TOM I. A sociosemiotic analysis of a photograph of a female demonstrator in the light of visual activism theory

We observe an increasing use of the media to gain public interest in the arena of media discourses. Created, disseminated and floating visual messages gain interest as part of a contemporary visual spectacle. These media materials appeared crucial especially in the tense period of political and social polarisation of the pandemic era. This chapter investigates the image of a female activist presented in a black and white photography taken by a committed photographer, who declares himself to be a visual activist. The levels of meaning conveyed by the depicted female figure are described (according to the Gillian Dyer categories. Through provided connotations, this chapter attempts to capture visual activism during the COVID-19 pandemic in Warsaw. The study uses qualitative tools to describe an important event from the period of street protests as part of the Women’s Strike in autumn 2020. The article analyses the image of the protesting woman as an iconic representation. The methodology used is derived from visual social semiotics. The interpretive frame is the theory of social activism and the critical paradigm of visual media studies. Visual social semiotics might answer questions about the importance and functions of an activist photo in the context of media coverage for the socio-political rebellion during pandemic times.

Keywords: visual activism, protest photography, visual semiotics, protest, Women’s Strike, critical media studies