iconicity and war photography: signs, aesthetic and news value

There are photographs that have outlived others and come to define and represent historical conflicts. What is it that leads these images to represent a conflict more than another? What does it mean for an image to become "iconic?” Using theories of semiotics, my research looks at how iconic visual representations of conflict affect how we understand any given war or conflict.

What makes an image iconic?

“The images we recognize as iconic are those that have been recognized as newsworthy and, over time, have become associated with key points in certain events. Images of armed conflict and war, the images we perceive to be iconic, that have become timeless representations of conflict, are those containing strong connotative meaning and signs that fit different news values and capture a moment that lives on as time moves forward. This leads us to ask the question: what are the underlying semiotic patterns in iconic photographs of conflict and to what extent to they influence emotional engagement and lead the images to become iconic? It is apparent that in the realm of photojournalism, the connotative meanings within a photograph and its signs determine … how newsworthy it is. Photographs that are more newsworthy are the images that are presented to society and become what we associate with a given story or event. [Helen] Caple thoroughly discusses and applies the news values of negativity, timeliness, proximity, prominence, consonance, impact, novelty, superlativeness, personalization and aesthetic in determining the newsworthiness of images (2013). For photographs of war and armed conflict, the images tend fit in mainly with news values of timeliness, negativity, superlativeness, impact and personalization, meaning they are timely images focusing on large and important negative events affecting and focused on people. By looking at the underlying semiotic patterns in these images, I will be able to identify the newsworthiness of images that have become iconic and timeless and now influence society’s understanding of the given armed conflict.”

Excerpt from “Iconicity and War Photography: Signs, Aesthetic and News Value” by Kyra Taubel