What You See Isn’t Always What You Get

Because of our personal cultures, understandings, knowledge and beliefs, the way that we interpret signs, words, messages and images differs from person to person. These misinterpretations can cause problems. Throughout history, artists have provoked controversy through their creative works because of misinterpretations or misunderstood messages.

I have chosen to examine Erik Ravelo’s shock photograph series “Los Intocable” (The Untouchables). The series of photographs were highly controversial when first released in late 2013 because they depict children hung on crosses, similar to crucifixion, to represent some of the controversial issues affecting children all over the world and voice the loss of innocence that is being forced upon these children. These issues are childhood obesity, gun violence in schools, child sex tourism, black market trafficking of children’s organs, paedophilia in the church and war in countries, like Syria.



Photographs sourced from http://goo.gl/0l8foT

For the remainder of this post I will be talking in detail about the photograph that represents child sex tourism and prostitution.


When you look at the signifiers in the photo, you see a man in a hawaiian shirt and bright hat, with a camera hanging off his wrist, and a young girl who has her face blurred, positioned as if hanging on a cross against his back. To figure out the signified, the viewer needs to have some understanding of certain things. For example, you need to recognise that the child is in a position that resembles that of being crucified. This notion of crucifiction has a number of connotations attached, mainly, Jesus being nailed to a cross to atone for everyone’s sins.The cross is now used as a symbol for sin (amongst other things). You need to recognise that the Hawaiian shirt and camera that belong to the man represent the stereotype of tourists.

When you look at the photo with these connotations in mind, the meaning of the photograph develops to a deeper level. The little girl is representing young children in countries like Thailand that have a rampant child sex industry, that is mainly used by tourists to the country. The man is representing one of these patrons that engages in the activity, and is the embodiment of the evil that this child faces. The face of the girl (and of all the children in the photograph series) is blurred to obscure her identity, and she is showing the act of child prostitution as a cross (injustice, burden, threat,experience) she has to carry.

The photographs are considered to be controversial because people have misconstrued the images as “pornographic” and of a dark nature because some of the children are only in underwear and some of the issues being explored in the works involve sex with children (the priest and the tourism photo in particular). This reading of the photos is not what the artist was aiming for, showing that the photos can be seen in a way that was not intended. He was hoping to show a visual representation of the injustices that children around the world face, but should not have too.

“I still don’t understand why some people are mad at me, but they’re not mad about those problems. Some people get offended by the photos but not by the problems the photos wants to talk about.” – Erik Ravelo


– Kassi

5 thoughts on “What You See Isn’t Always What You Get

  1. I’ve just got to start out by saying what a great post you have created here, informative yet not too wordy which makes for a great read. Not to mention your thorough and comprehensive analysis of a great case study, a personal favourite of mine.
    In this post you have managed to not only defend these works of art but also effectively communicate to your audience exactly what the signified’s and signifier’s are.I really like the flow of this post and especially the last paragraph raising the issues surrounding the images, this worked well to encourage me to think deeper into the images then I first had. One thing that could really strengthen this already great work would be to add more sources of information, not only to give your information more credibility, but allow your readers to investigate this topic and the artworks further. If you were to also incorporate a definition and explanation of ‘semiotics’ into this post, you would allow not only BCMr’s but also other readers the opportunity to take away just that extra something from your writing, adding more depth and engagement (Something I believe you have already nailed). None of this is to discredit what a fantastic job you have already done here Kassi, just works as some tips that in my opinion would push this article up that last step.

    Well Done and Keep up the great work.
    – Jack. O 🙂


  2. Good job first and foremost!
    Although you have provided quite a thorough analysis of the denotations and connotations portrayed in the image, I feel it is also necessary to discuss how the messages generated by an image can be largely dictated by the conventions and lifestyles of the audience viewing the image or object. The signs, words and images generated by a particular image may depend on what the audience already knows or believes. The audience will interpret particular signs different based predominately on their ideological standpoint. This means that the signs portrayed in the image at hand, could be read in vastly different ways. For instance, you have made a reference to the fact that the children are placed in a crucified position. You have made this interpretation based on your understanding of the Christian story of Jesus, which you made quite an explicit reference to in your post. However, the audience of this image was not comprised completely of Christians, or people who understand a basic interpretation of the story, and thus their understanding of the image and the ‘signs’ in which it generates would be highly different to yours and extremely relative to their ideological position- that is the way in which they perceive the world around them, which would not be through Christian influenced eyes so to speak.


  3. Eric Ravelo is a genius! These photographs send a strong message that needs to be highlighted globally. I believe that in order to get through to people one has to be controversial. Controversy has always been provoking public debates and this is what he wants to achieve by his art. I find it ridiculous that he was accused of child pornography and leading to his photographs eventual removal from Facebook. In my opinion world needs more projects like this to reach a global audience so we can attempt to preserve and defend children’s right to a clean childhood. Great post!

    A fellow blogger suggested me this article to read on the same issue, you may find it useful:


  4. I really enjoyed this post, a very confronting set of photos showcasing issues that many people don’t want to talk about. The idea of being offended by the images and not what they stand for is really interesting, considering how much worse the latter is. I thought you did an excellent job of explaining each image, making it clear as some of them are confusing to understand at first. Excellent job!


    1. Thanks heaps! I actually enjoyed writing it because the images were so confronting and interesting. I think people just look and think “half naked child and an adult! Pornography!” instead of looking at what the pictures mean. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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