Research Point – Barthes

 

  • Written in 1964, a seminal essay on the analysis of a photographic image from the book Image-Music-Text
  • Barthes starts out by highlighting the Latin root of the word image as presenting a key conundrum.  Image is derived from imitari– copy or representation.  I.e. Not the same thing but a facsimile
  • Bathes asserts that there are three types of encoded message, the literal, coded iconic and non-coded iconic
  • Literal – the accompanying words and text.  In his example, the brand name of the food suggests Italianicity.  The Literal can be either Anchorage or Relay:
    • Anchorage – the viewer is directed to a clear meaning.  Used as captions in newspapers, titles for images and so on, which will generally have text informing us of exactly what it is that we are looking at
    • Relay – less prescriptive, the viewer has space to explore the relationship between the image and text in their own way; used in cartoon speech bubbles for example where the viewer will interpret the story from the dialogue and image sequence.
  • Coded Iconic – he points out the split shopping bag, suggesting produce fresh from the market and so plentiful that it is bulging out of the shopping bag
  • Non-Coded Iconic – the literal visual. E.g. ‘A tomato’ or ‘a pepper’.  Supports the other coded Iconic and literal elements.

Barthes’ analysis asserts that the drawing is connoted far more than the photograph because everything in a drawing is a connoted decision on the part of the artist, even the choice of brush marks.  By contrast, the photograph always has a coded Iconic element to it as the ‘there then’ presented as a faithful ‘here now’ copy (despite choices made by the photographer to connote meaning through framing, colour/black&white, exposure and post-processing).

How can I develop the ideas of Anchorage and Relay in my own work?

  • Irony: a caption that at first sight appears contrary to the image.  This may be used as a device to initiate a Relay instead of Anchorage (which would be an anachronism).  For example, a photograph of a dropped ice cream with the caption ‘Enjoying the holiday’.  Perhaps a child dropped it and cried – hardly a happy event.  Maybe other images in the set would suggest it might have been thrown with carefree abandon when something even more attractive presented itself
  • Hidden story: Relay titles that prompt the viewer to find a deeper meaning in the visual image.  For example a beautiful female portrait with a title that suggests the series of images show secretly unhappy women forced to work in the sex trade.  Healthy looking crops and issues around GM and pesticide use, as another example. Similar to the previous but with a social or documentary angle, maybe inviting us to question our own purchasing decisions
  • Where a series interweaves two storylines, Anchorage titles would make it clear which fits where, avoiding confusions.  Like cinematic lighting and mood being used to differentiate separate sub plots in a film.

 

 

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