Journal of Signal and Information Processing, 2013, 4, 414-422
Published Online November 2013 (
Open Access JSIP
Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses
Ricardo Crisafulli Rodrigues
Department of Organization, Instituto Brasileiro de Informação em Ciência e Tecnologia (IBICT, Brazilian Institute for Information
in Science and Technology), Brasília, Brasil.
Received September 18th, 2013; revised October 20th, 2013; accepted October 28th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Ricardo Crisafulli Rodrigues. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
This paper deals with thematization as a fundamental step towards the determination of photography image discourses
in order to index them. It deals with questions related to photographic reality, polysemy, denotation and connotation,
whose comprehension is fundamentally important for the interpretation of photography discourses. It also approaches
aspects that have influenced photography analysis towards its thematization, such as the characterization of an image
bank, the functions performed by photos, as well as technical and visual quality.
Keywords: Descriptive Analysis; Interpretative Analysis; Photographic Connotation; Photographic Denotation;
Imagetic Discourses; Thematic Discourses; Photography; Image; Photographic Image; Polysemy of
Photographic Image; Photographic Referent; Thematization; Thematization of Photographic Image;
Thematization and Indexing
1. Introduction
Many image information systems do not satisfactorily
perform the administration of the photographs that will
become part of their collections; this generates photo-
graphic collections that are inadequate and/or not perti-
nent. In general, the works of photo identification and its
denotative description are not done properly, as they give
more emphasis to its purely visual aspect. In most cases,
when the connotative interpretation of its context is done,
one does not delimit or direct the thematic discourses that
photography might possess and, when one does it, the
work is almost always disassociated from the objectives
and characteristics of the image bank.
In most of that work done, there is no concern with
two factors related to photographic image: the time of
selection/acquisition and the time of thematization, as
well as its visual and technical qualities—both highly
relevant to the user and without which, photography might
lose much of its informative potential.
Consequently, the user mostly often has to perform
searches in more than one image bank, using as parame-
ters not only the theme of one’s research object, but sev-
eral related themes within which one expects to find what
is searched. Subsequently, in many cases when one finds
the material searched, it does not hold the adequate dis-
courses or it lacks technical and visual qualities that en-
able its use. Generally, these failures are the result of the
inexistence of technical tools to assist the work devel-
oped by professionals in many image banks, in the selec-
tion/acquisition, analysis, thematization, indexation, stor-
age and retrieval of photos.
The image, in its various supports and techniques, has
always been one of the main mechanisms of communica-
tion in the history of humanity. Nowadays, thanks to
photography, it has been highlighted, especially with the
advent of the Internet and global communication due to
hypermedia, which is the combination of information
into multiple dimensions: text, image, audio [1].
The invention of photography during the Industrial
Revolution allowed a gradual expansion in the produc-
tion and use of images, firstly, in a more selective and
almost individual way and, subsequently, in a more mas-
sive way such as illustrating newspapers, magazines,
advertising media, technical-scientific documents, among
others. Later, it forsakes being just art and individual
memory to become information and knowledge; there-
fore, it started being produced and disseminated by various
media, mainly as textual information support.
However, no matter how hard one tries to create a spe-
cific photographic image—in relation to its context and
expression—to convey information and a determined
Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses 415
knowledge, there will always be innumerous interpreta-
tions. This is due to the diverse socio-cultural levels and
experience of each person’s life, i.e., one’s cognition and
mental image. The photographic image—like all forms
of images—is, therefore, polysemic or ambiguous, for it
allows several different discourses that need to be ex-
plained a priori by the bank of images, allowing their
recovery, whenever necessary, by the different types of
Two senses are part of a photo as to its content: the
denotative and connotative meaning. In the denotative
one, there is little room for interpretations. What the re-
ceptor sees and assimilates is a literal, objective and prac-
tical copy and, most often, faithful to a particular referent.
