Verbalising the Visual:
The construction of meaning in audiodescription
In recent years, new techno-cultural processes have emerged out of the encounter between cultural production and ideas of human rights and social inclusion. One of these is audiodescription (AD), or audiovision (in the USA).
AD is the act of verbalising the visual aspects of a cultural event for a blind or partially sighted viewer. AD has been practised in the UK for the past seventeen years, in theatre, galleries, museums and more recently in film and television. Audiodescriptions are usually pre-written and may be pre-recorded or spoken live by a single practitioner, the audiodescriber. The audiodescriber is likely to have received some vocational training.
Up to now, however, AD has received little or no critical attention. My aim in this article is to begin critically to position the practice of audiodescription, and the function of the audiodescriber. I propose that the field of critical media and cultural studies constitutes an appropriate context.
Due to the historical forces of social segregation experienced by industrialising societies, disabled people have been largely absent from, or little visible in, the history of mass techno-cultural processes (such as film, television and other recorded media), core objects of media and cultural studies. Now, however, in this era of poststructuralist analysis, it is impossible to study mass production processes, with their inherent notions of normativity, other than in relation to non-normativity. It follows that the discourses of media and cultural studies and those of disability studies (insofar as they are distinct) may have much to say to one another. The interrogation of disability, and its redefinition as social and cultural difference, already owes much to the field of cultural studies. Through the new field of disability studies, established in the early 1990s, disabled activist-academics have sought to establish the idea of disabled subjectivities, and to demonstrate how the category of disability all, techno-cultural processes work to articulate or disarticulate in terms of the full spectrum of humanity and human subjectivity.
In the first part of this article, I position AD as a type of cultural translation, from visual image to speech. Drawing on pictorial semiotics theory, I argue that there are important differences between visual image and speech, and that the practice of AD requires cultural analysis skills with regard to two distinct categories: one visual, the other verbaliterabilityand speech: defining the relationship
In this section, I draw on pictorial semiotics and post-structuralist thinking, to examine the relationship between visual image and speechspeech/visual image speech as affirming image, in the word as name of a thing, has collapsed. Speech and visual image figural to describe modes of representation and communication in the digital era. The figuralvisual image is different to speech, how is it distinct? Can it be thought of as having inherent structure, or, as Roland Barthes suggests, is it somehow beyond rationalisation? Is it pre-rational, contingent in nature? On what grounds is it describable as text? Sonnesson explains how semiotics defines visual image visual image sound image with visual imagevisual image and speechand visual image 2 The assumption of a correlative relationship between speech and visual image is common to AD practice in both the UK and USA..1disability in this model read medical condition or functional inability1 disability in medical, failure-o-f-the-body terms, have a profound hegemonic effect on socio-cultural forms. So that cultural representations of the disabled
I have demonstrated how different critical ideas begin to reveal how the practice of AD is currently modelled in terms of power and social and cultural difference. I have shown that there are creative, legal and professional implications in how the AS is defined, for the construction of meaning in AD, and for AD production as a whole. It is beyond the scope of this article to do more than suggest the rich potential of recent critical thinking, for poistionning and potentially radically redefining the role of the AS.
Now that AD production is established as a techno-cultural process, alongside other social inclusion engendered practices (such as close caption subtitling), the door is open for fresh analysis, innovative practice and no doubt creative marketing.3 www.aber.ac.uk/media/Functions/mcs.html. (17 December 2004)
Foucault, M., (1983) This is not a pipe. www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/guidance/sub_sign_audio/audio_description_stn ds/prep#content Camera Obscura, www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/filmstudies/Rodowick/Publications/Figural/1FiguralHome.html 17 December 2000www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/publicwebsite/public_LSP and theory of translationwww.arthist.lu.se/kultsem/sonesson/Quadrature1.html, (17 Dec 2004) www.arthist.lu.se/kultsem/sonesson/Quadrature2.html , (17 Dec 2004) www.arthist.lu.se/kultsem/sonesson/Quadrature3.htmlwww.vocaleyes.co.uk (1 May 2005)
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