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Semiology and the photographic image

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1 Semiology and the photographic image
Roland Barthes: semiology as cultural criticism From the study of verbal language to that of cultural phenomena: films, photographs, fashion, advertising, etc. Developing a common vocabulary and a rigorous or “scientific” method for the critical analysis of mass culture. Understanding the complexity and meaningfulness of all cultural artefacts despite their apparent "obviousness”. The “reality-effect” (Roland Barthes) The “impression of reality (Christian Metz)

2 The photographic message: the “reality-effect”
So-called “realism” of the image makes it appear to be "natural" rather than socially and historically constructed. A product or production of the image--its structure of signification as a message. The appeal to a belief: “I know very well that this is only a photograph, yet I choose to believe in its “reality.” Arguing that the photography functions as a sign is to discredit it as an innocent or neutral representation.


4 What is a sign? There is an arbitrary relation between a sign and its meaning. Referent: what the signifier purports to represent Signifier: representational aspect Signified: concept or meaning If the relation between signifier and signified is only defined by convention, then meaning or signification is socially and historically constructed.

5 Ferdinand de Saussure

6 The two traditions: semiology and semiotics
Semiology: the study of signs based on linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure ( ). Course on General Linguistics. Roland Barthes Christian Metz Semiotics: the study of signs based on logic Charles Sanders Peirce ( ) Umberto Eco Gilles Deleuze

7 Defining the sign: representation
The perceptible aspect of the sign: how we recognize the sign as standing for something Saussure: the signifier Peirce: the representer or representamen Souriau: the first degree of film form

8 Defining the sign: representation
Peirce: icon, index, and symbol An icon signifies in virtue of its resemblance, or its analogical relation to what it wishes to represent. A symbol does not resemble what it refers to; it signifies through the force of convention. An index may but does not necessarily resemble its referent. It signifies in virtue of a relationship of contiguity with its referent. A causal or existential link is presumed. The representational character of signs can be, and often is, mixed or heterogeneous.


10 Defining the sign: signification
How signs become meaningful to individuals and societies. Saussure: the signified Peirce: the interpretant Souriau: the second degree of film form Signification is always defined by convention. The distinction between speech (parole) and language (langue).

11 Defining the sign: signification
The distinction between speech (parole) and language (langue). Speech: the everyday use of language. A potentially infinite number of statements. Language: the limited number of rules we use in speaking. The distinction between message and code.

12 Defining the sign: signification
The message is actual concrete singular heterogeneous A code is ideal abstract general homogenous

13 Defining the sign: signification
A message is a singular, meaningful unit of discourse. A code is an abstraction created by the analyst--a logic reconstructed from the materials provided by the message. A code is a principle of intelligibility formulated by the film theorist through the analysis of specific "messages." Its unity or homogeneity is not of a sensory or material order; rather, it is an order of logical coherence, valued for its explanatory power.


15 Roland Barthes on photography
“The photographic message” a sign can be a very complex structure that mixes forms and materials of representation; a sign is meaningful only in context. Denotation and connotation The “photographic paradox” “The photograph is a message without a code.”

16 “The photograph is a message without a code”

17 Roland Barthes on photography
The denotation of the photograph "Certainly the image is not the reality but at least it is its perfect analogon and it is exactly this analogical perfection which, to common sense, defines the photograph” (17). The photograph as a "mechanical analogon" whose message is "the scene itself, literal reality." The “photographic paradox” The spectator’s fascination with "the here-now, for the photograph is never experienced as an illusion ..., its reality [is] that of the having been there, for in every photograph there is always the stupefying evidence of this is how it was, giving us, by a precious miracle, a reality from which we are sheltered" (44).

18 Roland Barthes on photography
The code gravitates toward connotational meaning. The imposition of a second meaning through editorial choice, laboratory manipulations, cropping, layout, etc. The informational or "obvious" meaning of the photograph. Connotation is to denotation as a caption or written text is to the photograph. If the message is "informational" then the code structures the "symbolic" level of meaning, that is, the range of meanings accruing to the image in virtue of conventional or cultural associations.


20 Roland Barthes on photography
Ideology and the image: How the image structures social belief and meaning The ideological function of connotation, as regulated by given codes, is to reassure individuals and to integrate them into the society overall. How the image is “naturalized” by the code. The traumatic quality of the photograph as a “suspension” of language


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