Choose a day that you can spend out and about looking with no particular agenda. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in the real world – on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and online, for example. Make notes in your learning log on some specific examples and reflect upon what impact the text has on how you read the overall message. Consider the following:
● Does the text close the image down (i.e. inform or direct your reading) or open it up (i.e. allow for your personal interpretation to play a part in creating the final meaning)?
● What do you think was the intention of the creator in each instance? Anchorage and relay
Moving on from titles and captions, and looking at the use of text and image in a wider context, it is important to familiarise ourselves with an important theory regarding image and text.
In his essay ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ (1964) the French literary theorist Roland Barthes talked about ‘anchorage’ and ‘relay’. This essay is readily available to read online.
To summarise, Barthes refers to the anchorage of the image through text as akin to what we have already looked at as a ‘directional title’ above. The text in an anchorage situation operates like the anchor of a ship – it holds it in place and situates it. When Barthes refers to a relay relationship between image and text he is calling for a more open space to exist between the two components – much like the orientation and complementary approaches discussed above.
Research Task: Rhetoric of the Image
Read ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ (Barthes, 1964) and write a reflection in your learning log.
● How does Barthes define anchorage and relay?
● What is the difference between them?
● Can you come up with some examples of each?
● How might this help your own creative approaches to working with text and image?
[22Feb21] OK, this is a two-parter:
1. Look at incoming images and text directed towards you and analyse it as: does the text close down (seek to direct your interpretation) or open up the image? And to what end?
[22Feb21] Most days begin with a look at the newspapers, online, from the BBC.
The main news of the day is the anticipated announcement of lockdown relaxation. Most of the papers run with this and there are several approaches to illustration:
1. The Express, FT, Guardian and Mail just use large headlines with no associated image.
2. The i and Mirror show pedestrians.
3. The Metro and the Sun show small pictures of an upbeat Boris Johnson.
4. The Telegraph and Times both uses images of the same family eating icecream.
5. The Star does not cover the story.
None of the photographs are used in a negative way; of the four that show none (see #1) two tend to be broadly supportive of the government, two generally more critical. The Star often takes a swipe at Boris and relishes any chance to mock Dominic Cummings.
The repeated use of phrases such as 'march to freedom' and 'one step at a time' suggest to the readers that the coming changes will be positive but gradual.
They all seek to 'close it down'.
Of the other illustrated stories,
5 concern sports
2 are political
and there are 2 advertisements.
As one might expect, newspaper headlines tend to 'close stories down', draw attention to the image which itself is there to get the readers' attention, especially on the front pages where both the text and the images are intended to attract buyers.
I do not believe that newspapers change many minds, except little and very gradually. People read the newspapers they are comfortable with and newspapers are careful to curate the news to retain their readership (people were creating their own mental, opinionated silos long before social media automated the process). There are occasional exceptions of course, as we saw in such as the US public turning against the Vietnam Was with the daily reports of returning body-bags.
[22Feb] now my Eltham walkabout. I set out with the intention of photographing and images which were in place to attract my attention. I had in mind standard bill-stickers fare such as circuses and raves because these usually have the most garish and provocative imagery but there were none - part of the Covid toll.
What that left was pretty insipid.
Most of the images naturally fall into one of several categories:
estate agents - figs. 2, 14
bus ads - figs. 5-8
shop ads - figs. 1, 4, 10, 11, 15
other- figs. 3, 9, 12, 13
Estate agents tend to fall into two categories, both represented here - local residential, relying on familiarity with a prominent logo, or commercial, more text-based and factual.
I have just realised that there are two broad types of bus ad too - visual on the side, designed to grab the attention as it passes and then give brief textual information, often a film or a musical (but not at the moment with Covid); or ads on the back to be read by following motorists that are more textual.
