Project 3: Exercise 2 ~ Join the Navy

Join the Navy, 1917 (colour litho); Richard Fayerweather Babcock

Join the Navy, 1917 (colour litho); Richard Fayerweather Babcock

In this exercise I am going to explore semiotics, by doing a semiotic analysis on the picture opposite. I will first describe the literal elements of the print, the denotation. Then I will consider its implied meaning, and try to work out whether these connotation were accidental or deliberate.







In the image a man, in a navy or sailors uniform, is depicted astride or straddling a golden torpedo. The sailor has a rein on the torpedo, and his left arm is raised above his head, his hand is holding onto what appears to be some kind of whip. The torpedo appears to be in contact with some kind of water, making a splash around the sides of the torpedo and on the sailors legs and arm.

Beneath the image of the sailor, is some text. In large red capitol letters, in a hand lettered or painted text reads, JOIN THE NAVY. The letter the is significantly smaller than the top words either side and appears to have two wavy lines in red underneath it. Under the red text is navy blue colour text, also in capitals but slightly smaller in height. The blue text reads, THE SERVICE FOR FIGHTING MEN, and has a painted yellow line underneath it.


There are several elements which could been taken to have different implied meanings within the image. Mainly the torpedo, my initial thought was to see it as a phallic symbol, I think this is an easy assumption to come to because the torpedo is positioned between the man’s legs. But I think this might be a result of our modern conditioning or Freudian analysis that often assumes that kind of reading. There are other elements that suggest the torpedo wasn’t intended to be a phallic symbol; the reins the man is holding attached to the torpedo and the whip in his raised arm have connotation of horse riding or horse racing. A sport at the time which was largely enjoyed by men, jockeys were mostly male (I think still are), and men enjoyed taking bets on the horses. Perhaps this instead acts as a symbol of strength or dominance, the man has control over an dangerous weapon, its an assertive position.  Perhaps it also implies skill, as with horse riding, it takes training and practice. It takes a certain disposition – this idea is supported by the text ‘The service for fighting men’, the implication is that men who have a desire or passion to fight will do well in the Navy. Perhaps it’s also meant to appeal to thrill, seekers, or risk takers, the figure in the image seems to be enjoying or pleased with riding the torpedo.

Whilst the reading which focuses on the connotation with horse racing seems odd to modern eyes I think it might be more fighting for the time the image was created, 1917. Horse racing and most other sports were largely a male undertaking, unlike today where women compete in lots of different sports.

Finding another image to analyse:

I found the process of selecting another image to analysis harder than expected. At first I searched Pinterest, looking under the Illustration & Posters section. I found a couple of interesting posters, for instance, a poster advertising Mercedes – Benz car services, a movie poster for Walt The Movie by Walt Disney Pictures.

Unsure of if those examples were complex enough to do an semiotic analysis I started to search for articles with examples of best Graphic design or advertising campaigns of 2015. The Guardian Best Ads of 2015, was interesting but all video based. DigitalArts had a post about the Visual Trends 2016 – again interesting and something to talk about another time but not helpful for finding an image to analyse.

After lots of searching I decided to check out the CreativeReview blog, one of the websites recommended for this section of the course. I came across a post about ’10 great film posters from Human After All’s movie project, Delve.’

This lead to looking at the work of Illustrator Marina Muun. I decided to use one of her illustrations as an image to analyse:

Illustration for Bulletin Magazine by Marina Muun

Illustration for Bulletin Magazine by Marina Muun


In the image, a series of illustrated hands, of different colours, are seen. Some of the hands are piecing together fragments. The fragments being pieced together look like the head/face of a person, perhaps a man. The fragments are connected together with tape. At the side of the jigsaw like face, there is are scissors to the left, and a roll of tape to the right.



The fragments which together make a face or the profile of a man, could mean several things. I tend to think of fragments as a way of describing something that’s broken or disconnected. It could represent someone who struggles with self esteem or identity or has experience some sort of trauma, emotional or physical. The hands around the image are soft, rounded, some of the colours, like the pink, purple and yellow to me seem feminine. It looks as if the hands are putting the pieces, or person they represent back together. But the presence of the scissors as well as tape might suggest the hands that are putting the person back together also helped to de-construct them in the first place. The overall feel of the image isn’t threatening or dark, there are muted colours, no greys or dark spots, so I don’t think it’s meant to be about a very dark or difficult situation. Perhaps it’s supposed to represent a therapeutic or healing process for those involved?

Asking for Dan’s perspective on the image:

Dan’s perspective: It looks like an advert for mental health or neurological care, the pieces are like putting someone’s mind together. Connotation of team – mental health being something that needs a team of people, each of the different hands has a different piece. The different hands holding different pieces could represent specialisms. It’s interesting that visually they’ve chosen different colours for the different hands, suggests it’s different people. It looks like they have the tools for the job (scissors, tape), to accomplish what they set out to do.

Reflections on process:

Dan’s meaning or interpretation of the image was slightly different. He saw the many hands as a sign of team work, that interpretation didn’t even enter my mind. I attributed the hands with a feminine feel, Dan didn’t see the hands as representing a particular sex. I think I assumed partly being a woman, and partly because of my own thoughts on feminism as aggressive towards men. He also saw the tools in the image as part of the solution, whereas I thought the scissors might have been part of the problem. I wonder if Dan’s approach is much more task orientated, he is more of a problem solver than I am. I tend to think more about the human element of something, more empathetically, perhaps that’s why my interpretation feels more like trying to work out a story or a persons life. Either way the exercise was an interesting way of showing how the same image can be seen in a different light by different people.


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