Edited 17th April 2015

I was immediately captivated by this image.

An image has the power to instantly communicate a vast amount of information, often with different ways of looking at them, depending on your personal knowledge and beliefs.

Denotations: First we see two adult men, from the shoulders up, dressed in similar suits – one navy blue, and the other, black. The man on the left has thick black hair, wearing reading classes and appears to be of Asian heritage. The man on the right has darker skin and short, Afro hair, suggestive of an African background. No context is suggested by the setting, which is blurred and generic. They are both in focus, and take up majority of the image, drawing our eyes to centre of the photo and their kiss. The two men have their eyes shut and lips puckered. In the top left hand corner “UNHATE” is written in bold, white, capitals and in opposite corner, a dark green box frames the words “United Colours of Benetton” also written in white. Beneath this “Support the Unhate Foundation unhatefoundation.org” is written.

This illustration is constructed of signifiers, what is in the image, describing the denotation of the image before we begin to interpret the signified, forming meaning from what we see. Every image is made up of two parts: what you see, and what you interpret. This can be studied through semiotics, a term coined by its fathers, Charles Pierce, Ferdinand Saussure and Rowland Baths. Semiotics is, defined by the University of Vermont, as “the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation”.

Connotations: Clear to some, the two men in the photo are the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama (right), and the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping (left). These two governments are recognised as being ideologically opposed to one another, yet in this image their leaders are seen sharing a kiss. This confronting image makes us instantly question the purpose. This affection, combined with the white text “UNHATE” suggests a message of love and harmony. This image, of two great leaders of opposing world superpowers, suggests that they have put aside their differences in order to share an act of love asking: if they can do it, why not us?

There are many other ways this image can be read. It could be viewed as an advertisement promoting cooperation between the American and Chinese governments, or a campaign promoting equality and acceptance for LGBT relationships. The text “United Colours of Benetton” suggests that it could also be interpreted as a ‘shock-value’ advertisement for the clothing brand.

So what does the image actually stand for?

“What does UNHATE mean? UN-hate. Stop hating, if you were hating. Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate.”

This image was used as a part of the Unhate Foundation’s, 2011 campaign titled: UNHATE. The Unhate Foundation is founded by the Benetton Group who run the clothing brand “United Colors of Benetton”.

What how did you respond when you first saw this image? Loved it? Hated it? Do you think it was successful in communicating it’s intended message?

Let me know what you think in the comments below, I would love to hear your thoughts…

– H.

Want more information? Go to: Unhate Benetton

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