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English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Analysis of Two Images: A case study

Let's now analyse two static images, responding to, interpreting, identifying, describing, discussing, and evaluating the ways verbal and visual features are organised and combined for different meanings, effects, purposes, and audiences in different social contexts.

Firstly, let's turn our attention to a magazine cover.

This New Zealand Listener cover is presented in three clear thirds horizontally, using a common composition principle found in many static images, including magazine covers. (Also quite common is the division into thirds vertically as well, with the main points of interest usually occurring on or near the intersections of the horizontal and vertical thirds.)

The primary colours of red and blue in each third grab our attention first. The title of the feature story "North v South" in a red sans-serif font in the top third catches our eye just before or when we see the flag.

The subheading "Separate countries?" in white is less prominent than the heading in red, and it may or may not gain the reader's attention at first. Its words may seem to tend to exaggeration, but it is expressed as a question, and the white text helps to soften the contrast. It blends into the lighter blue sky and white clouds of the background, on which the darker flag is superimposed.

The New Zealand flag in the central third is red, white, and blue. A flag is a common visual sign that signifies the identity of a particular country and, by doing so, suggests some kind of unity. But this flag has two clearly different colour photographs inset. The words "North v South" help anchor the meaning and reinforce the contrast of the photos. The "v" heightens the contrast by suggesting tension or even conflict. Whether or not the photos are recognised - as Auckland from the waterfront and the Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu - they certainly provide immediate contrasts between city and countryside and business and leisure. But is the choice of photos deliberately exaggerated to show two extremes? Why? What would the effects and meanings have been if a photograph of Christchurch or Dunedin had been used instead of that showing Lake Wakatipu?

We can see that the flag is blowing because its outline is irregular and because the darker blue shows the flag's folds and curls, which obscure one star. The angle of the flagpole from which the flag is flying adds realism and a sense of movement to the whole cover.

The use of red for text in the bottom third, although helping to provide visual balance and harmony, may be confusing. "Readers' Poll: Win a Hong Kong Trip" in red may be connected by the reader to "North v South" and the flag in a way not intended by the cover's originator. Is this issue of the Listener conducting a survey on the north-versus-south issue with a trip as a prize for one of the people who bother to complete it and send it in? Or, even, does the photograph on the left of the flag show Auckland or Hong Kong?

Red bullets are used to separate the short list, in blue, of subjects and contributors in this particular issue of the Listener. The cost and date of the issue are set in a smaller point size but use upper case and black type. The title of the magazine is set in the largest point size on the cover (the keyword Listener, but not New Zealand) and in a serif font. But because the title is in white, it is not as prominent as the other elements referred to, particularly those in the primary colours. The barcode is appropriately tucked away in the bottom left-hand corner.

The colour and style of this cover may well have been used deliberately to promote the Listener for purchase in competition with North and South, a monthly national magazine. It has also to compete with other weekly and monthly publications, including Time and Metro as well as the considerable range that target women as their main audience. How might this cover appeal to the main audiences of the Listener, North and South, Time, and Metro?

Magazine covers undergo regular changes in composition, design, style, and fashion. It is useful to explore visual language by comparing the covers of different magazines, or of the same magazines, over a period of time.

Exploring language content page

Published on: 07 May 2009