Analysis of Discourses Encompassing the Chinese Big Eyes Picture

By Wenjia Yang.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

In this paper, I chose the Chinese “Big Eyes” picture. In this black-white photo, a little girl, with fluffy hair, right hand was holding a pencil. Her big eyes were staring at the blackboard, revealing strong desire of knowledge. It was the icon image by the Project Hope, which was aiming at helping the drop-out youth in poverty-stricken areas in China.
According to Barthes, a photographic image is said to be controlled by the contexts in which the image is placed or used: internal and external. That means, an individual image has meaning within a particular discourse which is created by its interaction with caption, text, and a presenting agency.
I classified genres of media representing the Big Eyes photograph into four ---photojournalism, government public relations, business promotion and documentary photo-book. The paper examined how each discourse directs the meaning of “Big Eyes” picture by analyzing how the photographic image had different meanings, along with different written texts and visual structures, depending on its presenting agency.
The result showed that the “Big Eyes” picture was differently represented according to its accompanying texts and other photographs –as symbol of Project Hope, as the embodiment of one of the 3.46 million students who get help, as a symbol of 20 years’ achievement of Project Hope, as a symbol of public charity aid, as a symbol of people who are grateful and thankful, as the plight of the poor kids’ education condition in rural. It was clear that the specific meaning of an image was influenced by its accompanying verbal text. The presenting agency of a photograph, however, influenced how the photograph was accepted by viewers, rather than altering the specific meaning of the photographic image. Putting these results together, internal and external contexts of a photograph work together to form a discourse, and the discourse directs a specific and implicit meaning of a photographic image.

Keywords: Photographic Image, Different Media Discourses, Internal and External Contexts

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.195-204. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.475MB).

Wenjia Yang

Master Candidate, Mass Communications Department, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, IL, USA

Master student in Mass Communications Department, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Have been the exchange student from China to USA in undergraduate study and recieved dural degrees---BA of English in China and BA of Communications in USA. Interested with cultural study, especially on what is media’s role in changing Chinese traditional culture.