If it depicts a destroyed bridge over a river, it will be
seen by everyone as it was registered, even if its original
color, for example, has been modified by the photogra-
pher or a photo editor. The bridge will still be seen as a
bridge in a state of destruction. The river will be seen as
just a river. If there is a person there, the person will be
seen only as a person. In this sense, the photo just says
that it is about something; that it refers simply to some-
thing; that it indicates the existence of something without
explaining what that thing is.
Such photo, however, may be about something, having
multiple meanings and allowing for innumerous inter-
pretations by different people, which leads to different
thematized discourses. Some may interpret the scene of
the collapsed bridge as a result of an earthquake; others,
as a result of a bombing in a war, and so on. Different
interpretations add a connotative sense to image, allow-
ing for the establishment of discourses and senses loaded
with various values.
In information service, or in an image bank that is
supposed to supply information through images to re-
searches or other ends, the concrete and abstract conno-
tative senses have to be contextualized a priori by the
specialists who organize the photos. The contextualiza-
tion of these connotative senses, known as thematization,
will open up possibilities for photo use in different topics
and subjects, different interpretations and ends by direct-
ing and restricting the scope of its thematic discourses.
Thematization has also contributed to the selection of
photos that are compatible with the characteristics and
objectives of the image banks, mainly the specialized
ones. Thematization is, therefore, a technique that ante-
cedes photographic image indexation by directing the dis-
courses within it. By delimiting discourses, in a certain
way, it determines the photography’s themes that interest
the image banks. Thus, it establishes the limits in which
the photo will be indexed and for which there will be
metadata in terms of recovery.
The present paper deals with photographic image the-
matization from a generic concept of thematization. It
shows how—based on polysemy—diverse discourses can
be found in photography and how denotative and conno-
tative thematization can determine and make those dis-
courses visible.
It also approaches image thematization in the history
of humanity as something that has been done according
to the interests and necessities of domination of a social
or religious class upon society in general.
Technically, the text emphasizes the differences be-
tween thematization and indexation; it also discusses
many factors that influence thematization and photogra-
phy discourse determination [2,3].
2. The Photographic Image
The large amount of photos that has been produced so far
led to the creation of innumerous image banks; some
highly professional while others quite amateurish with
almost no technical or qualitative resources. All that “im-
agetic mass”, however, needs an adequate organization
that allows its fast and efficient retrieval by the ones who
need them. This organization involves a series of active-
ties, including those in which thematization allows for
the determination, delimitation and direction of photog-
raphy discourses.
Nevertheless, before talking about those subjects, it is
necessary to understand some aspects linked to photog-
raphy theories, such as: photography reality, photog-
raphy referent, denotation, concrete and abstract con-
notation, polysemy, among others.
2.1. Photography Reality and Photography
Any photo, regardless of the function it performs, brings
an air of reality, i.e., of something that exists or existed;
of something that is or was; of something genuine or real.
This presumed reality is mainly due to photography’s
technical nature that reproduces, in a mechanically and
apparently unambiguous way, a real scene framed by a
camera that is later chemically or electronically printed in
a light-sensitive surface. Unlike painting, drawing, sculp-
ture and other forms of imagery representation that arise
from a creative craft and manual labor of an artist, pho-
tography (as well as cinema and television) requires a
mechanical device—a camera—in order to exist. This
device, at first, allows for an apparently true recording of
an object (referent) just as it presents itself to the pho-
tographer’s eye, hence causing the feeling of reality and
truth in relation to the fact or object photographed.
According to Sontag [4], the photos are, in some way,
“true” and furnish some kind of evidence.
Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven
when we’re shown a photograph of it [···] A photograph
passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing hap-
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Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses
pened. The picture may distort; but there is always a
presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is
like what is in the picture. Whatever the limitations
(through amateurism) or pretensions (through artistry) of
the individual photographer, a photograph—any photo-
graph—seems to have a more innocent, and therefore
more accurate, relation to visible reality than do other
mimetic objects.
