While every person and culture interprets symbols and archetypes differently, that can be part of the fun. Explore these different symbols and their meanings in visual art.
Color is a great way to experiment with symbolic photography, since it’s versatile and accessible. Different colors evoke strong feelings, and each hue has its own meaning around the world, so don’t assume your audience will share your associations with a particular color. For example, red represents passion and love in North America, grief and death in some African cultures, and fertility and luck in China.
“I like learning how different cultures look at different things. With wedding dresses, for example, in some cultures, people wear black to weddings because that color represents fidelity, marriage, and love. But in more Western cultures, white is the symbol for a wedding dress because that can represent purity,” says Johnson.
Death and time
In addition to the classic skull, items like ravens, vultures, hourglasses, and clocks can also symbolize death in art. You’ll often see still lifes with bright, healthy flowers paired with a skull. This can represent the passage of time or the fleeting nature of life. Consider how you arrange objects together in a composition to create new, deeper meanings.
Different plants, animals, and elements have their own symbolic meanings. “I use a lot of nature, like fire, water, earth, and plant life in my photos. And each of those has a different meaning,” says Stoddard. Water can symbolize power and wisdom, while fire can represent everything from passion to destruction to rebirth.