Gestalt and Semiotics

An analysis of gestalt and semiotics in pictures I chose


I. Gestalt


1. Min-Sheng Junior High School

Taipei, Taiwan. Grade 7, Nap Time. Sept. 16, 2009. [1]

  • Law of Figure Ground: y​ou can easily divide the photo into foreground (the children in the classroom) and background (the walls and windows)

  • Law of Proximity: the sleeping students are all very close to each other and form a group, they all are close to their desk as they are touching them while sleeping, so they also form a unity of student + their desk

  • Law of Similarity: the strongest law in this picture: due to their uniforms all the students look alike, and the fact that they are all sleeping in the same position on similar desks strengthens this impression, so they are perceived as a group. Additionally to the students the lamps on the ceiling all look alike, too, and form a similar group as the students below – it’s a bit a contrast to the group of students, two distinct groups facing each other.

  • Law of Enclosure: the walls and furniture form an imaginary line that frames the group of students and strengthens the effect of the perception as a group. It also separates them from the background.

  • Law of Continuity: the student’s desks are placed in a very symmetrical pattern, so the students are spread very evenly in the classroom. Also the windows and the lamps are placed in a very even pattern.



2. Frog and Crocodile, South Africa

A year-old Nile crocodile attempts to snap up a frog in the St. Lucia Estuary. Photograph by Jonathan Blair, National Geography. [2]

  • Rule of Thirds: The eye of the crocodile lies exactly on the left and the upper line of thirds (so exactly on one of the spots of attention); the frog is hanging on the right and the bottom line of thirds (the opposite spot)

  • ​Your eye follows an imaginary diagonal when exploring the picture: from the crocodile’s eye to the frog. This falling diagonal strengthens the impression that the frog is almost falling down, but at the same time you wish it would fall rather the crocodile snapping it up.

  • The colors are all greenish: from the light yellowish green of the frog to the middle light green of the background to the dark greyish/brownish green of the crocodile. This makes the photo look like a unity.

  • ​Law of Figure Ground: you can easily separate the two animals from the blurry background


3. Argusfasan

A pheasant in the Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt. [3]

  • Rule of Thirds: The head of the bird (actually its eye) is on the bottom line of thirds in the centre, so it calls a lot attention

  • All the lines go away from the bird’s head, that strengthens the centralized-impression

  • The picture is very symmetrical

  • The color of the birds head is very different than the rest, so there is a huge contrast that calls attention

  • ​The outer feathers all look the same, have the same pattern -> Law of Similarity and Continuity, the birds head stands out

  • The feathers right next to the birds head look a little different as they are smaller, so they form a separate shape around the birds head that reminds a bit of a heart


4. Sailing Boat “Kathena Nui”
Weltumsegler Wilfried Erdmann

Sailing Boat “Kathena Nui” [4]

  • The picture is very centralized and symmetrical: the middle of the boat is the middle of the picture. That makes the photo look very calm.

  • The mast of the ship forms a vertical line in the centre of the picture that divides the photo in two equal parts

  • The two sails look different, one is plain white, the other one white with red stripes. It is also lighter, as it is on the side where the sun comes from (the sky and the sea are also lighter on this side of the picture)

  • The horizon lies on the bottom horizontal line of thirds

  • The color of the sea and the sky are similar (both blue, although the sea is darker), so the boat stands out (Law of Figure Ground, even though the sea is not completely background but partly belongs to the foreground)


5. Untitled

227.Untitled2008 [5]

  • Law of Similarity: the Skyline in the background and the boxes in the foreground look alike, the shape of the outer line is repeated. That makes them look like they belong together, although they are very different and supposed to be far away of each other.

  • Law of Simplicity: there are almost only very simple shapes, mostly rectangles; that makes the picture look clean and tidied up and very simple, which highlights the fact that the man is sleeping in a very simple kind of “building”

  • Law of Proximity: the man in the boxes forms a unity because he and the items around him are very close together; same applies to the buildings in the background that are perceived as one group

  • The horizon is in the vertical centre of the picture

  • The foreground (the man sleeping in the boxes) is placed on the bottom line of thirds

  • The highest building of the skyline ends at the top line of thirds

  • All the colors are quite similar, there are no high contrasts besides light and dark. That makes the picture deliver a very quiet and calm feeling


II. Semiotics


1. #24

#24 [6]

Primary Denotation:

  • a woman is smiling and sitting on a bench- she is holding a phone, a book, make-up with a mirror, a laptop and a barbell in her six hands

  • in the background there are some high-rise buildings and trees, all blurry

Secondary Denotation:

  • the buildings and trees represent a town (iconic sign)

  • the blur means it’s moving, passing by (indexical sign), so the bench the woman is sitting on is probably part of a train (iconic & indexical sign)

Primary Connotation:

  • the woman has six arms like an Indian Goddess, which is generally a sign for might in India (symbolic sign)

  • the phone is associated with communication, availability and business in our culture (symbolic)

  • the book stands for knowledge and intelligence (symbolic)

  • the make-up with the mirror stands for beauty (symbolic)

  • the barbell stands for strength and discipline (symbolic)

  • the laptop stands for business, communication and mobility (symbolic)

  • the hand that directs to the right stands for guidance (symbolic)

  • she looks calm and friendly, so she seems to be confident and neither stressed nor in a hurry (indexical)

  • the fact that she is on a moving train can be associated with mobility (symbolic)

Secondary Connotation:

  • the way she acts with all those different things while not seeming to be stressed (rhetorics: logos) makes me think she is a very well organized and strong business woman (indexical & symbolic sign / rhetorics: ethos).

