2-9the photographic message - The Photographic Message...

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The Photographic Message Roland Barthes COMM 3210 Human Communication Theory
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Roland Barthes (1915-1980) Roland Barthes, 1970. Photo source:
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Barthes: French Structuralist Semiotic Theory Structured systems of signs (codes) as social phenomena (how they function in society) How codes constitute culture (a system of meanings expressed in myths, rituals, clothing, food, relationships, social classes, etc.) How ideologies (unconscious meanings that express particular values) are embedded in semiotic systems (e.g. body ideals in ads express gender ideology)
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Key terms Denotation : literal meaning or reference of a sign (e.g. “Hitler” denotes a particular historical person) Connotation : meanings suggested or implied by a sign (e.g. “Hitler” connotes, evil, racism, war, genocide, etc.)
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The Photographic Paradox The photographic image by itself is a message without a code (pure denotation) But the “denotated” status of the photo “has every chance of being mythical The apparent objectivity of the photo masks its ideologically loaded connotations Paradox : co-existence of two messages: denotated and connotated, “objective” and “invested,” “natural” and “cultural”
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Example: Barthes analyzes a Panzani ad Here we have a Panzani advertisement: some packets of pasta, a tin, a sachet, some tomatoes, onions, peppers, a mushroom, all emerging from a half-open string bag, in yellows and greens on a red background. Let us try to 'skim
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