Everywhere we go we come across photos, drawings, paintings, signs and advertisements that send a certain message to the viewer upon first glance. The denotation, or literal meaning, is the initial interpretation of the viewer. Numerous images can have deeper meanings, or subliminal messages. This is called the connotation and refers to an associated or secondary meaning that is implied, but not initially clear to the viewer.
Upon first glance at this image, we see a woman who appears to have been beaten, the most obvious indication being the black eye. However her hair, makeup and clothing is in complete contrast. Aside from her severely bruised eye, the woman’s appearance is strikingly beautiful. Her make-up and hair are done to perfection. The red lipstick makes her appear powerful and confident. The red dress gives off a passionate and sensual vibe. After first viewing the image, it seems that the woman is embracing that fact she has been physically abused. She does not appear to be affected by the obvious violence she has suffered. The glamorous appearance and sensual red dress make it seem as though the composer was attempting to glorify violence against women. But was that really the case?
The images, taken by photographer Vasil Germanov and published in 12 Magazine, sparked great controversy amongst society. A range of opinions evolved regarding the ‘Victim of Beauty’ photoshoot ranging from hatred for the images to complete admiration. After viewing the images from the shoot on 12 Magazine’s website, there were a range of comments left by the public in regards to the women who had appeared to have suffered from abuse.
“To me this is amazing!! While some may think that this glamorizes violence, to me it says while a woman can be scarred, she can in fact still be beautiful.”
“Not is this troubling & stupid, it’s boring. A brick has more creativity.”
“This is the glorification of violence against women dressed up as “art”. It is demoralizing to women and offensive to anyone who has ever experienced violence.”
See more comments here. The common factor in all of these comments is that each viewer believes the images reflect abuse and violence against women. I agree, that is what we see at first glance. The image denotes the idea of physical abuse and women in abusive relationships. However, this is just what we see on the surface. This is only the initial message we receive. Is there another message or a deeper meaning to the image?
The message behind this photograph was not stated by the composer, it seems as it was left for the viewers to decide on that themselves. After examining the image over and over again, I started to pick up on a deeper message, particularly after decoding the text next to the image, ‘Victim of Beauty’. What if the purpose of this photoshoot wasn’t to glorify violence, or make a statement about the strength of abused women at all? Perhaps there was an underlying message no one had picked up on.
The connotation I interpreted was that women are victims of beauty due to the effects of the media. In today’s society, the appearance of women is such a publicised topic. Magazines, television commercials, websites and newspapers are all portraying the beauty of a woman as such an important thing. Women are feeling threatened to keep up to the appearances and stereotypes they see in the media. They feel victimised by these ‘barbie-doll look-alikes’ and feel to need to have the latest hairstyle or foundation or the newest mascara or most expensive handbag. The beauty we see in the media is the threat, and women are the victims. The woman’s black eye may not have been from physical abuse, but could in fact be a metaphor for the amount of pain and suffering women have to go through to keep up with the latest fashion and looks. It seems to me that there was in fact a hidden message, and this was the message perceived by myself as a viewer.
They say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, does the same quote apply for images? To me, it does. Always read between the lines. Or in this case, between the scars. You never know what message may be hiding beneath the surface.
(image via: 12mag.net)