The shop ads here are a smallish Iceland video display where eye catching financial claims (£15 here) are interspersed with food images; a more traditional window display at M&S, again with large digits and currency or percentage symbols and an eye-catching image. The smaller portable ad in fig. 4 has to try to bring custom to an off-High-Street takeaway food shop with a (supposedly) mouthwatering image and directions. Fig. 1, in its own courtyard, an entirely prosaic shopfront for Eltham Greetings Cards - I have lived here for 30 years, must have walked past this entrance hundreds of times and never entered because I have always assumed it to be a wholesale enterprise. Finally, fig. 15., no need for imagery, just the real thing, albeit with traffic-fume-drenched but nevertheless visually attractive exterior displays, s Garden Fruits, suppliers of the best fresh chillies in the Borough of Greenwich.
The others are an interesting bunch:
fig. 3 an e-car charging station - I assume there are apps that guide drivers to these and so they do not have to be visually apparent but rely on logos that I do not recognise;
fig. 9 is there for the traffic warning signs - I was surprised to notice that there were no purely symbolic signs (such as I associate with the Highway Code) they are all entirely textual and seem to be increasingly wordy and specific. This might be not entirely unconnected with the rise of the Health and Safety Imperative and the local Council's wish to avoid litigation.
There are two signs in fig. 12, the Eltham sign, seeking to portray its South London suburban commuter sprawl as an idyllic village and the entirely symbolic red man, don't walk sign, probably recognised worldwide and that contrasts with …
You have to look carefully at fig 13 to see the 'COMMIT NO NUISANCE' on the wall of the alleyway. The building used to be a very old pub with an outside toilet when I first lived here and that is when the sign dates from; when that closed, it eventually became a fusion-Asian restaurant but Covid has killed it and it is now for sale (see fig.14).
From which we conclude - when the 'product' is not seeking to attract new customers, a simple graphic will suffice (car charging #3, pedestrians stop #12); if the message is more complex and there is no vend then text is often necessary (traffic warnings #9, behavioural #13) and that can also work where there is a 'captive audience' (the car behind a bus #5, #8); where the intention is to attract new customers (i.e. most of the rest) then an eye-catching graphic or short text (£x, y%) is thought necessary and this is because the viewers' eyes are in motion either as passengers or pedestrians and the attraction must overcome an attention span limited by movement, familiarity and competition. All these image and text combinations seek to close or limit options for, perhaps even direct interpretation.
And I have learned new things about the duality of bus advertising and estate agency.
Part 2 - Barthes
Box C Panzani ad.
[28Feb] There's a copy of Rhetoric of the Imagehere.
Before delving into this, it is a happy coincidence that I happen to be reading Campany's On Photographs at the moment and just reached, when discussing Stezaker's Pair I, 2001
IT IS IN THE NATURE OF IMAGES, all images, to misbehave and exceed meaning in ways that are anarchic, elusive, enigmatic and ambiguous. This is why images are so often accompanied by words that tame and stabilize them. Essentially, however, they remain wild, and therefore have always been a source of great fascination, and great suspicion.
David Campany On Photographs, p.32
It might well be that Campany is more useful (he's certainly more elegant and succinct) than Barthes.
Central to Barthes' essay is a pasta ad, fig. C1. He uses it to demonstrate the semiotic analysis of images.
He identifies Three Messages
Linguistic - the text, including the food labels
if we remove the text, there are 4 signs or iconic messages:
(a) shopping at a market
(b) the combination of components suggest 'Italianicity'
(c) Panzani represents 'naturalness' by association with the natural produce
(d) the composition of the image evokes Still Life art.
The four signs require cultural knowledge - they are Connotive
If those signs are removed, what is left is an assembly of recognisable objects and that is the literal Denoted message.
The denoted and connoted components are linked in that they derive from the same picture so Barthes asks 'to what extent have we the right to separate them?', concluding that it is 'justified' so long as it leads to a useful outcome
The Linguistic Message
This is the main reason we are here today, in terms of Exc. 4.2.
The text can act as and anchor or a relay
The purpose of a anchor is to 'control' the viewer's interpretation of the iconic (connoted) message. It is 'commonly found in press photographs and advertisements'.
An example of relay is text in 'cartoons and comic strips' with image and text in a 'complementary relationship'.
The Denoted Image
It is hard to mentally remove connotations. The photograph is more 'pure' (my word) than a drawing because there is 'no drawing without style' (Barthes' words).
