In the essay ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ Roland Barthes discuses how a system of signs conveys a message in an image. To support his theory, he chooses to analyze an advert (Panzani Advertisement), as the ‘signification of the advertising image is intentional’ and therefore easier to recognize.
The underlying questions of the essay are:
– Can images function as conveyors of meaning, given that they are essentially analogical representations (the ‘copy’) of something else?,
– Do images really constitute a language, and if so, how does meaning work within this language?.
The basic equation of semiotics:
signifier (the material substance – eg. an object, an image, a word, etc.)
signified (the meaning)
sign (the material substance which has a particular meaning to a person or a group of
people, both the signifier and the signified together)
Barthes catalogues messages recognizable in an image into 3 categories. To introduce the reader into the topic, he provides an example of all three in the Panzani advert.
1. linguistic message:
He suggest linguistic message in this image is a ‘twofold’, constructed of a denoted/literal
message (labels, caption) and a connoted/symbolic message (the word ‘Panzani’
2. symbolic message:
Barthes recognizes 4 non-linguistic signs, that constitute the connoted image of the advert:
– the half-open bag signifies return from market,
– tomatoes and peppers signify italianicity,
– the collection of object signifies a total culinary service,
– the overall composition is reminiscent of, and therefore signifies, the notion of a still life.
3. literal message:
The signifier and the signified are essentially the same, which results in a non-coded/
denoted/literal message (eg. the photo of a tomato – signifier, signifies a tomato – signified).
He then continues to explore each type of message separately, ‘to understand the overall structure of the image, the final inter-relationship of the three messages’.
1. LINGUISTIC MESSAGE
The linguistic message can embody 2 functions: anchorage and relay.
Anchorage is the most frequent function of linguistic message. Images are prone to multiple meanings and interpretations. Anchorage is used to guide the viewer to the meaning, or at least to navigate him through the maze of possible meanings, chosen in advance. Not only towards the identification, anchorage also leads the viewer to the apriori-set interpretation of the symbolic message. This technique is ‘commonly found in press photographs and advertisement’.
When it comes to the function of relay, ‘text and image stand in complementary relationship’. The text adds meaning. Relay is very important in film.
The two functions of linguistic message can co-exist in one whole, but one dominates depending on the situation.
2. THE DENOTED (NON-CODED, LITERAL) IMAGE
To see the denoted image in pure state, we would have to be able to see the image at the first degree of intelligibility (the point at which we see more than just shapes/colour/form, but instead eg. a tomato). According to Barthes, this is impossible, ‘for everyone from a real society always disposes of a knowledge superior to the merely anthropological and perceives more than just the letter’.
He identifies photography as the only medium with the characteristics of capturing
a message without a code (it can not intervene with the object, it is mechanical –
the guarantee of objectivity). The absence of which (a code) reinforces the myth of
photographic ‘naturalness’. Drawing, for example, relies on all sorts of conventions,
which create a code (subjective editing, style, etc.).
The role of the denoted image in overall image structure/meaning is one of naturalizing the symbolic message – supporting and contextualizing the connoted elements (semantic artifice of connotation is extremely dense in advertising), making them innocent.
3 THE CONNOTED (CODED, SYMBOLIC, CULTURAL) IMAGE / RHETORIC OF THE IMAGE
Analyzing the connotations of an image can prove itself challenging. Each image/lexia (possibly) connotes multiple meanings/lexicons, and the number of readings of the same lexical unit depends on the individual viewer.
connotation=a system which takes over the signs of another system in order to make them
lexicon=a portrait of language/knowledge within the viewer, that corresponds to a body
of practices or techniques. There is a plurality and a co-existence of lexicons in an
individual, the number and identity of these lexicons form in some sort a person’s idiolect.
A single lexia mobilizes multiple lexicons, which may or may not be shared among viewers. Therefore the meaning is not constructed only by the creator, but also the consumer, ‘and the interactions of his lexicon(s) with the signs contained in the image’.
Furthermore, ‘analyzing connotation presents a difficulty as there is no particular analytical language (corresponding to the particularity of signifieds) for expressing/articulating them’.
Signifieds of connotation are sometimes expressed by using the suffix –icity, to create an
abstract noun from an adjective (eg. italianicity).
Untangling Barthes theory, this is how he enlists the most important concepts of the connoted image/rhetoric of the image.
The signifiers of connotation within a particular medium/substance are called connotators. The entire set of such connotators is the rhetoric – so the RHETORIC OF THE IMAGE is all the visual elements within an image, that can be employed as signifiers to connote (signify) signifieds. The common domain of signifieds of connotation is an ideology. Therefore rhetoric is the signifying aspect od ideology.
However, there always remain purely denoted elements within the frame, that can not be connotators. These are the non-coded, literal images.