According to Kossoy [5], the reality depicted is a “sec-
ond reality”, being the “first reality” the object or topic
itself depicted (referent). Dubois, in his book The photo-
graphic act and other essays [6] suggests, based on “po-
sitions advocated by critics and photography theorists”,
three distinct periods in photography understanding in
relation to its reality and its referent, which he called: 1)
photography as a mirror of reality; 2) photography as
a transformation of reality; and 3) photography as a
trace of reality.
The notion of photography as a mirror of reality
occurred in the 19th Century—a period in which photog-
raphy was considered “the most perfect imitation of real-
ity”—and this was the first discourse on the topic. This
view placed photography as a faithful reproduction of
reality, “the world’s mirror”.
The notion of photography as a transformation of
reality appeared in the 20th Century from observations
of photography failures in relation to “its supposedly
perfect representation of the real world” [6].
According to the conception of photography as a
transformation of reality, on creating an image, the
photographer defines what he wants to show, i.e., what
fraction of reality will be seen, in which position, under
what light, with which colors, in what distance, with what
conflicting or compatible elements, with what type of
lens, under what point of view1 etc. These variables have
led photography scholars to state that photography is not
a mirror of reality, but reality transformed and interpreted
according to the vision of whoever produced it.
Photography as a trace of reality is, somehow, an
adjustment or a consensus between the two first theories.
For those who adopt this theory, photography is not
separate from its “first reality” which is always present
through its referent that exists or existed. In this case, it is
an undisputed proof of something that took place in a
specific time, in a specific place and in a specific manner.
The referent’s mark is present in the image, although it
might seem to be an abstract object. However, this refer-
ent’s sense and meaning is in the personal interpretation
of the one who sees the photo, and according one’s men-
tal image and cognition. According to [6], a photograph
is first of all an index of something that once took place
in a specific time, then an icon of that specific event, and
eventually a symbol filtered through subjective percep-
Whatever interpretations and positions adopted by schol-
ars, the “first reality” of the photographic image is al-
ways linked to a referent, i.e., to something that exists or
physically existed. An image’s referent is a real object
preexisting in that image, something concrete or concep-
tual that served as model or inspired its elaboration. In
photographic image—however abstract it might be—the
referent is, necessarily, real and concrete.
2.2. Polysemy, Denotation and Connotation
Polysemy (poli = many and semy = meanings). In a wider
context, it refers to something that can hold various
meanings according to the different contexts in which it
is inserted.
In photography, polysemy refers to the diverse inter-
pretations the same photo may hold, depending on the
context in which it is inserted, on the function it performs
and on the user’s mental image and cognition.
Polysemy is basically caused in photography by the
differences in people’s perception and interpretation ca-
pacities. Each one perceives and interprets an image ac-
cording to one’s visual system’s reactions and peculiari-
ties, one’s mental images, cognition, culture and educa-
Taking the theory photography as a trace of reality,
we can find two different meanings in photography that
are linked to its polysemy: 1) denotation that directly
refers to the “first reality” in which its referent is situated
in the perception domain; and 2) connotation that di-
rectly refers to the “second reality” and is situated in the
interpretation domain. The denotative domain refers to
that which the image represents with “certain accuracy”,
in its real meaning; the connotative one refers to that
which can be “interpreted” in a specific context, in a
figurative and symbolic sense. In the denotative sense
there is no room for interpretations. What the receptor
sees is similar to a literal, objective and practical copy,
and it is mostly faithful to a specific referent. The differ-
ent interpretations give, nevertheless, an abstract and
concrete connotative sense to image since it is exposed to
other contexts that give it new senses loaded with distinct
values. Shatford [7] addresses the issues of photography
senses adopting the terminologies OF and ABOUT. For
her, the “OF” indicates what photography is made OF
and refers to the denotative sense. The “ABOUT” indi-
cates “that which the photo is ABOUT” and is associated
to the conno tative sense (concrete and abstract). A photo
1Point of view, in this case, refers to the photographer and the camera’s
hysical position in relation to the object or scene to be photographed.
