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Looking at Adverts: 2 - The Open College of the Arts
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Looking at Adverts: 2

This advert is striking. The framing and point of view is unusual, and the combination of black and white tones with blocks of vivid yellow creates a bold design. But I have mixed feelings about it because I immediately recognize that the style has been ‘borrowed’ from a well-known photographer. That doesn’t mean that the advert isn’t clever, it uses my existing knowledge to add a lot of meaning (connotation) to a very simple set of visual and text cues. As my own experience and knowledge is stimulated by the images I would like to try a small experiment. Before reading the rest of this blog look at the image and make a note of your thoughts and interpretations. It would be interesting to see if they are similar to mine…
The torso and head of a male figure is seen from a low point of view, the Protein World branding surrounds the figure and a small area of white highlights the phrase ‘leading the protein revolution’. The product itself doesn’t strike me as exciting but the signifiers in this advert lead me to I think of the excitement of social and cultural change. Most importantly I see the visual style of Alexander Rodchenko, an innovative Russian photographer working in the first half of the twentieth century. In his ambition to create a new visual style for a new socialist society he pioneered a modernist style of photography and photo-montage.
Pioneer with a Trumpet (1930)
Rodchenko said ‘’we had visions of a new world, industry, technology and science. We simultaneously invented and changed the world around us. We authored new notions of beauty and redefined art itself.” He did this by changing the viewers perspective on the world – showing them everyday subjects but in a new and surprising way. He photographed people from unexpected camera angles, creating strong diagonal lines of sight and off-balance compositions that made the images powerful and dynamic.
Couple Wearing Swimsuits (1932)
Like the man in the Protein World advert the people in Rodchenko’s photographs look strong and vigorous. As viewers we are positioned below them, which is sometimes interpreted as a sign of their superiority. All three of these figures are looking at something out of the frame that we can’t see. Because they are higher up than we are they can see much more than us. I immediately think of the ‘king of the castle’ surveying his land, or conquering forces taking stock of their territory. In Rodchenko’s time it could be a symbol of the ‘vision’ of communism – seeing a better future. This interpretation could also work for the advert, but the male in the image has taken control of his own body and not a country or group of people. In the advert the text closest to the face proclaims ‘beach bodies 2014’. That is the promise for the future, a revolutionary new body shape to show off on the beach – and twitter, facebook and instagram!
The idea of revolution is reiterated in the text ‘leading the protein revolution’. It helps us to read the advert in a specific way by ‘anchoring’ it to a specific one (called anchorage in semiotics). If the gesture, point of view and crop of the figure reminded me of a number of images, the text would help me to think of Rodchenko.
I have described the connotations of this advert using my own knowledge and experience. How effective would it be if I didn’t recognize the style of Rodchenko? In adverts that have a number of different possible readings there are no right or wrong answers, only interpretations. The more we call upon our knowledge and have to ‘work out’ the meaning the more we are actively engaged in the image – and the greater the impact it has on us. This is useful for selling products but other types of photographs can also be decoded in this way – for example, you might want to try it with photographs by Martin Parr and Paul Graham.
Click here for more information on Rodchenko;

Posted by author: Dawn Woolley
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10 thoughts on “Looking at Adverts: 2

  • Well, I had the same reaction as you, Dawn, before I even started reading your notes – Rodchenko! To respond to your question at the end, though, I think there are other connotations that the less-informed viewer could pick up (and to which Rodchenko might have been referring, to an extent?) – the idea of ‘statuesque’, an adjective often applied to a ‘good’ body. Looking up to the classical statues, created ‘larger than life’ – it may not refer to revolution but it does potentially connote an ideal, something to which the viewer might aspire?

    • I agree, the figure is very statuesque! As soon as I read your comment I saw a resemblance with the Greek statue of the Discus Thrower by Myron (http://www.ancient.eu/image/1023/). This leads me too think about connotations of perfection and the balance between mind and body. In ancient Greece, diet and exercise were practised because it was believed that the body’s earthly needs (and cravings for rich food and wine) weighed the soul down. An athletic body connoted spiritual and moral health too. Today, adverts for diet and exercise products sometimes use the language of the mind ‘overcoming’ the body – associating physical fitness with mental strength – a reading which could also be applied to this advert!

  • Agreeing with both of you above. I immediately thought of Rodchenko; and his objection to belly-button view of the world—and also the Greek god statue ideal. So it can be read on two different levels-depending on the knowledge/experience one brings to the reading of the advert. As a student of UVC, this is an interesting series—hoping you continue to develop it.

  • I wasn’t really aware of Rodchenko, but like others I immediately thought of Greek statues, and from that my mind went to Greek Gods – the idea of physical perfection, unattainable for mere mortals – unless of course we buy protein world! It also made me think of something i’ve been experimenting with, taking photos from the perspective of a small child where the world seems like a vast place – off to look at Rodchenko now for parallels so thanks for the suggestion.

  • I had a look at the Charles Atlas website and I can see what you mean – the yellow background is exactly the same colour! Its amazing how many different lines of thought this seemingly simple advert produces, depending on your prior knowledge. This enables a wide range of people to identify with and aspire to the male figure for subtly different reasons. Basically if you know about body building/Charles Avery, classical sculpture/Greek culture or modernist photography/Russian history you are likely to associate the product with an ideal male physique and social, political or philosophical superiority. Very powerful connotations!

  • Like the majority of people who are likely to have seen this advert, I did not make associations with Rodchenko though I am familiar with his work – an interesting connotation though as is the notion of the statuesque! Here are my immediate associations … masculinity, macho man, sexual, male porno, “perfect” body, strength, running sweat, health kick etc
    The “running sweat” is actually one of the most interesting aspects of this photo as it introduces another set of connotations such as smell, body fluid, visceral, real etc

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