Roland Barthes: The Rhetoric of the Image

Similarly to Camera Lucida (1980). Roland Barthes combines methodical analysis and a primary case study in The Rhetoric of the Image that creates a template structure to apply to reading any image. From a personal point of view I enjoy this analytical approach as it resonates with my way of contextualising. What undermines this for me is the illegibility at times of never ending sentences and random digressions. In defence of Barthes, his work is translated into English (which brings its own causalities) but perhaps that does underline the point. All linguistics, images carry cultural context which is not universally clear. That said, I cannot deny that the text is densely rich, it just lacks fibre to digest it more naturally.

The theory of the sign containing the signifier and signified or as Barthes proposes messages that are “denotational and connotational.” (Barthes, 1999, p.34) is particularly relevant to me. Much of my work centres around photographing a subject that carries a cultural message which is not from my place of origin. So even with a passion and knowledge for that area of interest, my “codes of transposition” (Barthes, 1999, p.39) will have a different signification compared to an image made by an artist from the culture.

It is towards the end of the essay that I become most stimulated by Barthes’ words. At this point his methodology is making me evaluate my photographs through his theory. One particular quote stands out. “Only the opposition of the cultural code and the natural non-code can, it seems, account for the specific character of the photograph and allow the assessment of the anthropological revolution it represents in man’s history.” (Barthes, 1999, p.40). Is this something to explore further with A1?

All of the essays researched so far relate to my practice in different ways, but poststructuralism is something to actively analyse in images I will produce in BoW.


Barthes, R. (1999). ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’. In: Evans and Hall (ed.) Visual Culture: A Reader. London: Sage. pp 33-40