Do you see what I see?

A man and a woman, most likely a couple, have started an argument between each other. In a heated exchange of words, the man has said something that has had an effect on the woman that is equivalent to the effects of physical abuse. Is that what you thought when you saw this photo? Maybe, maybe not. To be honest it’s not even how I interpreted the image. I thought it was a man who had eaten another man’s arm, it didn’t mix in well with his normal diet and while he was throwing it up, this poor lady was unfortunately walking by and it hit her in the face. Although that is an extremely unlikely circumstance, I have a very imaginative and simple mind.

This photograph is actually an advertisement for the Aware Helpline in Singapore which was used for “reminding women that domestic violence includes verbal abuse” (Macleod, D). In my opinion, if you have a fair understanding of domestic violence and different types of abuse (physical, verbal, etc.) its easy to grasp, but what about someone who doesn’t understand these concepts, like a child or someone who is uneducated?

This is where the phrase ‘what you see is what you get’ is challenged. In an instance like this, what everyone see’s is the same, but how they interpret the image is likely to be completely different. This is where the idea of denotations or signifiers (what we see) and connotations or signifieds (how we interpret what we see) come from.

A boy in his early teens and his father are walking together down a street and see this image advertised on a billboard. Both  see the picture and think “A man with an angry look on his face with a fist coming out of his mouth, and a woman with a look of pain on her face as the fist hits her.” This is the denotation as upon seeing the image, it’s what comes to mind. As they both ponder on the image, the father realises that this is representing that the effects of verbal abuse (the man yelling) can be equal to the effects of physical abuse (the fist hitting the woman), as he has a better understanding of domestic violence and abuse. On the other hand, the teenager thinks that there is a new fiction television series coming out where the men and women are fighting against each other and the men have superpowers that allow them to throw fists out of their mouths. This is not a fact as everyone has a different connotation to an image, but it is a possibility.

So the denotations or signifiers of this image are very clear – a man with an angry look on his face with a fist coming out of his mouth, and a woman with a look of pain on her face as the fist hits her. But the connotations or signifieds of the image are very different, depending on the person, and other factors such as age, race, background, gender etc. This applies to many images that are seen in the media, and is very important to consider.


Macleod, D 2008, Aware Helpline for Verbal Abuse, Photograph and article, Viewed 24 March 2015,


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