This advert is striking. The framing and point of view is unusual, and the combination of black and white tones with blocks of vivid yellow creates a bold design. But I have mixed feelings about it because I immediately recognize that the style has been ‘borrowed’ from a well-known photographer. That doesn’t mean that the advert isn’t clever, it uses my existing knowledge to add a lot of meaning (connotation) to a very simple set of visual and text cues. As my own experience and knowledge is stimulated by the images I would like to try a small experiment. Before reading the rest of this blog look at the image and make a note of your thoughts and interpretations. It would be interesting to see if they are similar to mine…
The torso and head of a male figure is seen from a low point of view, the Protein World branding surrounds the figure and a small area of white highlights the phrase ‘leading the protein revolution’. The product itself doesn’t strike me as exciting but the signifiers in this advert lead me to I think of the excitement of social and cultural change. Most importantly I see the visual style of Alexander Rodchenko, an innovative Russian photographer working in the first half of the twentieth century. In his ambition to create a new visual style for a new socialist society he pioneered a modernist style of photography and photo-montage.
Pioneer with a Trumpet (1930)
Rodchenko said ‘’we had visions of a new world, industry, technology and science. We simultaneously invented and changed the world around us. We authored new notions of beauty and redefined art itself.” He did this by changing the viewers perspective on the world – showing them everyday subjects but in a new and surprising way. He photographed people from unexpected camera angles, creating strong diagonal lines of sight and off-balance compositions that made the images powerful and dynamic.
Couple Wearing Swimsuits (1932)
Like the man in the Protein World advert the people in Rodchenko’s photographs look strong and vigorous. As viewers we are positioned below them, which is sometimes interpreted as a sign of their superiority. All three of these figures are looking at something out of the frame that we can’t see. Because they are higher up than we are they can see much more than us. I immediately think of the ‘king of the castle’ surveying his land, or conquering forces taking stock of their territory. In Rodchenko’s time it could be a symbol of the ‘vision’ of communism – seeing a better future. This interpretation could also work for the advert, but the male in the image has taken control of his own body and not a country or group of people. In the advert the text closest to the face proclaims ‘beach bodies 2014’. That is the promise for the future, a revolutionary new body shape to show off on the beach – and twitter, facebook and instagram!
The idea of revolution is reiterated in the text ‘leading the protein revolution’. It helps us to read the advert in a specific way by ‘anchoring’ it to a specific one (called anchorage in semiotics). If the gesture, point of view and crop of the figure reminded me of a number of images, the text would help me to think of Rodchenko.
I have described the connotations of this advert using my own knowledge and experience. How effective would it be if I didn’t recognize the style of Rodchenko? In adverts that have a number of different possible readings there are no right or wrong answers, only interpretations. The more we call upon our knowledge and have to ‘work out’ the meaning the more we are actively engaged in the image – and the greater the impact it has on us. This is useful for selling products but other types of photographs can also be decoded in this way – for example, you might want to try it with photographs by Martin Parr and Paul Graham.
Click here for more information on Rodchenko;