Project- Myth is a type of speech BLOG questions (I)…..

 1. Minou Drouet was a child poet in the 1950’s. she was so young that people thought her poems must have been written by an adult. But the Chicago tribune thought these were unmistakably written by a child (Engel, 1957). She describes objects in a very honest and child-like way- and with a completely different take to how adults might see them eg. a tree bereft of leaves ‘..seems like a tree drawn by a clumsy child who is too poor to buy coloured crayons and so drew it just with the brown chalk left over from making maps at school.’ (Drouet quoted in Engel, 1957).  These descriptions are so different to how an adult would interpret the world that they nicely illustrate Barthes’s view that there are no limits or rules as to how human societies should describe objects.

2. Other elements within images that can signify passion, emotions or other objects or events…

I. "He's surprisingly good at small talk." 

Fig. 1 Condron, T (no date)

This joke hinges partially on the idea that  the man with a pipe, bald head, dirty jacket, and scruffy hair is an academic and will therefore be nerdy and not good at small talk!

ii. Fig. 2 Cameron enjoys the Sun

the sun

The Sun newspaper has a reputation for being dominated by its titillating page 3 nude girl, and having no news-worthy value.


·        Physis- material existence

·        Anti-physis- natural existence

·        Pseudo-physis- links to ideology


Fig. 3 Kotliarov, L (1935)

Here the miner becomes a symbol for  Soviet-Communist increases in productivity.


furlongs- ravilious.jpg 

Fig. 4 Ravilious, E (20th C)  

This artist painted many pictures of the English countryside which seemed to symbolise the idyllic purity and calm that was being threatened by the Nazis throughout world war 2.


‘The meaning is always there to present the form; the form is always there to outdistance the meaning’

·        Chomsky suggests innate elements to language- eg baby wants milk- mu, ma……

·        Structuralist linguistics says the opposite (meaning causes language)

·        or is meaning the result of language?

Lets take an example which I vaguely remember being discussed by Leonard Bernstein in ‘The Unanswered Question’ TV series.

Language begins after birth and when a baby need s things from its mother to survive- all developments in language might be said to continue to serve as a human proceeds through life and needs to meet the requirements to survive.

When a baby wants attention (eg for warmth or security) the simplest sound he can make is probably one of the vowels- perhaps a prolonged ‘AAAAA’ ! It seems that the meaning comes before the language here- how can a baby decide what he wants to say ? It’s innate sound.  When a baby wants milk he may use a different vowel sound to distinguish the meaning from say AAAA (meaning warmth and security)- say ‘eeee’ (vowel i). Perhaps ‘eee’ become ‘milk’ due to another added sound- say an approximate ‘m’ and ‘k’ before and after the i. This sort of process seems a bit like Darwins theory of natural selection for words…. Words appear to some extent at random but with an underlying systematic process-eg ease of enunciation?? , and are fixed with meaning if they suit the purpose……and the words are ‘maintained as a species’  by recurrent use – other words never develop beyond an initial point.

This sort of process makes most sense to me- meaning before words during development. How do we explain the development of language  in similar ways in similar geographical areas ? Perhaps this is originally one language, then due to movement of different peoples the one language is modified in certain ways and becomes similar but different in different geographic areas.

Of course this is only one possible mechanism, and perhaps many may exist. Certainly adult language is very complex, and there may be some words which come first and are then fixed with a meaning (but I can’t think of any immediately).

Of course there may be an element of ‘we understand to be true that which tells us to be true’ but only to a certain extent. For example if you said to me,

‘my cat is called ‘The Bard of Pocklington’ and he has just completed a round the world yacht race whilst singing Nessum Dorma by Puccini’

I would know that your meaning was in some way ‘false’, but my imagination may make a funny image or story or reality out of the information. It’s about different shades of reality-as Althusser said, ‘the material existence of the ideology in an apparatus and in practices does not have the same modality as the material existence of a paving stone or  a rifle’ (1999).


Fig. 1 Condron, T (no date)‘He’s surprisingly good at small talk’ [cartoon] online at  [accessed 19th May 2017]

Fig. 2 Scarfe, G (2009) ‘Cameron enjoys the Sun’  [print] online at

[accessed 19th May 2017]

Fig. 3 Kotliarov, L (1935) ‘Alexei Stakhanov’ [photograph] online at  

[accessed 19th May 2017]

Fig. 4 Ravilious, E (20th C) ‘Furlongs’ [watercolour] online at



Althusser, L (1993). ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall,,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications. p317-324

Engel, P (1957) Minou Drouet’s poems [online at] [accessed 18th May 2017].




