An image is a re-production of something that sustains features of likeness. It is a term that is used to refer to many different things: photographs, drawings, impressionist paintings, film, three dimensional representations, and, beyond these, images in a mirror, dreams, memories, even the ‘mental images’ prompted by verbal descriptions. Multimodality attends to images that are material entities, such as photographs, monuments, film, and so on. It asks how the image has been made, what it is a representation of, what ideas and attitudes it communicates and how this is achieved, as well as investigating how social relations are constructed (i.e. how the ‘viewer’ is encouraged to relate to the image), and, overall, what the image is being used to do, such as to inform, explain, persuade, warn, entertain, and so on. A number of analytical ‘tools’ have been developed in order to carry out such analysis. For example, Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) developed the idea of visual modality in order to evaluate the truth claims of an image. In an advertisement, aspects of a person’s appearance might be exaggerated or diminished through colour saturation in order to create a slightly idealized representation of this individual. Image can also construct the social position of the ‘viewer’ through ‘offer’ or ‘demand’ (ibid), which is created through the proximity (close-up or distant), orientation (front on or sideways) and gaze (averted or direct) of represented people. These features provide clues to how the ‘viewer’ is being encouraged to evaluate the person represented in the image, and hence what the image is being used to do. A multimodal approach also asks how an image relates to other modes, such as writing alongside a photograph in a newspaper (Knox, 2007) or the sound in a film or animation (van Leeuwen, 2005; Burn, 2003), as well as the actions and interactions (e.g. action, gaze, speech, gesture) entailed in the process of producing it.

See also: Drawing, Gaze, Genre, Film Studies, Kineikonic, Medium, Social Semiotics

Editor: Diane Mavers
Other contributor: David Machin

Key References
Burn, A. and Parker, D. (2003)
Analysing Media Texts
London: Continuum

Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (1996, 2006)
Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design
London: Routledge

Machin, D. and Polzer, L. (in preparation)
Visual Journalism
London: Palgrave

van Leeuwen, T. and Jewitt, C. (2001)
Handbook of Visual Analysis

London: Sage

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