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  This commonly-used term (from Latin imago, ‘immature form’ or ‘representation’) has a range of meanings within media studies and in common parlance. On one level, image refers to a representation or likeness. For instance, a photograph, a print or a moving film is said to to capable of reproducing something that exists in reality. This reproduction is termed the image and has both a physical existence (a photograph, say, of a footprint in the snow) and a physical referrent (the object being photographed or the foot that stepped on to the snow). In media usage, there is a technical language around the quality of the image produced.

On a different level, ‘image’ can have a mental or symbolic conception. In this sense the notion of image is more metaphorical and is often used in literature (the imagery of a character, for instance). Image here invokes ideas or feelings about something or someone.

A third, recent, and now very common utilization of the term draws heavily on the latter of these previous understandings. It is used in advertising, in public relations and in the construction of identities for celebrities, politicians, products and organizations. ‘Image’ here is connected to the artificial construction of a public identity. It links to the idea of an attempted control over the way others regard us and to the idea of reputation. A whole industry has been built around brand-image, public-image and image-management to the extent that it is possible to talk of a person\'s, product\'s or company\'s image.

Interestingly, the way individuals present themselves in day-to-day interaction was a subject of intense academic study before it was subject to major commercial application. Specifically, the Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman has written extensively on behaviour in public places and ‘impression management’. BC

Further reading E. Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.



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