Project-Myth is a type of speech.

Text: Myth today- Roland Barthes


The author begins by asking the question , what is myth today? He replies that simply put ‘myth is a type of speech’ (Barthes, 1999 b; p.51).  It’s not just any type though, it has a specific form and  is a way of communicating. It follows that myth is not an object (the term mythical objects is, for example,  meaningless); anything can be a myth – it is the language that is key. Barthes now introduces the tree expressed by Minou Drouet, which is both matter and substance, but also contains a social usage (Barthes, 1999 b; p. 51)

Objects can come and go as myths at different epochs in history, because ‘myth is a type of speech chosen by history: it cannot possibly evolve from the nature of things’ (Barthes, 1999 b; p.52). I wonder if this is completely true? Are not some concepts universally important in our human history, and therefore, by their very nature more likely to be mythologised?

For example the myth of an omnipotent god who can supernaturally explain strange phenomena, and has the power to punish bad behaviour thereby keeping society in order. This myth seems to have been continually expressed by human kind, in different cultures independently and simultaneously. Also, the myth of creation (Britannica, 2017), or of the cleansing  of humanity through flood (Britannia, 2017), seems common to many cultures and civilisations.  These myths may be subtly different from Barthes’s definition, but he himself equates myth with ideology (see later), and from ideology one may soon arrive at religion (Althusser, 1999). More generally the Marxist thinker Louis Althusser describes several ‘world outlooks’ such as religious, ethical, legal and political ideologies suggesting that these ‘….. as the ethnologist examines the myths of a ‘primitive society’ are largely imaginary……’ (Althusser, 1999: p.317)

As an introduction to the semiological arguments still to come, Barthes first introduces the equivalence of the signifier and the signified (they are of different class therefore cannot be equal).  Using an example of a bunch of ‘passionfied’ roses, we are led through the analysis which consists of the signifier (roses), the signified (passion), and a third term the sign (the passionfied roses). The sign better reflects how we see the end product, not as consecutives, but as a combination. Barthes distinguishes between these roses  analysed from the point of view of experience (where there is just the sign) and analysis  (where all 3 terms exist).  The distinction of the 3 terms is crucial to the discussion of myth as ‘a semiological schema’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p.52).

Barthes now introduces Saussure’s la langue  as a  particular  example of this schema, one which relates to written language. Here we have signifier (the acoustic (or visual?) image – the sound (or sight?) of a word (like dog for example), the signified (the concept of the object which we understand as a dog) , and the sign ( the combination-hearing or seeing the word dog signals the object dog) (Barthes, 1999 b: p.52).

Another example of a semiological sytem is Freud’s interpretation of the human psyche through dreams. Here we have the manifest behaviour in the dream (the signifier), the latent meaning of the dream (the signified), and the dream as a combination of both, in toto (the sign) (Barthes, 1999 b: p.53). These analyses also have echos of the authors analysis of advertising images, where he discusses linguistic and visual messages, from the point of view of denotation, connotation, and in terms of signifiers, signifieds and signs (Barthes, 1999 a.).

Barthes now moves on to describe myth as a ‘second-order semiological system’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p.53) saying clearly, and almost (ignoring his parentheses) poetically ‘That which is a sign (namely the associated total of a concept and an image) in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in the second’(Barthes, 1999 b: p. 53).

Barthes lists the wide range of  materials which can be used as mythical speech which include language, paintings, photos, and rituals. All these materials are reduced to ‘mere language’ or  ‘a mere signifier’  for the purpose of myth (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 53), but to my confusion at least, also suggests that ‘myth wants to see in them only a sum of signs….’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 53).  Surely myth wants to see in these materials a signifier only ?- one that he can put to his own use ? Perhaps this confusion exists and is acceptable because of the inherent latency and abstraction surrounding the possible messages myth communicates.

Barthes proceeds to the two semiological systems at work in the form of myth’s communication. The first system is the language-object (the message which seems most visible?) and the second the meta-language (in which the first language is put to another use) (Barthes, 1999 b : p. 53).

