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Analysing Pictures

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Analysing pictures

1. Four-step analysis All kinds of pictures, from oil paintings to pencil sketches, can be analysed using the following four steps. They will help you to deal with a picture systematically, so that no important aspect is left out.

Step 1: Introduction – basic information • Your introduction should answer the following questions: • Where is the image from? Who made it and when? • What type of image is it? • What does the image (roughly) show? • Why was it drawn/taken?

Step 2: Description
Look at the picture carefully, then describe it systematically, e. g.: • from the centre to the corners • from the foreground to the background • from the left to the right (or the other way round) • from the top to the bottom (or the other way round)
Don’t forget to look at details: • the setting (place and time) and/or the situation • the quality of the picture (clear or blurred, realistic or abstract, etc.) • the striking features of the objects • the characters, e. g. their appearance and body language (facial expressions, gestures, postures)

Step 3: Analysis • Does the image transport a message/have an intended effect? • Which pictorial elements are used to get the message across/to produce the effect? • How do the different elements interact?

Step 4: Evaluation • Do you think that the image is effective in getting the message to the target group? • Does it use suitable means for doing so? • What effect does the image have on you?

2. Photographs, paintings and drawings Pictures include drawings, paintings and photographs, but of course each of these categories can be specified further:

Drawings: pencil/charcoal/ink drawing; portrait, caricature, cartoon, …
Paintings: watercolour/oil painting; portrait, landscape painting, still-life, …
Photographs: black and white/colour photograph, …

Useful phrases:

I. Describing positions i. in the middle/centre ii. at the top/bottom iii. on the left/right iv. in the top right-hand corner v. in the bottom left-hand corner vi. in the background/foreground

Tip: When describing what people are doing in a picture, always use the present progressive: The woman on the left is entering a shop

II. Describing pictures i. The picture shows/depicts/sends an indirect message/captures a key moment/makes an appeal … ii. It conveys the impression that … iii. An element of the photo has the effect that …/indicates or represents sth/is a sign that … iv. The artist aims to present …/creates an atmosphere of … v. The photo appeals/does not appeal to me. vi. In my opinion, the picture is effective/convincing/… vii. All pictorial elements support …/contribute to … viii. The photo touches me/leaves me cold because … ix. It visually describes …/makes a problem visuable.

3. Cartoons A cartoon is a humorous drawing that critically deals with a current news item, i. e. it responds to a topical event. It often contains some text, e. g. speech/thought/sound bubbles and/or a caption (text under the picture). A cartoon is critical of people or institutions in the news, topical events or new trends/ideas (its target) and usually makes a one-sided point (its message). It usually combines visual techniques (e. g. caricaturing a person or using objects with a symbolic meaning) with verbal humour (wordplay, irony …) (its devices). ‘Cartoon’ can also mean a series of drawings inside the boxes that tell a (short) story (=comic strip), or a short animated film, such as “Tom and Jerry”.

Introducing cartoons The cartoon • was drawn by [name of cartoonist]. • was published/appeared in [newspaper] on [date]. • was created in response to [a news item]. • shows/presents/depicts/deals with/alludes to/refers to/criticises [an event/crisis/trend/…]. • is directed at/comments on/targets [an attitude, policy …] The message of the cartoon is clear: It aims to show that … The key point the cartoon is trying to make is to expose the fact that … The cartoonist criticises … for doing sth/makes fun of …

Describing cartoons The cartoon • consists of/is made up of … several pictorial elements/speech or thought bubbles/a caption • is divided into … The caption • is a comment/statement by … • states that …/reinforces the cartoonist’s message that … • is unexpected/short and sweet/ironic.

Analysing cartoons The cartoon expresses sth/points out that … An element in the drawing represents/stands for/symbolises …/is exaggerated/stressed. A character is a caricature of/the stereotypical … A character is caricatured/ridiculed as … The humour lies in the difference/misunderstanding/discrepancy/contrast/parallels between … and …

Evaluating cartoons The cartoon achieves its aim of [doing sth]. It skilfully/effectively … The point/message of the cartoon is lost on me/fails to work for me because … The cartoon appeals/does not appeal to me. In my opinion it is • detailed/well-made/very clear/effective/of high quality/convincing … • simplistic/confusing/unfair/exaggerated/……...

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