7.05 The Imagery in the Exploding Cinema programmes (1992 to 1998)

As I have noted the images that form the background to the majority of pages in the Exploding Cinema programmes are made by anyone in the collective who attends the special booklet meetings. These images will be analysed in two ways:

a. First the whole output of some 1000 illustrated pages (from 70 programmes) will be analysed for the overall range of imagery and an ordered classification made. I then analyse this classification itself and discuss a selection of the sub categories.

b. From this classification four typical double page openings are selected and analysed using ideas from the visual grammar of Kress and Van Leeuwen as summarised above with help from the indexical strategies of Roland Barthes.

I went through all the booklets giving an intuitive verbal classification to the dominant image on each page. Once a category was established I enumerated further examples in that category. Two months later this process was repeated and revisions made.


Table 1. Draft Classification of Programme Imagery

ANIMALS                                  23        (Excl. insects)

CAPITALISM                            15        (Incl. Commodities(5), motors(3), mass                                                     media(3), WWII(2), military(2).)

BEAUTY                                    6

CHILDHOOD /FAMILY              4

COMIX                                      16

DRUGS                                      8

EARLY FILM /S8                    19        (Incl. Amateur film/photo)

EATING                                    5

FEMALE POWER                        8

FILM STARS                            18

INSECTS                                  24

MONSTER /HORROR                  18

ORAL CULTURES                      17        (Includes circus(5), DIY(2), popular(2)              and youth(2), culture, pirates(2),

tribal(2), seasonal(2))

            POLITICAL                  17

            SEXUALITIES              7

            SKELETAL                    2

            OUTER SPACE              2



Remembering Foucault's emphasis in The Archeology of Knowledge on the potential importance of the apparently idiosyncratic, and the dangers of the normative in ironing over difference, I decided to go back to my initial categories and organise them in meta-categories.

In relation to a history of ideas that attempts to melt contradictions in the semi-nocturnal unity of an overall figure, or which attempts to transmute them into a general, abstract, uniform principle of interpretation or explanation, archeology describes the different spaces of dissension. (Foucault 1969 p152)

The reordering resulted in four main headings, in two pairs, which make up a first order of classification (see Table 2). Outer nature and human nature, and, Lifeworld and system. The second order of classification comprises of fifteen headings of which four are further divided into a third order of sub-categories. Oral culture is divided into seven sub-categories and Capitalism into five, gender and mainstream cinema are divided into two sub-categories each.

Table 2. Classification of Imagery

OUTER NATURE(47)    Insects(24)

                                    Other Animals(23)

                                    Outer Space(2)


HUMAN NATURE(19)    Beauty(6)


                                    Childhood /Family(4)



LIFEWORLD(92)          Early film /Amateur/S8(19)

                                    Radical politics(17)

                                    Oral cultures(17)                          Circus(5)



                                                                                                Popular culture(2)



                                                                                                Youth culture(2)


                                    Gender(15)                                        Female Power(8)




SYSTEM(51)                Mainstream Cinema(36)                  Horror(18)

                                                                                                Film Stars(18)


                                    Capitalism(15)                                Commodities(5)

                                                                                                Mass media(3)






With reference to Kress and Leeuwen's visual grammar as summarised above, I will start by making a semiotic analysis of this table before going on to comment on four subject groups and finally choosing four page openings for detailed analysis.

If we apply the syntax of 'Left/Right is Given/New' then the 'given' is the broad historical divisions of nature and culture and system/ lifeworld. On the right is a category of social actions positioned as the new.

Overlaying this is the syntax of top/bottom that creates a dynamic between the ideal and the real. Circus is ideal and WWII real within the new. On the left-hand side outer nature and human nature is ideal opposed by the system as real.

This reading reverses a normative version in which we might expect the mainstream or system to be idealised at the top (head denoting the rational) and nature and the body to be in the lower area, or foot of the page, onto which the mainstream imposes its civilising order.

The second order of classification mediates between the given and the new (left and right). This mediation only relates to Oral Cultures, Gender, Mainstream Cinema and Capitalism, which alone contain further groups on the right. Here, in the zone of mediation, it is the resistance, offered by oral cultures and women, that is 'ideal' and capitalism represented through its mainstream cinema that is the 'real'.[1]

The horizontality of the classification suggests a flow of processes from established categories to the social flux of action. The modality of the diagram is conveyed by its lack of colour and apparent scientificity. The implied diagonal from top/left to bottom /right suggest a vector which goes from nature to war. The downward direction suggesting an inevitability, which I would not consciously wish to subscribe to, but which may reflect a fear of the consequences of the present world order.[2]


[1] I have given the ideal / real opposition the inflection of Habermas's lifeworld / system.


[2] It is clear that this categorisation is made through the lens of my own subjectivity and is only one option of several. However, in terms of the reflexivity I have espoused this is a subjectivity that is at least sympathetic to the ethos of Exploding Cinema.