  • this and the fact that her face and the reference to the Indian Goddess makes me think she might be Indian (rhetorics: logos)


2. Panasonic

Panasonic [7]

Primary Denotation:

  • you see blue water and waves, blue sky with some clouds

  • there are parts of three whales : one tail fin, one side fin and a back

  • there are two human legs on the back of the whale in the front, which is blowing air and water out

  • the photo is part of a poster with the main writing “welcome to the front row)

  • there’s a camera in the right corner of the picture

Secondary Denotation:

  • the photo is about three whales swimming in the sea, one with a human “passenger” on the back

Primary Connotation:

  • the camera’s brand is Panasonic

  • the poster is an advertisement and it is the camera this advertisement is about

  • it is supposed to look like the person looking at this poster is the one sitting on the whale, in “the first row”

  • it refers to the camera which is reputed to make pictures as if you where in the scene

Secondary Connotation:

  • it looks like the whale is about to dive, so it feels like there is some movement and excitement


3. Arms break, vases don’t

Arms break, vases don’t [8]

​Primary Denotation:

  • a vase with some flowers lying on the floor

  • human hands holding the vase- behind the hands there are some shards in the color of the human’s skin

  • in the upper right corner there are two human feet

Secondary Denotation:

  • the shards are meant to be the injured human’s arms that burst like you would have the vase expected to do (iconic sign)

Primary Connotation:

  • the human tried to catch the vase and prevent it from bursting (indexical sign)

  • the vase didn’t break but the human’s arms did, so the human caught the vase but got injured (indexical sign)

  • human arms don’t burst like vases, so the shards refer to what has been prevented (symbolic sign)

Secondary Connotation:

  • human arms are more valuable than vases, you can’t buy new arms, so the human should have let the vase hit the floor to save their arms (rhetorics: pathos)

  • feels like it is an appeal to not overact with such things (rhetorics: logos and pathos (feel with the injured human)


4. True Colours

True Colours – Faber Castell [9]

Primary Denotation:

  • you can see an eggplant that fades into a purple colored pencil

  • the purple color of the pencil and the color of the eggplant are the same

  • in the bottom right corner you can read “Faber-Castell”

Secondary Denotation:

  • “Faber-Castell” is a brand that is known for their colored pencils (rhetorics: ethos)

Primary Connotation:

  • it looks like the pencil actually is an eggplant that has been sharpened to draw with it (iconic sign)

  • Faber-Castell wants to visualize that the colors of their pencils are those strong colors you know from nature (rhetorics: logos)

  • to “show one’s true colors” is an English expression for speaking the truth about oneself, so Faber-Castell probably wants to say that the color you see is the color that will be on the paper if you draw with their pencils (rhetorics: logos)

Secondary Connotation:

  • eggplants are healthy, I associate them with spring/summer and vegetables on market places, which is a positive association that makes me like this picture (rhetorics: pathos; the eggplant is an symbolic sign for healthy food and nature)

  • as Faber-Castell uses something so natural and simple it feels like there were no tricks, no secret or unhealthy ingredients in their pencils and nothing more to explain (rhetorics: logos and pathos)


5. WWF – Before it’s too late

WWF – Before it’s too late [10]

Primary Denotation:

  • you see a green landscape with grass and trees

  • there are two areas of close trees in the middle of the picture

  • next to one of these areas there is a brown region without trees

  • there is a text in the bottom right corner that says “Before it’s too late –”

Secondary Denotation:

  • the shape of the close-trees-areas is like a human lung (iconic sign)

  • the brown part used to be trees that got burned (indexical sign)

  • WWF is an organization that tries to protect the environment and animals (rhetoric: ethos)

Primary Connotation:​

  • the shape of the human lung should refer to the forest being the lung of the world, as the trees produce oxygen (symbolic sign)

  • the burned part symbolizes that this lung is injured, parts are missing (actually it’s huge parts of forest that are missing) (symbolic sign)

  • “before it’s too late” should be an appeal to join WWF in protecting the forests before more gets burned, it gives you the feeling you have to hurry because a huge part is already missing (and fire burns fast) (rhetorics: logos & pathos)

Secondary Connotation:

  • as there is such a huge part of the “world’s lung” already missing this image makes me sad and I have the urge to help (rhetorics: pathos)

  • at the same time looking at this picture makes me feel helpless as I have seen a documentary about the WWF that showed that they often don’t really do what they say and I know I can’t protect the forest on my own



Image Sources:

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