CCT 510
Spring 2005

Professor Martin Irvine

Visual Culture and Everyday Life

Everyday experience in a city involves navigating and decoding multiple kinds of visual codes and signs. We read visual information in many contexts and have learned how to code-switch among all the genres and visual content.

Everything from street plans, building designs, and the look of different neighborhoods to messages in advertising, logo design, the look and design of cars and all vehicles, and the styles of clothing and everyone's "look" convey cultural messages.

Cruciform layout for a shopping mall, Rochester, NY


Cancelled "Pepsi Wave" ad, Jan. 2005


Calvin Klein Jeans billboard, Houston St., NY, Jan. 2005


Matrix Reloaded, Trinity and "bullet time"


Santiago Calatrava, Design for World Trade Center train terminal, NY, screen capture, Jan. 25, 2005

Most of our visual language is channeled through media--newspapers, magazines, television, video, film, computer screens and software interfaces, Web and Internet visual content.

The totality of media forms and all their relationships at any given cultural moment was termed "the mediasphere" by Regis Debray. The mediasphere represents the intersecting nodes of all our circulating visual information.

Points to consider:

  • Mass culture and code-switching
  • Many elements of our visual mediasphere are consumer-culture driven: the dominance of advertising, marketing, brand image.
  • Viewers are constructed in the subject position of "consumer" in advertising.
    • "Advertising serves not so much to advertise products as to promote consumption as a way of life." (Christopher Lasch)
  • Cases studies: shopping malls (see Shopping Mall Studies site)

The "visual cultural of everyday life" in today's cities can be described by updating Benjamin's notion of the detached observer of modern city life, the flâneur, who takes it all in but doesn't get absorbed din the crowd. (See description, a part of Benjamin's "arcades project.")

Make an inventory of culturally significant visual content and the genres and codes they belong to.