Rose, G. (2007). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials (2nd Ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.


Under the impression that this book would help me to find tools for my research and provide a framework for interpreting photographs I studied this book. Rose describes a number of methodologies which are commonly used in visual studies. At the start Rose argues that in a critical visual analysis images have to be considered seriously, placed in a social context and observed in viewer’s own way. In order to understand an image it is necessary to distinguish three aspects that play an important role in the forming of an image’s meaning. Rose speaks of sites viz. production of the image, the image itself and the view of various audiences. Each of these three sites makes use of technological, compositional and social modalities (aspects) and contributes to a critical understanding of the visual. At this point I found a framework that I have carefully edited and included in my research.

Chapter 3 discusses how to work with compositional interpretation (when looking at images). Compositional interpretation has its roots in art whereby its attention is directed to technology in its compositional modality. Photographs made by participants can be of good quality, but should certainly not be seen as objects of art. In my study it is about the meaning of a photograph attributed by its viewer and maker, in which case compositional interpretation is of minor importance. Rose then describes the most common research methods, consistently linking the research method to the image material in the book. Although it feels somewhat artificial sometimes, it makes visible that there are a number of methods for interpreting photographs. I felt some disappointment about the absence of in depth information about how to design and to implement these research methods.

Although Rose works from an interpretivist perspective she starts with a more quantitative method: content analysis. In my view this method is less appropriate for interpreting photographs concerning corporate culture. Mostly you see counting and the method extracts the photograph from its context. However, as Rose pointed out it is also possible to work in a more qualitative mode with content analysis because every stage entails decisions about meaning and significance. Working in the qualitative mode forces awareness of the fact that numbers do not easily translate into significance or meaning.

Chapter 5 discusses semiotic analysis. The sign is the key term of semiology and the referent is what a sign refers to in the real world. In semiotics the researcher is concerned with the image and the codes that are included in the image. Conducting a semiotic analysis means that signs should be recognized, their significance known as well as their relation to other signs. This method focuses on the site of the image and its compositional and social modalities.

Rose linked psychoanalysis as method for the interpretation of visual materials to the interpretation of film. Although this chapter is very informative, it also clearly shows the limitation of the method: it focuses exclusively on sexual difference and ignores social practices and viewers of the display or movie screen.

The next two chapters are devoted to two types of discourse analysis. Discourse analysis is seen as a collection of statements that give structure to the way in which to think about certain situations and to act on that. Discourse analysis 1 places visual material in its social context. In my view it is close to qualitative content analysis because it considers themes within a collection with a special interest for social construction, discussions and differences in what is to be considered as truth. This method prioritizes the site of the image and explores the effects of the compositional and social modalities of the image. Discourse analysis II as method focuses on the institutions that make statements and the situation in which these statements are made. The issue here is to understand a message through visual material; the consequence is a minor position of contraries within the discourse.

Audience studies are discussed in chapter 9 which according to Rose are generally underexposed. This type of study focuses on the intensity and complexity of audience's bond with visual material combined with social relationships. As far as I can see these approaches endanger the influence of the visual aspect somewhat because of their strong emphasis on social modality in the site of audience.

A lot of researchers are quoted and therefore it has become a complex essay. I want to know more about how to apply this approach, partly because of the aspect of underexposure.

With the anthropological approach Rose emphasizes that visual materials are seen as objects in which something is done. Anthropologists trace social practices that are embedded in visual materials such as photographs and are interested in the social effects of these practices, which provide a comprehensive portrait of social activities. I agree with Rose that this approach is a ‘prime candidate for critical visual methodology’ because of its intensive way of studying visual material, its interest in their material structure, the concept of recontextualization and the naturalness with which reflexivity is practised. In the last chapter Rose elaborates on the use of the photograph with a closer look on photo elicitation. In addition she discusses the photograph as specified generalization which briefly explained means that photographs do not directly relate to the text, but behave as a parallel source of understanding and have to be ‘read on their own terms’. Photographs are also effective in capturing texture; able to transfer the feel of a specific location on account of the fact that photographs can contain an enormous amount of visual information.

Rose’s book gives a good overview of the most common methods of interpreting visual material and helps to understand how these methods can be used.