If the photographer captures a scene from a point below it, it is said that
it was captured from an inferior point of view. If his/her position were
above the scene, it is Said that is was captured from a superior point o
view. The resulting photo is significantly altered according to the dif-
ference in the point of view.
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Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses 417
can be, for instance, OF a child crying and also ABOUT
starving, abandoned, children; children’s sickness, dread,
unhappiness, pain and many other interpretations made
by those who see the photo.
3. Thematization
The word thematization is not easily found in dictionar-
ies, in dictionaries in Portuguese, English, Spanish, French,
Italian, German, etc. However, the term may be associ-
ated to the word theme, whose meaning is a proposition
that will be dealt with or demonstrated. In this case, the
word thematize (which does not exist as a verb) can be
adopted as a verb in the sense of creating or selecting a
theme (topic) to something 2 and, as a noun, thematiza-
tion, means the act of effect of thematizing.
Despite the “official” inexistence of the word, but
based on the meanings brought to life from the entry
theme, we can conceptually understand thematization
as an act or action of giving one or more topics or (spe-
cific) meanings to an object or thing.
In this context, many fields of knowledge and human
activity can receive thematizing actions that may be sus-
ceptibly put into a frame in two great groups:
In the first, the possible concrete or abstract themes
that might be comprised into a determined thing (texts,
images in general, photographs, and diverse objects, sounds,
etc) can be identified through the interpretative analysis.
In this first group, photographic image is perfectly fitted.
Figure 1, for example, may include, among others, the
following concrete and abstract themes, taking into con-
sideration its “visible” and “invisible” characteristics.
Concrete themes: violence, aggression, kidnap-
ping, Roman mythology, Roman History. Abstract
themes: fear, dread, force, domination.
Figure 1. The rape of the Sabine women/Photo Ricardo
In the second group, one might search, from the choice
of a particular theme, objects and various concepts that
assembled represent that theme. Figure 2, for instance,
shows a medieval-themed hotel and all the segments be-
low favor the creation of the theme related to the hotel.
Thematic segments associated to the hotel: hotel con-
struction and decoration in medieval style; typical me-
dieval food offered by the hotel; costumes worn by hotel
staff; typical medieval feasts promoted by the hotel; li-
brary books of medieval subjects open to guests; medie-
val music played during leisure activities and as back-
ground music.
In general, any thing devoid of a context has no dis-
course that gives it a practical and real meaning. This
meaning, among other ways, can also be created through
thematization that, besides enabling the visualization of
the discourses explicitly pertinent to the thing, can change
it in part or completely, influencing how people perceive
and assimilate this thing. The same concept of object
may appear in different thematic discourses causing di-
verse senses that are influenced by the characteristics of
whoever produced the thematization and whoever used it.
The discourses produced by thematization allow in-
teraction between the individuals who produced them
and those who share some intimacy with the thing the-
matized. By producing the thematization discourse, the
individual creates meaning that is influenced in part by
one’s culture, ideologies, social position, cognition and
mental image. These characteristics must be in accor-
dance with the characteristics of those to whom the dis-
course is addressed, otherwise, there will be no possibil-
ity of communication between producer and user and the
thematization will result innocuous. Whoever creates a
thematization discourse seeks to persuade that one who
absorbs this discourse; hence the great importance that
the characteristics of both be compatible.
Figure 2. Example of a medieval themed hotel.
2Something, according to dictionaries, is understood as “all that exists
ou can exist, entity, object [···] that what is thought of” [8]. “Occur-
rence, event, circumstance. Fact, reality. Subject, matter or object
which is dealt about” [9].
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Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses
In its evolution, humanity has always brought within
itself the primitive domination of some men upon others,
and image has played an important role in this domain,
due to the thematized discourses in which it was created
and/or used. Throughout time, those who have governed3
—and who govern—have always used thematized dis-
courses in their many forms (painting, sculpture, drawing,
photography, cinema, TV, etc.) to direct people by forc-
ing them, in a certain way, to accept their ideas, feelings
and ideologies. Each image produced or used by these
governors with the purpose of domination brings with it a
thematized discourse that determines and directs its
polysemic characteristic.
