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Visions, Decoded

inframe article

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From the very outset, Modernity has been operating on an ocularcentric perspective and the notions of vision & visuality occupied a privileged place in the analysis of culture, especially in the 20th century and on: Vision, as a “physical operation” with social and historical dimensions, and visuality, as a “social process” through the involvement of the “body & the psyche”, have both drawn attention to the ways of looking, seeing and watching. Furthermore, they propose through various media new patterns of understanding what is supposed to be a “perception of nature” or a “visual representation” as a visual construction. These media may vary: works of art, film, advertisements, or photography, however they all help in shaping our culture’s visual characteristics – especially, by means of mediasation, where symbolic forms acquire new definitions through the process of commodification and the transmission of its products through a variety of different audiovisual forms and concepts of representation.

" ...[photography] opens the way for a new understanding of the world that surround us."

There is a sense, in which photography represents the contradictory intersection between reality and realism: from the beginning, photographers influenced by pictorialism staged a set of dreamy theatrical canvases full of symbolism and grace, while some decades later, Malinowski, an exceptional anthropologist, sensed the valuable use of photography as an important medium for ethnographic research. Throughout the 20th century, photography, through many manifestations in ads, in the press, as a historical exhibit, or, in the galleries, opens the way for a new understanding of the world that surround us. It is true that one might suppose that photographs are records of images done with a camera and accomplished with a specific chemical and printing process. However, with its own rhetoric and representations, these records are also charged with the very notion of temporality and causality.

As Barthes points out, what he actually intentionalizes in photography is “Reference” and not Communication or Art. Reference for something “that-has-been”, as a superimposition of both the present and the past tense. It may be situated in different temporal loci, but it is also rich in providing us with specific preferred “readings”, which we are called to decode. Taking advantage of the intertextual dimensions of the image’s form and of its subject-matter, we are called to discover the way a photograph is constructed through an articulation of meanings and their interrelations, colors and shapes, aesthetics and ideology.

"It is not only what we see, it is also what we are able or allowed to see."

It is not only what we see, it is also what we are able or allowed to see. "Visions, decoded” aspires to present some of the current trends in photography through a presentation of respective artists and their work, not solely on a critical basis, but aiming at outlining their aesthetic context and the way they conform or not to modern aspects of visuality.


  • J. B. Thompson, Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication, (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1990).

  • Hal Foster (ed.), Vision & Visuality, (Seattle, Bay Press, 1988).

  • Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, (New York, Hill and Wang, 1981).

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Ursula-Helen Kassaveti (photo by Vivi Kaparou) was born in Athens in 1980. She holds a B.A. in Literature (University of Athens, Athens School of Philosophy), a M.A. in Cultural Studies (University of Athens, Department of Communication and Mass Media) and a Ph.D. in Film, Genre Theory and Sociology at the same department. Her research interests revolve around Popular Culture (film/music), Visual Ethnography, and Cultural Studies. She has been a post-doc researcher at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where she co-taught the undergraduate module “Social History of Mass Media” (2015) and is now a research fellow at University of Patras. She has made various announcements in international and Greek conferences and has published articles and a monography on film and media. She teaches “Discourse and Visual Analysis” and “Greek Film & Culture” at “Kostis Palamas” Longlife Education Program at the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens.


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