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The Sierra Tequila Label

A case study of contemporary visual culture

I. Introduction and Method
II. Analysis (with help of Panofsky's three levels of understanding)
III. Discussion and Conclusion
IV. Appendix (picture in full size)

I. Introduction and Method

The visual object I chose for this 'case study of contemporary visual culture' was a picture of
label for a Sierra tequila bottle. The reasoning behind the choice of this particular picture is
an interest for branding and analyzing this from signs. Basically a sign is the result of the
difference to other signs. This makes it interesting to analyze brands and see how they set
themselves apart from their competition. In this analysis I will discuss and analyze how a
brand of tequila chooses to depict themselves in their visual communication.

This analysis will work from the theoretical framework of Panofsky and his concepts about
Iconology and Iconography (chapter 7, Barnard). The reason I chose to use Panofsky is that
his way of understanding a picture is a way that coincides in many ways with my own
understanding of pictures. The thought from the start was applying a few different ways of
understanding a picture (Saussere, Barthes, Peirce) and comparing the results with each other
but this essay will have to focus on Panofsky due to a limited amount of space. I will start off
by applying Panofsky's three levels of understanding to the picture. After the analysis I will
follow up the analysis with a discussion and conclusion about the results found.

II. Analysis
I will start to analyze the picture by using Panofsky's three levels of understanding to find the
meaning of the picture. The first level is 'Pre-iconographical description': seeing lines, shapes,
colors and volumes representing something in the picture. The second level is 'Iconographical
analysis': using themes, stories, allegories and concepts to understand the meaning of the
picture. The third level Panofsky uses is 'Iconological interpretation': linking the analysis with
people, nations and periods of time.

Pre-iconographical description
The image portrays a lone Mexican sitting by a large cactus in the middle of the desert while
the sun goes down in the background. One can see that the person is Mexican since he has a
big Sombrero and a distinct black mustache coupled with a vest, bandana and boots which is
an attire often used in the image of Mexicans. Sierra Tequila is prominently displayed by
words right above the Mexican and the cactus. The colors most used are red, green, white,
yellow and silver. Other colors exist as well but only as minor details on the Mexican person

displayed on the bottle. The text on the bottle is written in spanish and the word 'Sierra' has
an "old type" font whilst 'Tequila' uses a more straight and modern font mixing old and new.
There's a "branding" in silver above the wording 'Sierra' that says "Jalisco Mexico" with a
symbol that looks like a crown in-between. There is a framing around the picture which is in
red with a gold line in the middle. The banner on the top of the frame is green, white and red
and says 'Mexico' in the middle.

Iconographical analysis
This part requires a bit more understanding on underlying factors behind the picture. Tequila
has become a product which is only allowed to be produced in the province of Jalisco in
Mexico. This explains why this is displayed in such a visible part on the label. The theme of
Mexico runs through the label with the words "hecho en Mexico" (made in Mexico), Jalisco
and the decision to keep the text in Spanish on the label even though it's an exported bottle.
The choice of colors also reinforce the theme of Mexico by having red, white, green (flag of
Mexico) in the banner and almost all objects in the picture (red frame, white text, green
cactus). The cactus is displayed since Tequila is made out of the Agave cactus. Showing only
one cactus in a big and hot desert on the label creates a higher value in the Tequila since it
communicates a limited amount of cactus to make the tequila from in a hostile environment.

Iconological interpretation
When going another level down in the understanding and analyzing the 'world-view of time
and place' we find the importance of Mexico again. The historical context of Tequila being
produced in Mexico is reflected in the image. The tradition is communicated through the old
font style used on "Sierra" and contrasted by the silver letters in a more modern font used in
"Tequila". This mix of styles is probably because they can't communicate themselves with
only the "old image" as Cognac or others are able to. The characteristic Mexican is displayed
in the picture and communicates a message that this is what Mexicans drink.

III. Discussion and Conclusion

Each level of understanding used to analyze the picture brings a deeper understanding on
what the meaning behind the picture is. The first level is the easiest to analyze and describe.
The deeper one goes in levels the harder it becomes to analyze. The lower levels also
requires more of the person trying to understand the picture in terms of knowledge needed to
get out more meaning from the message. This knowledge can sometimes be seen in different
ways and therefore some subjectivity is added to the picture when analyzed deeper.

The other thing about understanding a picture using Panofsky's method of analysis is that you
find more things about the picture when you study it harder. Panofsky does not mention
anything about how much visual communication is passed on to a person only looking at a
picture for a limited amount of time. The impact of finding more understanding of a picture
the more time one spends on it implies that there might be an even deeper level of
understanding, than the one I have achieved in this analysis, if even more time had been
spent on understanding this picture.

Sierra Tequila utilizes the theme and concept of Mexico on several levels to create
consistency and emphasize the connotation between Mexico, Tequila and the Sierra brand.

IV. Appendix