Picturing The Communication Process

Picturing the communication proces. It that possible? Why not?

The picture below has already been posted to this site once. I seem to revert to it from time to time. It has something to it that not easily can be described. A couple of days ago I finally grasped what is was. Or “some of” what it was. It is a picture illustrating the communication process. Easy as that, and I really wonder why it took me so long to realise it.

Here comes the picture.

Let’s look at this pictures in more detail using some of the tools laid bare on this blog in earlies posts.


Denotations are the picture basics. That content that we all are likely to agree on. The basic stepping stones of the image. What, literally, do we have? We have parts of a large room. The wall framing the image left hand and right hand sides. The roof is indicated, and the floor is clearly a major part of the physical spread of the photograph.

At the back of the room there is a large class wall leading out to the exterior. A lake, trees and more trees. Laves and trunks. The glass wall, which is floor-to-ceiling high is bloken by vertical (wooden) poles to enhance the vertical impression.

In the middle some kind of cylinder.  Glass of plastic cylinder. In both cases transparent. Two people look into the cylinder from opposite sides. Facing each other. The closes persons seems to have oversized shoes on. The other person is blurred by the glass or plastic so you can only guess that this is a person. It is more of an indication than a precise outline, but we are not in doubt that it is a person. The second person is intended.

The camera angle is downwards, and the lens clearly a wide one that distorts the natural perspective making the parts of the foreground look bigger than the objects further away.

These are the most obvious denotations. There are more, and they could all be described in greater detail, but this is sufficient for what is need here.


And now to the connotations. Those second layer contents that always are there to add to the reading and understanding of a message. As shown elsewhere on the blog, and in the wording of Roland Barthes, you can talk about connotation procedures to get a grip of how you deliberately can try to work specific connotations into a message.

I will treat them pretty overall here only stating that to me this photograph comes with a content of life, playfulness, curiosity and ambiguity. It is a happy and youthful picture, as well.

I am sure that you will read, if not identical, then somewhat similar connotations into the image. And maybe even a greater number, since the shift of layer from denotation to connotation brings with it a shift from objective reading to subjective reading. Personal taste, understanding and preferences are to a larger extent at play here.

So far so good.


Are there more to it? As indicated in the blog title there should be: picturing the communications process. Call this a third layer, call it a level inherent in the denotations and connotations combined. Call is basically whatever you like since labelling is not the name of the game here. The more I looked at the picture I found it to be a good illustration of the communication process. To me it symbolises the communication process. Why? And how?

One way of defining communication is by pointing to a sender and a receiver of a message. This is communication defined in its simplest form and it makes the point needed here. The person in the foreground of the photograph is the sender of the message, and he is also the receiver of a message. So is the person on the far side of the cylinder. Thus the transmission and receiving of a message is a circular affair always in motion. Partly transparent to the observer. This continuous movement is filtered by the individual’s outlook of the world. The way he or she, in phenomenological terms, intends the world.

When using the word intention here it is not in the ordinary sense of the word. I am not talking about intent as in the intention of going to the movies. In the phenomenological world view the meaning of the word intention differs from that, and the term really brings us to the core theme of phenomenology. It is called intentionality, and is that core notion that sets phenomenology apart from anything else that you have ever read about or heard about. Intentionality is all embracing. That is why, when you look at the basic barebones resource diagram below you will find phenomenology is the rock that everything rests on. Including phenomenology itself.

Speaking about different theoretical frameworks phenomenology embraces gestalt psychology, semiology/semiotics, naturalism, experiential results, hermeneutics and whatever framework you can think of. By that, and this is important, the barebones communication universe constitutes a completely new and integreted way of combining, handling and analysing bits and pieces of communication. And of construction such pieces. Like in this case: a simple, maybe not so simple, photography.

For a shoutcut to barebones communication resources, please go here.

What is intentionality?

Intentionality is the basic idea that consciuosness always is the consciousness of something. The implication is that consciousness never operated in a vacuum or towards blank spots. When I, or you, look at the picture above we always grasps something. That something might be the overall picture, a detail in it, or simply something that are not directly present in the picture.

Alas, when the two guys in the picture stare at each other they stare at something. That something may be specifically present like the guy on the other side of the tube, or it may not be present. It could for instance be an imaginary guy only present in the viewers phantasy. As a mental picture.

That something, that is always there, will be dependent upon a set of social and phychological or physical factors. Things are filtered based on factors just mentioned.  So the glass tube, the glass or plastic cylinder, reflects the idea of looking through filters. There are, as you can see in the picture, a senders filter, and there are a receivers filter.  Things are communication your way, and are received your way as well. This filtering sometimes makes communication difficult, as we all know.

Presence and absence

When there is presence there is always also absence, and as there always are presence there will always be absence. It is one of the major benefits of phenomenology to have shown this. Does this sound cryptic to you? It should not. Just take a look at the picture once more.

What do you see this time? Well, here are some of the things I see. I see a wall, I see a window, I see some trees, I see two people staring into a glass tube. This must then be the present elements.

On the other hand here is what I don’t see: I don’t see the back of the walls, I don’t see the fishes in the water, I don’t see the birds in the trees, I don’t see the feet in the shoes, I don’t see the surrounding landscape. These are then the absent elements that makes this picture understandible to me. As they will to you. There is no way of escaping this.

I will dwell on this aspect to a larger extent in later posts. My point here is simply this: when you communicate what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. When you show, like in  a picture, what you don’t show is a strong contender for meaning. Everyone knows how loud a silence can sound, how speaking a white wall can be.

However, and this is my postulate, very few of us are really good in controlling absent elements in the same way we think that we control present elements.

Apart from a short sum-up I will, accordingly, say no more, and leave you to filter in or to filter out the vaste areas of absences in the continuation of this blog post :-)  Only you can do that.


Illustration and photograph on this blog are copyrighted by the blog author Knut Skjærven. Must not be copied, downloaded or used in any form without the prior, written consent of the copyright holder.

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