture and consciousness. It is a book which analyses the visuals by using the theories of different disciplines. The whole book revolves around the ‘reality’ around us and its representation through visual art.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section, named ‘Theory’ uses six theoretical approaches to visual analysis in the chapters titled ‘Iconology’, ‘Form’, ‘Art History’, ‘Ideology’, ‘Semiotics’ and ‘Hermeneutics’. The first chapter is about symbolism in the image, the second focusses on the form of the visual art; the third historicizes the individual art form and emphasizes on Art history; the fourth discusses the ideology of the artist; the fifth uses the Structuralist and Post-Structuralist theories and reveals the world of signs and symbols; and the sixth one delves into the discourse of cultural studies and the relation between images and our culture.

The second section of the book explores the relation between different art forms and reality. While the first section of the book deals with the art forms theoretically, the second section is about applying these using the historical and contemporary art forms. This section titled ‘Media’ includes chapters on fine art, photography, film, television and new media. These chapters interrogate the authenticity of art and its relation with reality.

The book widens the critical thinking of the reader as it draws on interventions of philosophers like Kant, Barthes, Bentham, Althusser, Baudrillard, Delueze, Benjamin and Foucault. It discusses the historical and contemporary debates in different areas of art forms using the arguments and perspectives of different scholars without giving conclusive summations. Moreover the interesting examples cover wide ranging topics like CD cover of Beatles’ Abbey Road, Che Guevara in popular culture and criticism of elitism in fine arts.

Visual Culture would be a useful book for students with interdisciplinary interests as it  transgresses the boundaries of disciplines in dealing with politics of visuals from different streams like literature, linguistics, cultural studies, history, sociology, gender studies, religious studies, anthropology, philosophy and psychology. 


Gorvika is Assistant Professor in Rajdhani College, University of Delhi. Her areas of interest include dramatic studies, literary theory and gender studies.