Semiotic Ad Analysis: Vanity Fair Cover

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Analysis of Vanity Fair Magazine Cover (May 2006)

Kress and Van Leeuwen (1996) have provided a toolkit for visual analysis that Unsworth (2001) draws upon in his analysis of images. In this short essay I will use the meta-functional framework as adopted by Kress and Van Leeuwen and presented by Unsworth (representational/ideational, interactive/interpersonal and compositional/textual) to conduct a short analysis of the special Green Issue of Vanity Fair magazine cover from May 2006. In the analysis I will also include Barthes’ (1972) concepts of connotation and denotation.

To begin with, it is useful to understand the context of the image. Vanity Fair is a fashion and pop culture magazine with articles on fashion, celebrities and lifestyle and promotes famous fashion brands. In doing so, Vanity Fair promotes a lifestyle that encourages consumerism. However its May 2006 issue, ‘shouts’ (in caps lock) the need for a New Environmental Revolution to address a threat bigger than terrorism. This aims to draw the attention from its regular cover topics to green issues that are now worthy of all our attention. By getting involved in the revolution, we will become part of a fashionable leading crowd. The cover was photographed by Annie Liebovitz.

In terms of representation, the participants are four famous people: Julia Roberts and three men, George Clooney, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Al Gore. The choice of people can be explained through their public role. Julia Roberts is a famous Hollywood actress, but also owner of an eco-friendly house, publicly known as the Green Mansion. George Clooney, also a Hollywood actor is noted for his political activism. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a respected environmental advocate, while Al Gore, former US Vice President and environmental activist, received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in climate change activism. In this image, the participants are standing and sitting looking at the camera (outside of the frame). For this...
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