His first illuminating example of mythical speech is well explained and quite easy to follow. In it he takes the sentence ‘quia ego nominor leo’ from a latin grammar. This is analysed first with reference to the language- object; the meaning being simple – ‘my name is lion’ (Barthes, 1999 b : p. 54); though one page later he conjures up the possible richness of this simple message – ‘I am a lion, I live in a certain country, I have just been hunting, they would have me share my prey with a heifer,…….’ (Barthes, 1999 b : p. 54).  According to Barthes the more intelligible mythical semiological system  interprets the text as a sentence which proves a universal grammatical rule (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 53).

One question sprung to mind over the latin grammar example. The first is whether the system of communication is also influenced by the fact that the sentence is initially said to be in a latin grammar. Does this make it more likely to be an example of a grammar rule? I think this must be so, but it is not certain, as it does not have to be an illustrative sentence; it could be a few words of the author’s introduction for example. The question here is what are the factors which determine the order of the precedence here? Barthes does not discuss any examples where the mythical is overcome by the simple interpretation.

A second example of the language of myth is given; a picture on the cover of Paris Match magazine, of a negro boy saluting (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 54). Barthes’ analysis is interesting and powerful once again, but again I wonder- would all French citizens interpret the image the same way?  Might it be more simply interpreted as This black boy is saluting a superior ? Who determines the amount of semiological coding within an image or sentence ? is it the author or the viewer, or both? Is this the way the magazine wanted it to be interpreted?

This argument about analysis feels like the argument set up in Hebidge’s essay ‘The bottom line on planet one: squaring up to the face’ (Hebidge, 1999), where John Berger’s (planet one) rigorous analysis of the symbolism of consecutive images in a magazine, is compared to a way of (planet 2) viewing which allows a ‘nutty conjunction’ and a ‘symbolic fissure’ to exist between (and I think therefore within) images without traditional  analysis (Hebidge, 1999: p. 113). This post-structuralist/post-modern view acknowledges the ‘withering signified’ (Hebidge, 1999: p. 110), and a flattening of the depth of analysis and traditional historic readings and  conventions (ironically Barthes asserts that to the contrary, in some way  ‘myth is constituted by the loss of the historical quality of things’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p.58). But isn’t the tyranny of Barthes’s layered interpretation (the first system is latent but present nonetheless) a little like ‘the old bourgoise obligation to ‘speak for’ truth and liberty or to ‘represent the repressed , The Third World, the ‘downtrodden masses’ or the marginaux’ ( Hebidge, 1999: p. 109)- in this case the young negro boy in the picture…..? .

Returning from this digression, Barthes now modifies the terms of  the two staged mythical analysis from the Sausserian triad of signifier/signified and sign,  adding the new terms signification and form, preventing the ambiguity  possible if identical terms  in the two systems were allowed to carry different meanings . His final set of terms becomes signifier, signified, and meaning in the first-order system, and form, signified and signification in the second (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 54).

This paragraph on terminology is rather difficult to follow, and the explanation of why certain terms needs to change and not others seems a little unclear and arbitrary. Why for example if we are allowed to keep the term Signified for the (equivalent but not identical) concept in both systems, are we not allowed to keep the term Sign too, as this is also equivalent but not identical in both systems ?

Barthes continues flesh out his analysis stating that the difference between the meaning and the form (he calls them both signifiers in passing) is that the first is full of meaning (..of history, memory, ideas, facts…), and the second has been emptied of its former meaning, and is now at the disposal of myth. He also usefully differentiates the quality of a linguistic signifier and an image signifier, the former being a mental form only, and the latter having ‘a sensory reality’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 55).

The form of myth does not completely remove the meaning held behind it. It is simply ‘put at a distance’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 56). It is both there but also hidden (under the power of myth). Barthes states that the signified is absorbed by the concept of the myth, which has a whole new history and richness at its disposal. Returning to the example of the dictionary extract for example, we have glimpses of the elements of time, history, pedagogy, and personal habits (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 56). Myth is now compared to an alibi. The meaning of the phrase is somewhere undecided……‘I am not where you think I am, I am where you think I am not’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 57), but unlike the alibi which is judged true or false, myth is a value ; it is not correct or incorrect, and is ‘perpetual’.

Now the myth is likened to looking at the landscape through a car window, and interpolating glances at the window itself-back and forth we glance. Myth is described as ‘giving a historical intention a natural justification’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 57) a process indistinguishable from Bourgoise ideology. Here, surprisingly Barthes admits to the Bourgoise aspects of myth, but we are unsure of his feelings towards it.

