This paper develops a theoretical framework for understanding how and what sports photographs mean. In particular, it identifies two categories of photographic features as conveyors of meanings. The first category is the content or discourse within the photograph, which includes physical appearances, poses and body positions, facial expressions, emotional displays, and camera angles. The second category is the context, which contributes to the discursive text of the photograph. The context includes the visual space in which the photograph appears, its caption, the surrounding written text, and the title and the substantive nature of the article in which the photograph appears. Using 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games photographs appearing in popular North American magazines, I show how these various features of photographs may enable patriarchal readings that emphasize sexual difference.
Margaret Carlisle Duncan is with the Department of Human Kinetics, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201.