Absence in Visual Narratives: The Story of Iran and Pakistan across Time

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Exploring Silence and Absence in Discourse Empirical Approaches, 2018, pp. 65-93
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The stories we tell about places and people are structured not just by what is said, but also by what is not said. This narrative strategy acquires great significance when applied to the stories of nations, as told in the prestigious outlets of the global news media, e.g. Time magazine. How a country is portrayed in news narratives influences how it is perceived, and thus treated, by the international community. Applied to two geopolitically significant nations viewed as ‘problem cases’ in the international press, Iran and Pakistan, this chapter examines the stories told through photojournalism in the pages of Time, over the course of 30 years (1981–2010). In doing so, it departs from two key trends in relevant existing research. This study moves beyond the tendency to study visuals within a synchronic context, and it diverges from the trend of examining national images within textual news coverage only. It suggests, therefore, the need for a paradigm shift within Semiotics, and calls for an expansion of research on national images to the realm of visual analysis. With the help of a triangulated methodology that draws on both quantitative and qualitative techniques—content, semiotic and narrative analysis—this study traces the construction of the visual narratives of these two countries. The significance of the data trends is viewed through the lens of a syncretic theoretical framework that draws on the work of van Leeuwen, Homi Bhabha, and Judith Butler. Visual analyses are interpreted using their notions of power, identity, and representation. In this way, the chapter interrogates the workings of the visual lens through which the stories of Iran and Pakistan are told and understood in modern media narratives.
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