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What is Iconography in Film?

Iconography represents an important part of the visual language of cinema in which we expect to see particular objects on a screen when a particular genre is chosen for a production. Certainly, iconography is frequently used in filmmaking and represents a very important element of both film and television production, but what is iconography in film and why is it so important?

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What is Iconography in Film?

Iconography is a term used to define visual motifs, symbols, and other elements of a film such as recurrent imagery in which there is certain cultural meaning beyond the actual place that the element has on the screen. When studying film or other media, iconography is a part of the genre and is therefore expected in particular film genres. In other words, different film genres are expected to have different iconography o symbols that are iconic and directly connected to that particular genre.

To better understand iconography, it makes sense to consider the origin of a film and to understand the references that are made within the film through cultural symbolism and  various other elements such as color, composition, hand gestures, facial expressions, and other traditions.

For instance, certain colors could be considered part of the iconography of a film. Think of the color blue, when you see the color blue it has certain symbolic meaning. It can be a symbol of heaven if it is shown in a film that is depicting an angel. In this case, the color is an icon that represents the religious importance of a particular film.

You might even refer to iconography as similar to the style convention. In fact, iconography in film is frequently referred to alongside with style conventions as the two go together. These are the elements that you expect to see in a film that coincide with the particular genre or style. 

Examples of Iconography

As an example, you might expect a horror film to have things like young girls that are seemingly “normal” and who interact in a dark or otherwise lowlight environment that places them in undue danger or harm. This is iconography for a horror film as it is symbolic and expected of this particular genre.

Likewise, audience expectations of a comedy film might be completely different. The iconography of a comedy film might be identified by nerdy boys that wish they had superhero powers, weapons that are used in a funny manner, or character personalities that are funny. You might also expect action iconography in a comedy. For instance, you’ll probably expect some form of buddy romance “bromance,” action that is hilarious, odd policemen, and verbal symbolism.

Finally, in a romance film, you might consider the iconography to be more along the lines of a storyline in which a man and woman meet, they fall in love, something happens, and they are broken up only to later be reunited. These types of storylines are part of the iconography of a romance film. Iconography is frequently referenced along with the style conventions of a film as the two, conventions and the symbolism that represents the iconography, go hand-in-hand.