FRAMING APPEARANCES

The impact of frames on meanings can be dramatic. By drawing in a pair of gam-clad red high heels in this rendering of a famous artwork by Michelangelo, the meaning of his artwork is decisively redirected.

The mechanical reproduction of photography has become so second-nature to us that we forget photos are simulations; we become habitually unable to dissociate the meanings of objects represented from the meanings of their images. Though photographs carry the impression of depicting and reproducing reality, the photographic image is inherently abstracted from space and time relations.

Advertisers work to reconnect images - abstracted or separated from original contexts - within a new context, the advertising page, itself shaped through arrangement of other framing devices. In detaching images from contexts and resituating them within the context of an advertisement, advertisers modify or change the meanings of images. "In the age of pictorial reproduction the meaning of [images] is no longer attached to them; their meaning becomes transmittable...an image will be used for many different purposes and the reproduced image, unlike an original work, can lend itself to them all" (Berger,1972:24-5).

The meaning of every photo is framed. And every advertisement is an exercise in framing meaning. The fate of art in the age of mechanical reproduction appears in a Charles Jourdan ad (Figure 3.1) that has isolated an image from Michelangelo's painting in the Sistine Chapel. This ad presumes that viewers have long since learned the framing codes of ads. The scene juxtaposes signifiers from dramatically different cultural worlds. A woman's smooth white legs wearing red high heel pumps stick out, oddly distorted, from behind the photographic reproduction of a cracked fresco painting of a nude male adolescent. Completing the image, a female hand with red nails curls around the male back.

The heavily abstracted feminine signifiers signify sexual desire and female pleasure. But what about the meaning of the artistic 'reproduction?' When "reproduction isolates a detail of a painting from the whole," the meaning of "the detail is transformed" (Berger, 1972:25). The image of an Ignudi - "the Genii of the Soul" - has been ripped from the context of Michelangelo's spiritual vision in the Sistine Chapel. Some viewers can locate the source of the image, but for most it now signifies nothing more than 'classical art' or the 'classic' image of the ideal male body. Viewers may draw out this meaning because the image now appears in the context of an upscale shoe ad, in the arms of signifiers of female sexual attraction and desire. But of course, it is really the reverse, because the shoes draw their value when we infer they are objects of desire to God's/Art's most perfect male creation.