This textual analysis of the given picture has been quite difficult to do since the image of a woman leaping out of the burning house is not actually a constructed advertisement, but a genuine photograph snapped by Amy Weston, a photographer from WENN news agency. Amy managed to photograph the rescue of Monica Konczyk, 32, in Croydon, London. To save her life, Monica was urged to leap out of the building set on fire during the London riots back in August 2011. She was allegedly caught by a riot police officer or an onlooker (Barkham, 2011). The image has become “a defining image of the London riots” and made the front pages of British leading newspapers (Kwek, 2011; Barkham, 2011). This essay provides the semiotic analysis of the image in terms of the processes of signification and address, as well as context, authorial choices, ideologies, and impact on the public sphere.
In terms of signification, this image is a photographic representation of a woman leaping out of the window in a burning house. If one looks at the model suggested by Saussure, the sign consists of a signifier (i.e. its form) and the signified (i.e. that particular concept is represents). These are as inseparable as two sides of one sheet of paper (Branston & Stafford, 1996: 5). The image has a number of signifiers which convey the meaning of the text this image appears in: the woman in the air about to fall in the arms of the people; the fire raging in the background; the raw of closed shop windows with fire reflections on them; the agitated crowd under the window of the first floor the woman has leapt out from. The signified here is the message of serious damage brought by London riots, both to people and property. The image of the desperate woman in the air, as well as the appalled crowd by the building convey fear, helplessness, suffering, and create an extremely negative impression of the riot. Moreover, the sharply focused quality of the image and the orange and yellow colouring of fire along with faded building of the shops are further signifiers which contribute to the alerting and destructive image of the riot.
Yet, the central signified concept is not conveyed by the image by these elements alone. Rather, this is achieved through inclusion of the caption, which varies from one newspaper to another, but generally says “A woman leaps from a burning building in Croydon” (during the London riot) (Kwek, 2011). Therefore, a strong link can be forged between the aforementioned signifiers and the image’s signified which is the conveyed message of the riot damage, human fear and desperation.
In terms of address, the image addresses the general public, namely the readers of the newspapers it was published. The male-female audience, of various ethnicities/races, ages, and occupations, is an addressee (Mediaknowall GSCE, 2011). As for the directedness of address, the image does not address the audience directly since there is no direct gaze. In terms of formality and social distance, it is a public or impersonal address mode (Chandler, 2002). This may well be explained by the use of the long shot.
The real-life background of the picture certainly alters the way it is perceived by the audience. Namely, it makes people think of the seriousness of the event. Since the picture appeared on the front pages of Britain’s five leading newspapers, it made people take it seriously and promoted the attention to the problem of the London riots in August, 2011.
As to the authorial choices, it is hard to identify any, since the image is authentic and has not been constructed as an advertisement. Thus, it does not have any predetermined choices. If this image is used for the purposes of advertising, it may be looked at as a metonymy for a range of victims of the London riots or generally people caught in fire (Chandler, 2002). In case this image is used in advertising (e.g. social advertising), anchorage will be needed to relate it to a specific meaning conveyed by the advertisement.
This picture may be said to promote cooperation and even heroism among the general public. This may well be explained by the image of onlookers ready to catch the girl. It promotes the moral values of love and compassion to people caught in a plight.