WILLIAM W. SLAUGHTER. Life in Zion: An Intimate Look at the Latter-day Saints, 1820-1995. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995.
EPICENTER COMMUNICATIONS and MATTHEW NAYTHONS, comps. The Mission: Inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. New York: Warner Books, 1995.
RICHARD G. OMAN and ROBERT O. DAVIS. Images of Faith: Art of the Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995.
Much of today’s visual experience is vicarious—mediated through films, television, videos, and reproduced photographs in printed materials. Visual images reproduced in media as a source of information are both entertaining and enlightening, often providing multiple layers of information—particularly when coupled with text material such as a caption. The viewer’s experience of the image may be informed as much by the caption as by the details within the image itself. Roland Barthes, a cultural historian, argues that the text may simply amplify a set of connotations already given in the visual image or it may produce an entirely new significance that is retroactively projected into the image, so much so as to appear denoted there.
Thus, a portrait of a woman and a small baby painted in the primitive style looks simple and unimportant in Images of Faith until one reads the caption: “Phoebe Carter Woodruff and Son Joseph…the portrait held special significance for the Woodruffs. To them young Joseph was a ‘covenant’ child because he was their first child born after they were sealed in the Nauvoo Temple. Less than a year later, little Joseph died at Winter Quarters.” Suddenly, the visual image becomes an artifact charged with both historical and emotional significance. Consequently, the portrait has value not only for its artistic merits, but also for the viewer’s associations with the thing it pictures. Nothing could be more true than Barthes’s observations for the visual images presented in these three outstanding books, which express very different points of view.