Connotative mean ings rely on the cultural and

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more culturally specific meanings. Connotative mean-ings rely on the cultural and historical context of the image and its viewers’lived, felt knowledge of those circumstances—all that the image means tothem personally and socially. This Robert Frank photograph denotes a groupof passengers on a trolley. Yet, clearly its meaning is broader than this simpledescription. This image connotes a collective journey of life and race relations.The dividing line between what an image denotes and what it connotes canbe ambiguous, as in this image, where the facts of segregation alone mayproduce particular connotative associations for some viewers. These two con-cepts help us to think about the differences between images functioning asevidence and as works that evoke more complex feelings and associations.Another image of passengers on a trolley might connote a very different setof meanings.Roland Barthes used the term mythto refer to the cultural values and beliefsthat are expressed at this level of connotation. For Barthes, myth is the hiddenset of rules and conventions through which meanings, which are in realityspecific to certain groups, are made to seem universal and given for a wholesociety. Myth thus allows the connotative meaning of a particular thing orimage to appear to be denotative, hence literal or natural. Hence, BarthesPractices of Looking19
argued, a French ad for Italian sauce and pasta is not simply presenting a product but is producing a myth about Italian culture—the concept of “Italianicity.”3This message, wrote Barthes, is not for Italians, but is specificallyabout a French concept of Italian culture. Similarly, one could argue that thecontemporary concepts of beauty and thinness naturalize certain culturalnorms of appearance as being universal. These norms constitute a myth inBarthes’s terms, because they are historically and culturally specific, not“natural.”Barthes’s concepts of myth and connotation are particularly useful in exam-ining notions of photographic truth. Among the range of images produced bycameras, there are cultural meanings that affect our expectations and uses ofimages. We do not, for example, bring the same expectations about the rep-resentation of truth to newspaper photographs that we do to television newsimages or to film images that we view in a movie theater. A significant differ-ence among these forms is their relationship to time and their ability to bewidely reproduced. Whereas conventional photographs and films need to bedeveloped and printed before they can be viewed and reproduced, the elec-tronic nature of television images means that they are instantly viewable andcan be transmitted around the world live. As moving images, cinematic andtelevision images are combined with sound and music in narrative forms, andtheir meaning often lies in the sequence of images rather than its individualframes.

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