In every moment throughout History, image has al-
lowed the most diverse thematization. Much was readily
perceived, since images were almost always handmade
and individually created in order to meet determined themes.
The invention of photography and its great expansion
especially after the advent of digital photography, in part
changed the way one views the image. Created from an
object/existing living thing—what allows for different
interpretations and points of view—photography signifi-
cantly expands the interpretative possibilities, making it
much more polysemic than the other types of image. How-
ever, when thematizing a photograph taking into account
its objective and function, besides the characteristics of
the image bank where it will be inserted, it becomes pos-
sible to identify and direct potential themes that might
arise. Such procedure allows for greater rationalization in
indexing, besides the possibility of inserting determined
photographs on topics in which, apparently, would not be
inserted since they do not belong directly to them.
Thematizing a photographic image means a priori4 to
contextualize its connotative senses, allowing for its be-
ing used in different topics and subjects, for different
interpretations and purposes, directing and delimiting the
scope of its thematic discourse.
The use of thematization is justified by the large amount
of photographic images produced daily worldwide, sig-
nificantly hindering their organization and retrieval.
In the words of Smit [10] “the description of an image
is never complete” and Manini [11] adds: “there will
always be something to wonder about it”, increasing the
difficulty in recognizing what to index and to what depth.
The use of an adequate thematization can, however, de-
fine and direct the image discourse establishing limits to
its polysemy, besides allowing the incorporation of themes
apparently out of the context. It also contributes to choos-
ing, at the moment of indexing, only those photos that
are compatible, that share the characteristics and objec-
tives of the image banks, mainly those of specialized
nature. Thematization is, therefore, a technique that an-
tecedes photographic image indexation by delimiting and
directing its discourse.
By delimiting discourses, thematization, somehow, se-
lects the photographs’ themes that interest the image
banks. It establishes the limits into which the photo will
be indexed and for which it will have metadata and re-
trieval terms. A photo, for instance, can comprise various
discourses A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H etc. From these, just B,
D, E and H discourses are interesting for the image bank.
In this case, the photo will be interpreted and subse-
quently indexed according to those themes’ discourses.
The other discourses, although present in the photo, will
not be considered since they are of no interest to the im-
age bank (Figure 3).
The chosen discourses can hold concrete connotative
(B e H) and abstract connotative senses (D e E) that,
when delimited, direct the photo by connecting it to other
photos’ similar discourses that are already part of the
image bank. Mainly the abstract connotative ones, which
are not clearly implicit in the images, allow for a man-
agement that enlarges the possibilities of the photo’s use
(Figure 4).
For a good work of thematization, however, an accu-
rate analysis of the photographic image becomes neces-
sary; an analysis that will, in a certain way, also consider
the necessities of the acquisition/selection and indexation
process. Therefore, it is possible to analyze a photograph
for all those tasks in just a moment.
Nowadays, the necessity of image organization and re-
trieval has significantly grown especially with the enor-
mous proliferation of mainly digital photos, causing the
emergence of innumerous image banks whose thousands
of images need to be accessible to users. In broader terms,
those banks have adopted a notion close to those defined
by several authors for whom the photographic analysis
aims at orally identifying the informational content of the
photograph. According to Smit [10], “to analyze an im-
age means, whether we like it or not, ‘to translate’ certain
Figure 3. Delimit photograph’s discourse.
3Kings, churches, governments, intellectuals, professors, communica-
tion and advertizing media, etc.
4A priori means the actualization of thematization before the use of the
image by the user. Figure 4. Direct photograph’s discourse.
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Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses 419
elements of that image from an iconic code to a verbal
code”. Maimone [12] defines: “image analysis is nothing
more than translating to a verbal language, the visual
aspect of a work, such as, photos, movies, paintings, and
so on. In this sense, the image in its content intends to
convey meanings, whether explicit or not”. According to
Brasil [13], analyzing image means identifying and speci-
fying image’s characteristics. This is the key to all image
indexing systems [···] the purpose of an image retrieval
system is to operate on a collection of indexed images,
and, in response to a user’s request (query), provide rele-
vant images according to established criteria.
