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  • David James Lawton

Reality versus Representation


When working on predominantly visual projects, it’s always important to bear in mind the minefield of reality versus representation. As Magritte saliently pointed out in this example, his famous pipe is merely a representation of a pipe. You cannot stuff it or light it, therefore to describe it as an actual pipe is factually incorrect. As stated ‘This is not a pipe’.


To follow the same logic, all imagery is merely a representation.


The key point for any designer to consider when using imagery is to consider not what is ‘is’, but what it ‘represents’ to the audience. To muddy the waters further, this representation will change, depending on the cultural sensitivities of the said audience. Therefore reality versus representation is different depending on the individual viewer. Culture, background and life experiences will determine what an image represents to any individual. What it ‘is’ -is a variable.


Therefore when selecting imagery for a project, consider not what it means to you, but to the intended audience, as they may not interpret your work in quite the same way as you intended. If you work in marketing, it’s important to understand not only your product, but also the cultural make-up of your audience so that your campaigns can achieve maximum impact (and of course, minimum offence - it’s a minefield remember!)

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 © 2020 David James Lawton

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