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As explained in Chapter 2, context is the consideration of the situational factors or circumstances of either the responder or composer of a text. Context affects the way in which readers respond to visual texts as well as the way that composers construct their visual texts. In this chapter we will look at how purpose, audience, ideology and positioning affect the way that readers respond to, and composers construct, texts.


The audience refers to the group of people who will be looking at (viewing) the visual text. When a composer constructs a visual text he/she is composing for a particular audience. This will have an impact on how the visual text is composed.

Imagine, for example, that you are leaving a voice message on a mobile phone (a spoken text). Do you think that the message you leave will be different if your intended audience was your best friend? Your mother? The manager where you hope to get a job? If you can imagine how what you would say and how you would say it would change, then you already have an understanding of audience. Now it is a matter of recognising where audience has had an affect on how visual texts have been constructed.

Not every visual text that you analyse will have you as the intended audience. It is important, therefore, that you can decide what audience the text has been constructed to reach. In a visual text such as a film clip where the subject matter is about a famous rapper, the audience may well be people whose interests include listening to rap music. The next time you see a visual text (in a newspaper, on television, an advertisement on a bus) try to decide who you think the audience for that visual text is. This is particularly relevant when watching (viewing) video clips. Consider how the images in the visual text reach the audience.


Every text that we come across has a purpose. The purpose is the reason for the text being composed. The purpose of some visual texts could be to make teenagers laugh. The purpose of many documentaries is to inform and sometimes to persuade. The purpose of advertisements is certainly to persuade. The purpose of a stop sign is to warn of impending (coming) danger. In each case the purpose of a visual text will influence the way in which it is composed. Visual texts generally have the purposes of entertaining, instructing, persuading or warning and so on.

Purpose, audience and context

Purpose, audience and context are very closely linked. This is because the purpose of a text often involves communicating with a particular audience. A visual text with the purpose of making teenagers laugh should have an audience of teenagers who want to laugh. In order for this to happen, the composer will need to have a good understanding of the context (what teenagers' circumstances are - particularly their interests and what they find humorous).

Another example is a newspaper photograph where the purpose of the visual text is to inform the public about a specific part of an event. As the purpose of the photograph is to inform the public, in general its audience is very wide and hopes to communicate with people from a diverse range of personal contexts. The photographer (composer) of a newspaper photograph needs to ensure that their personal context does not stop them from reporting the news objectively (not influenced by personal context) as opposed to subjectively whereby the personal context and opinions of a composer directly affect the construction of a visual text.

You can practise this activity in the 'Purpose and audience activity animation'.


Ideology is a set of values and attitudes. We derive our values and attitudes from our everyday experiences and what we are taught. They are what help us to decide what is right and wrong. Our ideology is very much influenced by our context. Many visual texts, in particular, films, that you will study and analyse, will present a particular ideology. These ideologies are quite often influenced by context. A composer of a visual text whose values and attitudes are very much against racism and prejudice, for example, may present a text that aims to communicate those values to the audience.


It is important that a composer puts their audience into a position to understand their ideology. In the film Shrek, directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, for example, it is vital to the success of the film that the viewer has an understanding of the idea that beauty is on the inside. The viewerin this case is positioned to empathise with Shrek.

Let's look at a simple example of positioning through visual texts. Text One is the ideology stated very simply. The composer has included his/her point of view or opinion. This is that apples are good.

Text one


Text Two and text Three positions the reader to understand the composer's context more clearly. The ideology is that apples are good because they make people happy

Text two   Text three


Which do you think is more effective? While Text One reveals the composer's point of view, the responder is far better positioned in Text Two and Text Three to agree with the opinion as there is more detail as to the good effect that apples have. The clear example in Text Two and Text Three positions the responder to understand why apples are good things.

You should note that this is an example of how to compose visual texts effectively. While you will have heard your teacher, at some stage, tell you that there is no right answer, there is a more correct answer. Because Text Two and Text Three explain the point of view of the composer, it is more correct than Text One.

Text Four is an example of how the reader can be positioned through narrative rather than through fact.

Text four

Text Four is a particularly effective text because it explains the point of view through narrative rather than through facts or an objective third-person description of an event. Consider how the audience is positioned. The visual text tells the story of how a person's life was improved by eating apples. Is Text Four more effective in convincing you that apples are good things? Does being able to empathise (relate to) with an individual make a statement more realistic?

Refer to the 'Positioning and Ideology activity' to practise using this concept (idea)

In this chapter

You should be building up a picture of how context, audience, purpose, ideology and positioning are interrelated and impact on shaping meaning in visual texts.

As a responder, you need to be aware of the context of the composer and how that contributes to the construction of visual texts. You should be aware of how your own context influences your interpretation of a visual text. You need to be able to understand who a visual text has been constructed for and explain why this is. You need to understand the ideology of composers. You need to understand how composers position their audience to initiate particular types of responses.

As a composer, you should always be aware of who your audience is, what you are trying to communicate (purpose) and what the best way to communicate is. By viewing visual texts and looking for the above information you will come to a better understanding of how meaning is shaped in visual texts and this, in turn, will be extremely valuable in constructing more effective compositions.