Denotations and Connotations of a “Complex Image” and how perception changes description

Yes, I know. I have chosen one of the most widely speculated and debated image from this century. Tank Man. However if you set aside my obvious lack of creativity and will to actually find a more “unique” photo and let me explain myself I might not come across so basic and, lets be frank, boring.

So, what does this image denote? Well to understand the context behind this we need to travel back in time to the magical time where all Chinese citizens could speak freely, have an original thought and the government absolutely didn’t monitor and control every day life…

If you strip away my pathetic sarcasm, this photo was taken in June 1989 and depicts an unknown man holding shopping bags, blocking the path of Chinese Military armoured tanks, yes one guy holding some milk stoped 4 death machines. The military were sent to break up the student let demonstrations in Tiananmen Square when this man suddenly appeared. The man was never identified and many band wagons full of half baked theories suggest that he was taken and killed for his act of unadulterated defiance against his “beloved” government.

This photo became such an iconic part of history as it gave momentum to the idea that one person can provoke change, especially in a country that was still licking its wounds from the communist regime led by Mao that has crumbled not ten years earlier. Although the mans efforts had no effect the positive message it sent around the world for the “power of one” gave this photo significance that one could never have imagined.

Like all images however, depending on a range of factors like race or religion all the way to where you stand in the complex political landscape, it can be viewed and interpreted in different ways which changes how it is received and ultimately the message it sends.

So now, to stray away from the theme of this site entirely, we need to actually attack the question at hand from a more “educational” standpoint. Can this image be viewed differently? Well in my opinion it can be and the reason for this is purely because of context. Without the context I have already given you many more assumptions could have been made about this image. It could have been just a man getting in the way of a countries evolution? A man who is blocking the military from saving thousands of people? Who knows, there are endless possibilities with the power of the human mind and the imagination it possesses. My point therefore is complex images like this, without context or any prejudice, can be seen in a totally different light.

One thought on “Denotations and Connotations of a “Complex Image” and how perception changes description

  1. Such an iconic image and great choice (not boring at all!). I haven’t looked into the context of this image and have assumed it symbolized rebellion against military institutions. I like how you have given a multitude of examples how this photo could be interpreted for others without context and it is interesting learning the length to which the “positive” message of the “power of one” was spread. That really emphasizes, for me, the potential and capacity that images have to impact. I was wondering whether or not you thought of the tanks in this image as “death machines” before or after you learned of the context, and if before, why?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s