Professional / Visual Arts & Film Studies Essay


Perspective on Visual Culture: Sex, Race, and Power

This course is a study of images and how they convey meaning. It focuses on introducing students to the analysis of images from photography, art, film, video, electronic media, and advertising. Doing this provides a strong foundation for students majoring in media-related courses such as art, electronic media, communication, journalism, graphics, marketing, theatre, photography, and all the field where visual communication is needed.

The widespread popularity and influence of visual media in the world today makes it necessary to have a full understanding of the field and the critical roles it has played in shaping our values, ideas, opinions, and beliefs as a society. From the news that appears on the TV to the music videos, the movies, and lots more visual media content that is now available on the internet. There is a proliferation of visual content at such a pace that it is hard for any consumer to keep up. More than any other, visual content catches our attention faster and has played a significant role in shaping the orientation of society and the overall visual culture.

Analysis of Visual Media

Analyzing visual content such as documentary, film, photography, or any visual artifact is concerned about how the media conveys its message rather than the message it says itself. Analysis establishes the process of creating visual media and how that particular process contributes to the meanings and messages it conveys and makes arguments in relation to the creator of the media and the audience it was intended for the representations in the media content and the actual reality that exists. The goal of any visual media analysis is not to touch on every element in work but rather to discuss the ones that help the work pass across a particular message. (Lumen)

Visual Culture

Visual culture has been in existence as long as culture itself has been and is used to refer to a specific aspect of culture in general. It has developed as a culture also developed. However, as an academic discipline, it has only been in existence for a short period. In the 1990s, visual culture and the effects on all aspects of our society become a subject of concern in the academic field. One could say the emergence of visual culture as an academic field implies the emergence of a new set of problems in our society and the quest to find answers to these problems.

Visual culture covers a wide range of objects. It is defined as the visual events where the consumer expects information, pleasure, or meaning in an interface with visual technology. The dynamism of the visual culture's technological components and the desire to redefine what falls under the visual category means that visual culture overlaps with technology and science. Visual culture has always played a major role in social control because the images we see always have an impact on us.

Importance of visual culture

The things we see and how we see it extends beyond the natural ability to see. They represent how our society and how the systems of desires, forms of knowledge, and power strategies have been organized. What we see is truly a perception of the way things are.

In a world where art and media are constantly created and redefined to reflect cultural shifts, visual culture gives full insight into how it all works. It opens our eyes to the ideas loaded in everything we see, beyond the mere visual representation itself.

Visual Culture and Race

The industrialization and computerization age of Europe and America did not develop out of a vacuum but based on specific actions that can be traced to the colonization, slavery, and imperialism. The development of these different forms of racism has its visual component. This is best captured with the work of Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida where he focuses on the essence of photography while discussing a photograph of a slave auction that got lost. While Barthes ignores the social condition of that time to focus on a lost photo, it goes without saying that this technology emerged at a time in history where people were treated in the society based on their physical appearance. Today, one of the major subfields in visual culture is visual analysis in relation to race, imperialism, and colonization.

Visual Culture and Sex

Another area where visual culture has played a significant role is sexuality and gender. Scholars, most of whom are film theorists, have carried out extensive research on the visual field and its influence on gender and sexuality. One of the most famous works on this subject is Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey. This work analyzed the development of pleasure in looking, medically known as ‘scopophilia’ in Hollywood. She focused on the particular image of a woman that Hollywood narrative cinema has developed and seems to reinforce. A woman exists in patriarchy culture as a symbol of men's desire and how a man can live his obsession or fantasies. She comments in her work that the cinema functioning as an advanced system for representation raises the questions of how the unconscious structures the ways of seeing as well as the pleasure in looking. (Mulvey, 1985). The book was an attack on the movie industry act of satisfying and reinforcing the male ego by maintaining and even possibly, intensifying the patriarchal society's domination and exploitation of women.

Visual culture and power

The visual culture also plays a significant role in the power struggle of today's world. Media has always been one of the ways through which those in authority exert their influence on the masses.


There is a common view among social justice advocates that the dominant media exercise a draconian and usually sexist and racist power. To fight back, there have been various visual resistance, such as the Third Cinema Movement, French New WaveVisual Culture, etc.

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