Symbolism is the art of using an object to represent an abstract idea. We have been using them for many thousands of years in art and even literature. When an artist wants to suggest a certain mood or emotion, they can use symbolism to suggest what they are trying to convey.
Below is some popular symbolism you might consider using in your photography.
- Black represents death or evil.
- White stands for life and purity.
- Red symbolizes blood, passion, danger or immoral character.
- Purple is a royal color, but can also show passion and love.
- Yellow stands for violence or decay, but can also mean light and purity.
- Blue represents peacefulness and calm, but also loss sadness and melancholy.
- A chain can symbolize the coming together of two things or a burden.
- Ladders can represent the relationship between heaven and earth or ascension.
- A mirror can denote the sun but when it is broken, it can represent an unhappy union or a separation.
- Keys can be unlocking of wisdom and knowledge, the key to success.
- An apple represents so many different virtues, knowledge, wisdom. Temptation and secret forbidden knowledge.
- Umbrellas can represent safety from the storm, a safe haven.
- Bears or Lions might represent courage or danger.
- Butterflies can symbolize great transformation.
- Dogs often stands for loyalty or devotion.
- A serpent or snake might symbolize corruption or darkness.
- Ravens can represent prophecy or insight, wisdom, a connection between this world and the afterlife.
- Feathers can represent freedom, a lifting of the spirit.
- Fog or smoke might represent a bad omen or something terrible on the horizon. Something hidden lurking.
- Storms usually symbolize hostility or turmoil.
- Snow often comes with a message of calmness or purity.
- The wind might be used to symbolize power or strength.
I am not even mentioning other symbols, like pentagrams, the all-seeing eye and so many more. There are so many tribal symbols from all over the world. Some have common meaning, while others mean different things in different cultures. As with the pentagram over the centuries, the meaning has changed as well, from evil to healing.
I guess what it boils down to is that various symbols can and do have a different meaning to different people. I use symbolism a lot in my conceptual art; “The Lonely Man,” conceptual portraits and even in my Tarot series.
You could quite easily find symbols to convey an entire story in a single image. Would everyone understand the exact message? Possibly not. If you are using some of the more obscure symbols they may be missed. In “The Lonely Man” series I used several recurring symbols; the apple, the key, water, clouds, umbrellas, clocks, ravens and trees.
Perhaps you can look up some and add them to your next piece, whether it’s conceptual or not. See if anybody notices and comments. I have had whole discussions with people on WHERE to place a symbolic object in a piece. The placement can be almost as important as the object itself too. So many things to consider.