His next sentence may help to clarify- myth is the best instrument to operate the inversion which ‘defines our society’ -that from ‘anti-physis into pseudo-physis’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 57). My reading of this inversion is from an ‘anti-natural’ society, one that works against the powers of nature (Robinson, 2011), into a pseudo-natural society-one that uses ideologies to  function. This still doesn’t tell me what Barthes really thinks of myth though.

In the final page of the essay I was hoping to find the answer to how Barthes really feels about myth. He continues, that the world supplies an ‘historical reality’ to myth, and he completes his ‘definition of myth in a bourgoise society: myth is depoliticised speech  (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 57) where political describes real human relations, social structures, and power, and the prefix de is very active (it’s not that political is not there- its actively hidden or abstracted). Barthes also suggests that myth purifies, and that myth ‘passes from history to nature’ (Barthes, 1999 b : p. 57), and allows a flatter world  where ‘…things appear to mean something by themselves…..’ (Barthes, 1999 b: p. 57).

Does myth then flatten not complicate, in contrast my earlier argument? At the end of the text I’m still not sure- it depends how you look at it! Is myth good or bad? Again it depends upon how you look at it.

There is a lot of  embellishment and revisiting of  concepts in this text, some of which seems a little wordy and repetitive. Perhaps though the subtlety of the different examples, and the almost but not quite saying the same thing feel to this text reflects the nature of these ideas, some of which are described as ‘impenetrably dense’ (Haveland, 2009: p.55). This whole essay explores what on the surface looks a relatively straightforward concept (mythical speech as a second order semiological system).  However, the argument is subtle and different parts of it regularly assume shades of meaning which are very close, but may not identical to one another. The author views things from here (for example the first-order system), and now there (for example the second-order system), uses numerous examples, often restating areas of the argument using different (but similar) words. This might sometimes be in the pursuit of subtly different meanings, but often borders on hyperbole for effect  (see p 58 where myth has emptied, turned (reality) inside out, emptied (again)… removed…. a haemorrhage, a flowing out …., an evaporation, … absence .. all to describe in some way that myth has hidden the meaning of the first-order sentence.)

At the end of the text I’m still unsure of the author’s feelings about myth- his judgements about its use. Perhaps he remains neutral. The piece asks as many questions as it answers, and perhaps further readings will elucidate these uncertainties.



Althusser, L (1993). ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall,,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications.   p317-324

Barthes, R (1999 a.).  ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Barthes, R (1993 b).  ‘Myth Today’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p 51-58

Britannica, 2017  creation myth [online at] [accessed 18th May 2017]

Britannica, 2017  flood-myth [online at]  [accessed 18th May 2017]

Hebidge, D (1999 b) ‘The bottom line on planet one: squaring up to the face’ in  visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.      p. 99-124

Robinson, A (2011) Roland Barthes’s Mythologies: Naturalisation, Politics and everyday life [online at] [accessed 18th May 2017]








Project- Rhetoric of the image…..BLOG questions…

Make brief notes on two or three advertising images you find in your everyday life.


Fig. 1 Martin Miller’s Gin (2017)

Scan 1 (2)

This is a glossy advert for Martin Miller’s Gin, and contains a lot of information

The linguistic messages include

  • The concept of Spirit, Romance and Adventure
  • It is the most awarded Gin in the world, so it’s good quality
  • It’s distilled in England and blended in Iceland
  • The brand name is Martin Miller’s
  • The text helps to anchor our interpretation of the images (Barthes, 1999: p. 37) – especially how we view the couple, as this could have many stories behind it. The one we are led to understand relates to the qualities of the Gin.

Amongst the denoted messages are

  • A glamorous man and woman in evening dress (photo)-The man eyes up the woman, who looks at either the Gin or us or both
  • A bottle of gin (photo)
  • The flags of Iceland and England ( computer graphic)
  • Gold medals received by the Brand (computer graphic).
  • A map of both countries printed on the bottle and the route of a ship voyaging between England and Iceland (graphic).

To understand these denoted messages (messages without a code) the viewer needs to know that an image represents a real-life concept.  We learn this early, at around 4 years old(Barthes, 1999: p 36).