4. Thematization and Indexing
While for some it may seem that thematization and in-
dexing are the same, there is a difference of purpose be-
tween the two techniques, even though both use up the
results of the same analyses for a given photographic
image. In a process of photo organization, thematization
is the first “consequence” of interpretative analysis, pre-
ceding indexing, delimiting and directing image polysemy.
Thematization includes determining, beyond the cen-
tral focus, which other referents or units5 within the ref-
erents will have their discourses chosen to be indexed
and become part of an image bank.
According to Lancaster’s concepts [14], thematization
can lead to “selective indexing, which implies the use of
fewer quantity of terms, in order to cover the thematic
content of the document.” When counting on the initial
aid of thematization, the indexing of photographs—from
image bank characteristics and photo functions—is, there-
fore, situated in the “selective indexing” category that
brings a fewer number of terms or key-words, or term
descriptors, thou with more objectivity for the retrieval of
photos, still according to Lancaster [14].
For whatever specific information need, there will be
much more negative items (not relevant to what one
seeks) than positive in the searching moment. Positive
items would be followed by a great amount of negative
ones (emphasis added).
Thematization, when limiting and directing photos’
discourses, can retrieve as many images as possible with
fewer number of negative items encompassing images
that are relevant to users’ necessities. Indexing can be,
therefore, influenced by thematization’s actions performed
Indexing photographic image means the activities de-
veloped with the purpose of determining identifying as-
pects (key-words, term descriptors, etc.) for previously
analyzed photos’ topics or subjects. Photos’ retrieval qual-
ity in an image database is directly related to the quality
of indexing. According to Souza [15], “an image re-
trieval system’s objective is to operate on a collection of
(indexed) images and, in response to a query, present
‘images that are relevant’ according to established crite-
ria”. Thus, the better the indexing quality, the greater the
chances of finding those desired photos.
In a photographic image, after analysis, one can verify
the existence of various discourses with differentiated
themes that are due to the natural polysemy of this type
of document. Indexing can be done in a broadly way in
which each of these discourses will be indexed with
various key-words or other types of indexes. In this case,
there will be a large universe of indexed themes, many of
which might not be directly related to the objectives and
characteristics of the image bank, the functions to be
performed by the photograph, and the field of knowledge
in which it will be used or the image bank’s target audi-
ence. In this case, a “super overvaluation of indexing
terms” is shaped, for many of them will be “superfluous”
in relation to use, increasing the indexing work efforts
and creating a storage of key-words and other types of
indexes that will never be used in a specific image bank.
The use of thematization as a technique prior to the
selection of indexing terms will allow, in turn, that topics
of interest or subjects apparently not related to the pho-
tograph in question be restricted to the topic of discus-
sion; thus, they will be grouped with other similar topics
and, finally, will direct the photograph just to relevant
topics. This will allow less indexing effort, besides a de-
scriptive set of words and key-words more focused on
the image bank’s characteristics.
5. Factors Affecting Photographic Image
When analyzing a photo, it is necessary to observe the
existence of several factors that, to a greater or lenses
extent, will determine whether it is going to be part of an
image bank. If those factors are not observed, all the
photos received by the bank will be incorporated to it,
generating a large amount of “trash” in its input and
hence, its output. Most of those factors must be observed
at the stage of the photos’ selection/acquisition. However,
other aspects should be observed in the thematization
phase, which will lead to the indexing and subsequent
incorporation of key-words or term descriptors necessary
to the photos’ retrieval. Among those factors we detach:
5Units are parts of the photo obtained from the image segregation proc-
ess, i.e. from the identification and separation of image constitutive
arts. One or more parts can be segregated, depending on how the
image is being perceived or on its analytical needs. In order to segre-
gate a figure in an image, it is necessary that it be distinguished from
the others in the surround or that it have a significant content in the
5.1. Technical Quality
Technical quality is related to a set of conditions that
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Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses
allows a photographic image to be considered suitable
for use in different situations and able to communicate
imagetic information. It involves the correct use of light,
lenses, films/sensors, digital resolution, and sharpness/
depth of field.
