Roland Barthes

Notes from Rhetoric of the Image (Image-Music-Text)

Barthes provides an analytical system by to discuss the reading/interpretation of an image

First, He defines the root of image as being close to the word "imitari":
an imitation or representation. A copy.

The Issues


1) If the image re-presents, can it shape meaning?

2) And how does meaning get into the image?

3) Can an analogical representation produce true systems of signs or is it just a container of free floating information?

4) If language is based on rules of combining discreet units, concepts articulated symbolically? Can there be an analogical code as opposed to a digital one?

Strategy used is one of deconstruction: to skim off the different
messages that an image may contain.

Three Messages

  - The linguistic message
- A coded iconic message
- A non coded iconic message

The linguistic - Captions, labels
- Need cultural knowledge (language) to decode text
- Connotates "Italianicity" through the sound and familiarity of this particular text

    Do images exist outside of text?
Do images go beyond illustrating texts?
Do they duplicate certain information in the text or is there something new that occurs in the reading of the image?
The linguistic message present through:
Caption, title, explanation, film dialogue, comic strip balloon.Function of text: Anchorage and Relay


- Helps me to choose the correct level of perception,
- Permits me to focus not simply my gaze but also my understanding.
- The text guides not only identification but also interpretation.
- It limits the projective power of the image.
- The text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image, avoiding some and receiving others.
- Text remote controls viewer towards a meaning chosen in advance.
- Text with an image is an ideological control.

Relay: Sequence in cartoons, comic strips, films

    - Text in a complementary relationship with the image.
- Text provides meaning not found in the image.
- For quick reading, text illustrated with image.
- The image seems "lazier". Conveys information readily through less symbols.
- Text and images are both fragments. The unity of message realized at a higher order, that of the story

The Image   A series of discontinuous signs

Coded iconic message
  1) Open bag : Return from market
Signifies freshness, domestic preparation
2) Colors as cultural messages signify "Italianicity".
Resonates with Panzani text.

Italianicity is a specific knowledge, signifying only to non-Italians.
3) Inventory of Objects signify a complete system: a total culinary experience.
4) Aesthetic referent: the still life, nature morte. Heavily cultural, requires specialized knowledge.
5) The image/text as ad : Contextual information. The messages placement within a magazine, etc.

Non coded iconic message
  The literal visual message


- The photographic representation repeats rather than transforms the source subject matter.
- It is a literal message as opposed to the previous symbolic ones.
- But it functions as the support of the symbolic messages.

The photograph:
a message without a code

Opposed to a drawing, which even when denoted, is a coded message

1) Drawings: Rule based transpositions (historical: perspective)

2) The drawing does not reproduce everything: (often very little)

- Division between significant/non essential.
- Whereas one cannot intervene within the photograph.
- Drawings highly connoted: there is no drawing without style.

3) Drawings require apprenticeship.

- Photographs reinforce the myth of natural representation even though framing, focus, lighting, speed belong to the plane of connotation.

- A new space-time continuum : Spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority.

The photograph:

An illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then

- It is never experienced as an illusion
- is in no way a presence
- its reality is that of the "having-been-there". A reality from which we are sheltered.
- Photographs innocent ideologically coded messages through their literalness:nature seems spontaneously to produce the scene represented.