The connoted message

The symbolic messages are numerous and include

  • The Brand name Martin Miller’s Gin contains both Alliteration (the repeated ‘M’ consonant) and Assonance (the repeated ‘I’ vowel) which helps us to remember and say the Brand name.
  • Martin Miller denotes a man, and is probably alluding to a sailor.
  • The deep navy blue in the label is symbolizing the British Navy (and perhaps in a subsidiary role, the Navy/Blue of the Icelandic flag)
  • The silver in the label and its cleanliness may symbolize English (or UK) manufacturing (eg manufactured metals) and the British Industrial Revolution , where we led the world in the 17-1800’s. It may also symbolize the cool, sharp, freshness of Iceland.
  • The connotation of the British Navy also symbolizes Britain’s dominance of the world, led by its Navy, in the centuries of c. 1500-1850 (including both British Trading, British success in War, and of course  British Imperialism)
  • The lines in the picture are clean and straight
  • the bottle has clean straight lines and looks like a ship (viewed from above)
  • The colourless glass gives a sense of the pure transparent clean water which surrounds the sea and which can be navigated by your adventurous self

The overall message is that drinking this Brand of gin makes you

  • sophisticated and attractive
  • attractive to the opposite sex
  • Patriotic and a lover of the UK (or Iceland?)
  • Someone who is brave and adventurous
  • Someone who is powerful and world famous
  • Someone who is hard working and industrious
  • Someone who likes a quality product

Fig. 2  Whitecapltd (2017)


This advert has some similarity to the previous one. It is requesting a sponsor for a round the world yacht race, and recalls the Romantic notion of English Empire and world domination.

The linguistic message includes:

  • This is a job advertisement for a vacant situation- a  ‘British Maritime Hero’.
  • The successful candidate will be outstanding and courageous and will restore Britain’s naval reputation
  • There is a need for a British Sponsor to ensure a British winner
  • The last British winner was in 1969, and the French have won ever since!!!
  • Duty calls you, the viewer
  • England has expectation of the viewer
  • The last two words are quoted directly from Admiral Nelson at  the battle of TRAFALGAR that ‘England expects every man will do his duty’ (Aboutnelson, nd)
  • It’s time Britain ruled the waves again

The denoted message

  • We have a portrait of Admiral Nelson
  • Playfully juxtaposed into a ‘modern’ job advert
  • There is a symbol of a globe, representing the world.

The connoted message

The sponsor will be

  • like Nelson- brave, skilful, and saviour of the British Empire
  • will restore Britain’s reputation in the world (Nelson was iconic in saving the day for Britain (against Napolean at the battle of Trafalgar)
  • will feel a patriotism and sense of duty
  • will help establish a great British Empire again (including all that Imperialism, colonialism, slavery and murder???)

This is certainly an advert with its tongue in its cheek, but uses strong symbolism relating to the Great British Empire. It is designed to appeal to the nationalistic feelings of any potential sponsor.



Fig. 1 Martin Miller’s Gin (2017) Romance and Adventure [advertisement] in Good Housekeeping June 2017 p. 186.

Fig. 2 Whitecapltd (2017) Vendee Globe 2020 ‘Admiral Nelson’ job advert [advertisement] in ‘The i’ Wed 3rd May 2017 p.51


Aboutnelson (2017) Admiral Lord Nelson and his Navy [online] at  %5Baccessed 6 May 2017]

Barthes, R (1999).  ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41











Project – Rhetoric of the image

Text- Rhetoric of the image- R. Barthes.


Barthes begins by defining the word ‘image’, from its origin from the word ‘imitation’ thereby introducing us to the problem of images as ‘a true system of signs’ (Barthes, 1993: p 33). I think ‘the most important problem’ he  identifies seems to be the lack of specificity of images as signifiers with respect to their signified. So for example he tells us that linguists refuse the title ‘language’ to many communications that are not based on digital units (like phonemes) (Barthes, 1993: p 33).

At the heart of this seems to be the theory that in a language a sign has to have a one-one relationship with its signified. Thus, although oar and ore and awe may sound alike, they are spelt differently and each unique word has a one-one relationship with a unique signified (Barthes mentions phonemes, but phonemes do not seem to be one-one which is confusing). In contrast, two elevated 2nd and 3rd fingers may mean ‘two’ or ‘get lost’ so the unique signifier has a many-to -one relationship with more than one signified.

Barthes continues, by saying that people generally feel the image to be less intelligible, and that ‘The image is weak in respect to meaning’ (Barthes, 1993: p 33). The aims of his essay are to investigate how meaning gets into an image, where it ends and if there is anything beyond.