Sometimes there is only a photographic record of an
event with poor technical quality6. In this case, the in-
formational value counts more than any type of qualita-
tive scheme and the photo acquires an aspect of “rarity”
or of “opportunity”, and it should be incorporated to,
albeit for a limited time, the image bank.
5.2. Visual Quality
Once the image is denotatively assimilated by the brain,
the connotative process starts taking place, and, the more
visual qualities exist in the same, the greater the chances
of it being connotatively absorbed and interpreted. We
understand visual quality as a set of characteristics mainly
related to the framing and composition that give the photo,
besides a finer look, a framework for greater compatibil-
ity between the visual and mental systems. Although es-
tablished at the time of the photo creation, it is felt basi-
cally at the first perception moment, in the sight’s physio-
logical dimension, when the indexing or denotative as-
pect is assimilated by the sight and transferred to the brain,
influencing it to understand the image.
The importance of a photo’s visual quality is strongly
supported by the Gestalt psychology—an experimental
school of thought that, among other aspects, significantly
acts in the field of the theory of shape, according to Go-
mes Filho [16].
The Gestalt theory, drawn from rigorous experimenta-
tion, will suggest and answer why some images please
more while others do not. This way of approaching the
issue is opposed to that of subjectivism, for the psychol-
ogy of shapes is based on the physiology of the nervous
system, referring to its search of explaining the sub-
ject-object relationship in the field of perception.
5.3. Photograph’s Possible Functions
In general, in the specialized literature, authors classify
photographs according to their types of techniques (there
are, inclusive, photographers specialized in those differ-
ent types and techniques), according to the subjects of
topics to be photographed.
However, each of those types can fulfill various roles
in knowledge transmission, attributing to photographs
different functions, according to the circumstances and
moments in which they will be used. In many cases, a
certain photograph might have more than one purpose
and produce different discourses. A photo of a soccer
player running after a ball, for instance, might perform
several functions, such as: reporting on a game, showing
a moment in the soccer player’s life, what sports is about,
sports fashion, among others.
5.4. Image Bank’s Characteristics
An image bank is defined not as a simple software or a
site that provides images, but as an institution’s technical
service that selects, acquires, organizes, stores, and al-
lows photographic images’ retrieval according to the po-
lices and pre-established principles.
The content of a photographic image, thou it might be
denotatively described in a similar way by many image
banks, allows different connotative interpretations de-
pending on the banks’ characteristics, which reads an im-
age discourse in different ways. It is vital, therefore, to
understand the objectives and characteristics of an image
bank before analyzing a photograph according to its de-
termined thematic discourses, since its objectives and
characteristics will interfere in choosing which discourses
will be chosen. Generally, six categories of banks are
- library image banks;
- image banks of files and institutions for the preserva-
tion and exhibition of images;
- newspapers’ image banks;
- magazines’ image banks;
- image agencies’ image banks;
- news’ image banks.
According that type of categorization, requirements of
time, pertinence, technical quality, visual quality, denota-
tion, connotation, among others of the analyzed and stored
material considerably vary according to the image bank’s
6. Thematization and the Determination of
As stated earlier in this article, any thing, devoid of a
context in which it suits, has no discourse that gives it a
practical and real discourse. A photograph, by itself, has
no meaning if it is not contextualized, constituting only
an image that represents something, a referent that seems
to have no meaning. The photo of a screw (Figure 5), for
6It may happen, for instance, that in a plane crash the only photo that
recorded the accident was a cell phone’s picture with low technical and
visual quality. However, since it may be the only existing picture, it
will be considered by its informational qualities, rather than any tech-
nical or visual quality. Figure 5. A screw.
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Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses
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instance, does not mean absolutely anything if there is no
context in which it fits. Many times it might not be iden-
tified as a screw if the image receptor does not know
what a screw is.
