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Home » FASHIONISTA NOW » Fashionista NOW: What Takes Place When You Interpret Fashion Imagery?

Fashionista NOW: What Takes Place When You Interpret Fashion Imagery?

What Takes Place When You Interpret Fashion Imagery?

Do you enjoy scrolling through you Instagram feeds for visual inspiration? Wonder what exactly that takes place as you eyeball photos after photos? We look for answers in philosophy.

Gunther Kress stated in his book Literacy in The New Media Age (2003) that the world told is different world than the world shown and this quote stuck with me as I gobbled a piece on The Instagram Effect on Fashion that touched upon Instagram’s function in the world of visual culture. Based off the article, in summary, there are two ways we witness the world. One is through viewing the world as it is directly and the second is through the filtered visual landscapes published on digital platforms, one of the many that is insidiously transforming the fashion and beauty industries, is Instagram.

I cannot help but associate the meaning behind Kress’s statement to Vilém Flusser’s talk on the philosophy of photography which I listened to earlier in the year and it made me look at photographs online and offline with a renewed sense of seeing. I was introduced to the Czech-born media philosopher by the lovely Lidia Zuin, Brazilian journalist who is a fashion blogger on Fiercekrieg through one of her other blogs where she indulges on subjects having to do with semiotics and philosophy. And if you know me, philosophy is a darling of mine ever since my early twenties happened.

Unfortunately, the video of his delicious talk has been taken down for some reason but I’m sure YouTube has a few short clips of his you can listen to such as this one where he talks how photographs transcended history. Nothing beats the book, of course. Read it here if you’re interested. Flusser’s in depth dissection of photography from a philosophical perspective resonated with me and thanks to his sobering analysis, the quote by Gunther Kress triggered a connection to Flusser’s ideas on the digital image’s role in society. The reason I conjure Flusser is to associate the philosophy of photography with the way Instagram is used to shape, flesh out a certain aesthetic appeal celebrated by the beauty, fashion and lifestyle communities. On the photo-based platform, filtered and manipulated pictures become the replacement for words offering the user a near-instant visual communication, not of how the world is manifested in real life but of idealized versions of it.

To describe the fleeting reaction we all experience as we scroll and double tap certain images from a pool of other images, I let Flusser’s own words to decode the experience (though not about Instagram specifically when he wrote this) that takes place:


“The significance of images is on the surface. One can take them in at a single glance yet this remains superficial. If one wishes to deepen the significance, i.e. to reconstruct the abstracted dimensions, one has to allow one’s gaze to wander over the surface feeling the way as one goes. This wandering over the surface of the image is called ‘scanning’. In doing so, one’s gaze follows a complex path formed, on the one hand, by the structure of the image and, on the other, by the observer’s intentions. The significance of the image as revealed in the process of scanning therefore represents a synthesis of two intentions: one manifested in the image and the other belonging to the observer. It follows that images are not ‘denotive’ (unambiguous) complexes of symbols (like numbers, for example) but ‘connotative’ (ambiguous) complexes of symbols: They provide space for interpretation.”Towards a Philosophy of Photography


The act of posting a photo on Instagram may appear as an effortless process but we must admit that it compels quite a thought process and some form of planning by the poster. As an observer of the image who is on the viewing end, we may see what the photographer wants us to see but often times, it is an approximation of it as we color the interpretation with our own stories, point-of-views and life experiences, giving the photo a meaning that is uniquely and subjectively significant to us. The next time you view a post on Instagram or some other digital visual medium, let this awareness arise and see if you can separate your own point of observation from the intention(s) of the creator of the image, fashion or otherwise.




Have you read Flusser’s book Towards A Philosophy of Photography? If so, what do you think of his insights in the context of our current world that is obsessed with visual imagery?

I wonder what Flusser would think of the rise of idealistic photos that are polished to look nothing at all like the subjects in real life. Have we as a society become so consumed with the perfect image that we are more than willing to act as though under a magic spell for the benefit of cameras?

Share your thoughts down below!

“Events began to accelerate. They rolled toward the image.”Vilém Flusser

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Here on Fashionista NOW, our one and very own Miss Reverie showcases the latest in fashion trends and its various social implications in our everyday lives. You may read more of her at REVERIE SANCTUARY.


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