Between words and images: simulation, deconstruction and postmodern photography

Paul Jobling

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This catalogue essay attempts to unravel how and why the cult of the image is most expressly manifest in postmodernism by a concern with hyper-reality or the simulacral – the revival of the Platonic idea that a copy is made of an original which never really existed in the first place. The high priest of such thinking is Jean Baudrillard, who insists that we take flight from reality by reproducing images based on other images with the result that we no longer have the propensity to tell representation and reality apart. The mass media have a crucial part to play here and there is obviously something in Baudrillard’s argument when it comes to considering visual cultural forms like reality television and the constant rehashing of imagery in advertising and photography. Yet, when we consider the representation of the human body as a site for the exercise and regulation of power in advertising for Benetton and Levis 501 or Cindy Sherman’s untitled film stills, it doesn’t suffice to argue, as both he and Dick Hebdige after him have done, that all hyperreal texts are devoid of serious comment or political content. Moreover, Baudrillard’s thesis capsizes the relationship that still exists between words and images in postmodern political posters by the likes of Barbara Kruger or photo-essays for The Face such as 'Strategies for the Unemployed' or 'Who's Shooting Who? In Beirut It Pays to Know Your Terrorist'. Thus, as I argue, we also need to consider Jacques Derrida’s contention that the deconstruction of any text is more a matter of dealing with ‘multiple reading heads’, of resisting a system based on binary oppositions, and accordingly, a question of pondering the intertextuality of word and image.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPostmodernism: style and subversion, 1970-1990
EditorsGlenn Adamson, Jane Pavitt
Place of PublicationLondon, UK
PublisherVictoria and Albert Museum
Number of pages4
ISBN (Print)9781851776227
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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