To have meaning, the photo of the screw needs to be
contextualized with some thematic discourse indicating
what it is ABOUT. It might be, for instance, ABOUT
“security”, since a screw securely holds two or more
things; ABOUT “coupling”, since it holds two or more
things; ABOUT “design”, since the drawing of a screw
requires some patterned metallurgic specifications; ABOUT
“metallurgy”, since it is manufactured in this field, etc.
By establishing a thematic discourse, the photo of the
screw will be embedding itself within a context. This is
done a priori in the image bank. However, the photo’s
discourse will be in a “dormant” state until it is retrieved
by one of those themes (security, coupling, design, or
Photographic image thematization belongs to the first
set of actions that can be thematized, i.e., a set of things
that implicitly bring in their context one or more dis-
courses in a “dormant” state, waiting to be determined a
priori by an image bank and received by a receptor. That
determination will allow that one delimits and directs the
discourses according to the relevant characteristics of the
image bank in which it will be inserted, favoring the im-
agetic information analysts on their posterior photo in-
dexing work. The photo of the screw might carry many
of the topics described above. However, if it belongs to,
for instance, an image bank specialized in metals, the
thematic discourses to be considered are those related to
“design” and “metallurgy”. The others will be discarded
from this image bank. Diagram 1 allows us to view and
delimit that direction.
Although not an established norm, thematization ac-
tivities must obey a logical flow of tasks that might fa-
cilitate the determination of the discourses adequate to an
image bank. It is assumed that, when beginning that flow,
the analyst already knows for sure which image bank’s
characteristics and types of discourses might or might not
be incorporated to it. In the example of the screw, the
analysts know beforehand that the abstract discourses
“coupling” and “security” do not need to be incorporated
to the image bank because its characteristics are linked to
technical aspects related to metallurgy/siderurgy. It is
likely, however, that another photo from the image bank
might have a discourse related to “security” and “cou-
pling”, when those themes mentioned some technical
characteristics linked to metallurgic security or the cou-
pling of metal bars. In that case, the discourse context is
When it comes to more general image banks such as
those linked to news agencies, the scope of the thematic
discourses might be much larger. Still, it is possible to
delimitate and direct the discourses for several reasons,
including: deleting photos of certain regions, of certain
political or religious impressions, and photos with dates
prior to the period, etc.
Diagrama 1. Delimitation and directing the photo of the screw’s discourse.
Photographic Image: Thematization of Its Discourses
7. Conclusions
Taking into account that a photograph, devoid of a con-
text that gives it meaning, does not exist as information;
therefore, the need of determining thematized discourses
before indexing is fundamentally crucial. Otherwise, the
indexed data will be merely identified and descriptive
indicators of a referent whatsoever. This way, the photo-
graph will be identified by its denotative values’ key-
words and term descriptors. The discourses demit and
direct the photo to the image bank’s context, giving its
meanings according to the bank’s characteristics and
eliminating irrelevant topics. Besides this delimitation and
directing, thematization allows the grouping of photos
that share one or more similar themes, although many of
them are from totally different topics which, apparently,
have nothing to do with each other.
In today’s world, the vast proliferation of images, es-
pecially photography in the digital age, has brought with
a similar problem to that of the so-called 1940s’ explo-
sion of information: the imagistic explosion. Millions of
images are produced annually, and their organization in
image banks is inescapable for a retrieval that meets users’
As observed, photograph might have many discourses,
however, they need to be delimited and directed accord-
ing to their image banks’ characteristics. The non-de-
limitation and non-directing generate the presentation of
discourses that, although existing in photography, are not
necessary for some image banks which store that photo.
When the photograph’s discourse is delimited and di-
rected, it becomes better organized for the users’ retrieval
and use. Some discourses can be adopted by various im-
age banks, while others only by some due to those banks’
characteristics and objectives. Consequently, thematiza-
tion limits the use of discourses that have nothing to do
with a certain image bank.
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