In this text designed for students study visual culture from an interdisciplinary perspective, Gillian presents nine different methodologies for studying visual artifacts and evaluates each method’s strengths and weaknesses. Beforehand, in the introduction, Gillian advocates for what she calls a “critical visual methodology,” which thinks about the “visual in terms of the cultural significance, social practices and power relations in which it is embedded” (xv). Particularly useful is the discourse Gillian introduces to her reader as she explores both theoretical and methodological issues. In addition, Gillian gives a nice overview of five main areas of recently published scholarship about visual culture that give readers a sense of the ongoing contemporary conversations surrounding visual culture today. These conversations focus on:
1. the ways in which images visualize or render invisible social differences.
2. Not only the ways in which images look but how images are looked at.
3. The ways in which visual images are embedded in wider culture.
4. The ways in which distinct audience bring their own interpretations to bear on an image’s meaning and effect.
5. The ways in which images have their own agency (9-11).
The critical approach she advocates are to take images seriously, to explore the social conditions in which images are produced and the images effects, and to be reflexive as you research from your own location. She creates a taxonomy in which all methods can be categorized by the site at which meaning is made: site of image’s production, site of image itself, and sites where audience sees images. Gillian also claims that each of these sites have three different modalities: technological, and compositional, social. Ongoing debates, she points out, revolve around debates as to which site and modality is most important when studying visual culture.
The nine different methods Gillian offers are:
- Compositional interpretation: studies conducted largely by art historians of what images are rather than what they do, say, or how they were/are used; focuses on content and form.
- Content analysis: studies symbolic qualities of text; studies trends amongst collection of artifacts; looks for patterns; creates and analyzes coding system found is sample of artifacts.
- Semiology: demands detailed analysis; performs case study; relies of semiotic theory and generates rich, useful discourse to talk about visual artifacts; uncovers how meaning is made in artifact and explores its social effects.
- Psychoanalysis: Use psychoanalytical lens (much of Lacan) to study images and audience of images and their gazes. Rich discourse generated here.
- Discourse Analysis I: focuses on visual artifact’s discourse and how it produces social difference;
- Discourse Analysis II: studies institutions that produce artifacts and the ways in which the artifacts are used.
- Audience Studies: study ways in which audience resists or responds to visual artifact—the interaction, in other words…
- Anthropological approach: not so concerned with interpretations of artifact’s meaning; more interesting in tracing effects of visual artifact.
- Making photographs as research, specifically photo elicitation and photo-documentation.
After presenting and evaluation each of these methods, Gillian generates a useful list of questions students can ask of images; the questions relate to production of image, image itself, and images’ audience. She urges readers to play and be innovate in research, mixing methods if need be, but always being aware of subject locations and being reflexive about politics involved in research processes you embark on.