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Text Analysis of an Image ”The Sydney Opera House”

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            We rarely think of the meaning and significance a text carries through describing various images and ideas. The metaphors and metonymies found in any text connected with image description are extremely helpful in understanding how the described object looks, what implication it can deliver to the viewer, and how it can serve the signifier of this or that historical moment. The Sydney Opera House is not an exception: the image of this building is so bright and unique, that hardly anyone will confuse it with any other architectural structure.

            It is written that “the Sydney Opera House is a great architectural work of the 20th century that brings together multiple strands of creativity and innovation in both architectural form and structural design” (Gombrich 1977, p. 103). However, this description is far from sufficient to make us understand how the Opera House looks in reality if we have not ever seen it. It is the overwhelming sign of the whole Australian culture and unique cultural knowledge which is easily identified within the “shells” of its roof. These “shells” have made the Opera House well-known and easily recognizable all over the world. Sometimes it seems that they can be identified with some kind of a “frozen music”. Actually, it is possible to suggest that the image of the Sydney Opera House has given birth to a whole paradigm of associations and connotations. To state that the Sydney Opera House is the icon of Sydney and the whole cultural heritage of Australia means trying to express its significance in several words, which is almost impossible. Moreover, looking at the Opera House’s image, we never think of what its interior contains, because its exterior is what matters for the Australian cultural knowledge.

            The interrelation of the text and the image becomes closer when we describe the image we have seen to those, who have not a single idea of what object we speak. In such situation and in our desire to provide the listener with the best and the closest to reality description of an image, we may use numerous metaphors and metonymies (Gombrich 1977, p. 29). For example, speaking about the image of the Sydney Opera House, we may state that it resembles a white swan ready to fly, with the Opera House’s roof being a symbol of the swan’s wings. The metaphor of “white shells above the water” is very excellently associated with the water which surrounds the Opera House.

            The “shells” of the roofs represent a bright image from any location, and being surrounded by multiple boats and yachts, is harmonically united with them. It can also be associated with a backbone of some ancient mammal having appeared from the water surrounding the Sydney Opera House. It does not really matter which of numerous descriptions one may choose: this does not change the image’s essence. This essence is viewed in the extreme symbolism of the Sydney Opera House to the whole Australian culture. This is why the set of traditional associations is constantly re-filled with the new signs and metaphors in the attempt to represent the best description of Sydney Opera House’s image.

            Fashion shot from “Vogue”

            “Beyond its literal meaning, a particular word may have connotations. In the case of linguistic signs, the denotative meaning is what the dictionary attempts to provide” (Stasz 1999, p. 30). Yet, can we assert that images are traditionally devoid of denotations, providing us with the whole paradigms of connotations which we, as viewers, are to interpret? I don’t think this is true. The described image from the Vogue magazine provides us with both evident denotations and hidden connotations. The difficulty of interpreting the implications of this image is in finding proper connections between our ideas, and what we see at the picture. The woman and the man are of different races, origins, and are dressed in similar clothes, which presuppose the issue of confused genders between them. It seems that the image delivers the following message: the contemporary social realities make it difficult to distinguish between the genders, yet races are still an issue among us.

“Semiotic techniques in which the analogy of language as a system is extended to culture as a whole can be seen as representing a substantial break from the positivist and empirical traditions which had limited much previous cultural theory” (Gombrich 1977, p. 94). As a result, language is an indispensable feature of an image within any specific culture, and language (text) is also a signifier of certain image as the symbol of this or that culture. The described image may initially seem absolutely “indifferent”, but looking closer at it, the viewer understands that this shot from a fashion magazine is actually an expression of certain cults characteristics of the time period when the shot was possible made: the fight for the equality of rights, which are expressed in a woman being dressed as male; the fight against racial discrimination which is expressed through the bright opposition of black and white in the image; the popularity of jazz culture as the image is full of various jazz signifiers. The symbolism of the image can hardly be concealed from the viewer.

            “There are serious conventions between sociology and art, as these disciplines offer alternative solutions to the problem of display” (Stasz 1999, p. 32). As a result, the symbols, connotations, metaphors and metonymies found in the description of any image are the pathways towards a different display of the same image. It is understandable that the analyzed picture from Vogue will be interpreted differently by different people, who may not find the paradigms of associations and interpretations found by me. The opposition of the black and white is what makes this image bright and recognizable, but there are also other denotations (and as a result, connotations) which should be noticed by viewer, and which make this image even more significant within the framework of certain social culture. The meaning of the text to the description of an image is so significant, that we can hardly imagine their separate existence.


Gombrich, EH 1977, Art and illusion: A study in the psychology of pictorial representation,

London: Phaidon.

Stasz, C 1999, ‘Texts, images, and display conventions in sociology’, Qualitative Sociology,

vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 29-38.

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