For the purposes of this investigation we are guided through the analysis of an advertisement image-  because here we know that the signs have been examined and made clear (Barthes, 1993: p 34) The image is for Panzani (a food Brand) and contains a string bag, pasta packets, a sachet, a tin, some mushrooms and tomatoes. The text by the image is in French but the word Panzani also suggests Italianicity (via assonance of the Italianate vowel sound ‘a’) so the linguistic message  text has two layers of meaning (Barthes, 1993: p 34).  Assonance occurs when two or more words close to one another repeat the same vowel sound but start with different consonant sounds  such as  “Men sell the wedding bells.” (literarydevices, 2013)

As for the image, the half open bag revealing its contents signifies  both freshness (individual shopping in a market -cf supermarket mass shopping), and Italianicity (the yellow/green and white of the fresh produce recall the Italian flag) Another sign- the variety of objects signifies that Panzani can supply everything needed, and  that the tins/packets ingredients are identical to the fresh ingredients. The look of the food and bag also suggests a  ‘still life’ and transmits any cultural ideas of this genre. Barthes summarises-there are four signs within this image, reading them requires some cultural knowledge, and they have aspects of euphoria and positivity (Barthes, 1993: p 35).

There is a third message still however; the photos of the objects signify the real objects.  But as this relationship is not arbitrary as in text (the way the word  Pig has been arbitrarily developed to signify an animal we know as a pig- it could just as easily be called a PLUG or a YOP and function as well). The third message is a ‘message without a code’ and is ‘quasi tautological’  (Barthes, 1993: p. 35). All we need to know to interpret this message is to know that images of ‘things’ correspond to those ‘things’ in real life-  and this is a widespread skill which develops from around the age of four. This message is called the perceptual message  (Barthes, 1993: p. 36). We call this the literal, as opposed to the symbolic message.

In total we have a linguistic message, a coded-iconic message and a non-coded iconic message. The author questions to what extent can these last two (the perceptual and the symbolic or cultural) be separated? We see the perceptual and the symbolic message at the same time. Barthes concludes that we have a literal image (which is denoted), a symbolic image which is connoted (it takes the sign of one system as it signifier), and a linguistic message.  (Connote- To suggest or imply in addition to literal meaning 2. To have as a related or attendant condition (The Free Dictionary, 2017) .

Examining the linguistic message in more detail, what is the nature of the relationship between the image and text? Since the age of the book text became inextricably linked with images (Barthes, 1993: p. 36). In today’s world of mass communication image is always linked by text, whether in adverts, films, books, cartoons….This is still a ‘civilisation of writing’ and not of ‘images’ Barthes reflects (Barthes, 1993: p. 37). One could also add to this list exhibits in a museum or gallery, which have text accompaniaments, though see John Berger’s critique of ‘bogus religiosity’ and the way words can subordinate the true meaning of a painting (Berger, 1972). Try too to read those chapters in the book which contain printed images only. This revolutionary format is exhausting to read, as it allows us the freedom to interpret the works as we see fit, without the controlling influence of the text on our thoughts.

Barthes classifies the relationship of text to image  as either one of anchorage, or of relay. Images have many meanings (they are polysemous), and beneath the signifiers there is a ‘floating chain’ of signifieds (Barthes, 1993: p. 37). Consequently how we interpret their meaning is uncertain, and the text helps us to identify or ‘fix’ the image. (Barthes, 1993: p. 37). The denominative function provides Anchorage of all possible denoted meanings suggested by the objects (eg. viewings objects in a bowl we may decide more easily what they are … apple, a pear, a melon, or a combination if the scene is titled ‘still life with citrus fruits’). As for connoted meanings, the anchorage helps us interpret the symbols (stops the meaning chain multiplying, and keeps it in check). The principle function of text is to direct ‘the reader through the signifieds of the  image, causing him to avoid some and receive others;…’ (Barthes, 1993: p. 38).

Text as anchorage elucidates the image, but is also selective, and thus is repressive from the point of view of  interpretation and message. Less frequently the text acts as Relay, For example in in cartoons or comic strips, where small units of dialogue and images are interpreted as  part of a higher story or meaning.  Relay is uncommon in fixed images, but is very common in  film. It can provide meanings not found in the images, perhaps adding to the structure of a plot, or the building of character in absent players?  Both anchorage and relay can be found together in an image, but one usually dominates, and gives the piece its character. Anchorage text, for example is less laborious for the reader to negotiate; the image retains more meaning. Relay requires a greater effort because the text is harder to read than an image (Barthes, 1993: p. 38).