But if we posit a denoted image, then the next bit is interesting. A photograph, in itself, is a record that exists in a 'myth of photographic "naturalness" …,
… the scene is there, captured mechanically, not humanly (the mechanical is here a guarantee of objectivity). Man's interventions in the photograph (framing, distance, lighting, focus, speed) all effectively belong to the plane of connotation; it is as though in the beginning (even if utopian) there were a brute photograph (frontal and clear) on which man would then lay out, with the aid of various techniques, the signs drawn from a cultural code
Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image
[the lengthy quote is included because it might prove useful elsewhere: here's the interesting bit] although the photograph evidences for the photographer their 'being-there' (Barthes' italics), to the viewer it gives a sense of imagery 'having-been-there' and the disconnect between the viewer’s current situation and the image's past situation creates what Barthes describes as,
spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph being an illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then.
Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image
This is a notion that will merit exploration elsewhere. At the back of my mind, I'm harbouring a plan to rephotograph Hoppé's statue images in Borenius' Forty London statues and public monuments and that will provide a double dose of 'spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority'.
Barthes reaches the preliminary definition (returning to this question after discussion of the third message) that 'the denoted image naturalizes the symbolic message; it innocents the semantic artifice of connotation, which is extremely dense, especially in advertising'.
Rhetoric of the Image
Connotations tend to be multiple and simultaneously discontinuous and overlapping. Barthes goes on to list some tangential associations such as nets and fishing. He explores the ambiguity of Italianicity which is an example of metonymy in this case but elsewhere could manifest as an asyndeton (asyndetonically?)
He concludes, several paragraphs of contorted complexity later that connotation is cultural, denotation natural (another manifestation of nature and nurture) and that the two are intertwined.
The baggage that viewers bring to photographs are many and varied and complicated. These overlay and interact with the intrinsic, 'natural' components of the image.
Text also interacts with the visual aspects of the image in the viewer's interpretation in a variety of ways more complex than Barthes duality of anchor and relay (he does not seem to take account of the viewer's reaction to text being as complex as their reaction to imagery and for the same reasons). Another factor that Barthes ignores here is what Barrett (2011) describes as the 'presentational environment'.
As Sue Sontag memorably tells us,
photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer
Sontag, On Photography, quoted in La Grange, Basic critical theory for photographers, p.37
and Dave Campany usefully notes,
It is in the nature of images, all images, to misbehave and exceed meaning in ways that are anarchic, elusive, enigmatic and ambiguous. This is why images are so often accompanied by words that tame and stabilize them. Essentially, however, they remain wild, and therefore have always been a source of great fascination, and great suspicion.
Campany On Photographs, p.32
The starting point for this analysis was, 'How might [Barthes' ideas of anchor and relay] help your own creative approaches to working with text and image?'
My intuitive view, expressed elsewhere, is that titles are best factual and minimal, leaving interpretation and description to the whims and fancies of the viewer. I remain of that view when it comes to objective, representative, Window photographs. In the case of more subjective, interpretive, Mirror imagery there is a stronger case to be made for extended and fanciful prose, examples being biographical studies that quote the words of the subject, such as Julian Germain in Part 2, photographing Charles Snelling and some instances of autobiography such as Nikki S. Lee (C&N Part 3) and to explain the masquerades of Hans Eijkelboom (I&P Part 3)
Accordingly, I will be prepared to take a more prosaic approach when appropriate.
Signifier - the picture, 'its formal and conceptual elements'
Signified - the thoughts arising in the viewer arising from the photograph
Sign - the combination of the two
Diegeses - the subject under consideration (here the Panzani ad.) as a whole.
Discontinuous - see asyndeton
Polysemous - a sign that has more than one meaning
Metonymy - a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated (such as "crown" in "lands belonging to the crown") merriam-webster.com
Synecdoche — a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (such as society for high society), the species for the genus (such as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (such as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as boards for stage) merriam-webster.com
Added 8Dec19 metonymy is used in an essay by Martha Rosler cited in C&N p. 25.
Asyndeton - literally unconnected but in use, textually, omitting non-essential (other than grammatically) words for emphasis.