Barthes now turns his attention to the denoted image.  In an advert the literal and symbolic meaning occur simultaneously. One would rarely see just text in an advert- or if there were the lack of an image would itself connote a meaning, such as naivety or loneliness (Barthes, 1993: p.38). The literal message is only ever relational, not substantial. It evicts certain meanings and leaves others; the   text corresponds to the ‘first degree of intelligibility’ and below this only line/form/colour is perceived. Viewed as an identification of the scene, the denoted image can be thought of as ‘edenic’ (utopian) and being unbound from its connotations. It has become objective or innocent (Barthes, 1993: p. 39).


In the photograph in particular, this innocence is reinforced by the its status of  ‘message without a code’. Barthes distinguishes the photo from the drawing because ‘only the photograph is able to transmit the (literal) information without forming it by means of discontinuous signs and rules of transformation’ (Barthes, 1993: p. 39). This is a debatable claim. Certainly drawing involves transformation, but does not the taking of photographs also? Are not all photos unlike the real? They are flat, they are usually smaller, and they can be taken using all sorts of techniques which makes the real more abstract; aren’t they exactly like the transformed drawing? – see Bourdieu’s essay ‘The social definition of Photography’ for a defence of photography from those who would tautologically seek to label it as more real than other art forms (Bourdieu, 1993).

Barthes highlights the three codes he sees at work within a drawing. Firstly, drawing requires a set of rules (such as perspective). Secondly, drawing necessarily selects the important from the unimportant (the author proceeds to tell us how photography can do this too, but rather irrelevantly states that it cannot ‘intervene within an object except by trick effects’ (Barthes, 1993: p. 39). Lastly, drawing requires an apprenticeship. All three statements illustrate a narrow view of photography (and drawing) which is ‘barbarous’ and genre-centred (Bourdieu, 1993). Rules like perspective are no more necessary in photography as they are in drawing, and both photography and drawing may be good or bad, but neither requires an apprenticeship.

Barthes restates the differences between the denoted status of drawing and photography by saying that in a photo we have a relationship between nature (denoted?) and culture (connoted?), but in a drawing the relationship between denoted and connoted is ‘profoundly modified’ to be denoted/= connoted and connoted (culture) (Barthes, 193: p 39).

Barthes believes that ‘man’s interventions in the photograph …….all effectively belong to the plane of connotation’ onto which he layers the signs and symbols of his cultural code. This opposition of cultural code and natural (non-code) accounts for the ‘anthropological revolution’ that the photograph has had (Barthes, 193: p 40).  Although the author does not describe the characteristics of this revolution, it is worth bearing in mind that Bourdieu would counter that photography, far from being revolutionary,  ‘In its traditional form… strictly identifies aesthetic with social norms….’. On the other hand Osip Brik believes that ‘the photographer captures life events more cheaply, quickly and precisely than the painter’ (and therefore presumably the drawer as well), and that ‘herein lies his strength, his enormous social importance’ (Brik, 2003: p. 472). Brik’s list of the photography’s advantages do indeed seem to lend photography an advantage over drawing when it comes to revolutionary matters.

Barthes now describes the consciousness that the photo engenders, which is unique; the ‘having-been- there’, not the ‘being- there’…..  ‘which any copy could provoke’ (Barthes, 193: p 40).  This does seem inarguable, and perhaps more pertinent to the photograph’s special relationship to reality. Those light rays which bounced off the subject have directly touched the photographic paper- and caused an instantaneous record via chemical reactions. The image from the developed film is therefore a direct link to that original photographed ‘real’ time and place; the subject, the light, and the chemicals were all there at the same time.

Barthes section on the denoted image (as a message without a code) finishes with his idea that the denoted image plays a special role in the  structure of the iconic message. Because it exists in addition to the symbolic message, it helps to naturalise and reduce the connoted message. This is described as a paradox, as the more technology allows us to use images to  communicate (connoted/symbolic) messages, the more it allows us to subtly hide the real, constructed meaning beneath or within the reality of the denoted image.



Barthes, R (1999).  ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Berger, J (1972) ‘Chapter 1’ in Ways of Seeing. Great Britain, Penguin.   p.  7-34

Bourdieu, P (1999) ‘The social definition of photography’ in  visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.      p.162-180

Brik, O. (1993). ‘Photography versus Painting 1926’. In Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 470-473

Literary devices (2013) ‘Assonance’  online at [accessed 1 April 2017]

The Free Dictionary (2017), ‘Connote’ online at [accessed 1 April 2017]