Category Archives: Research point – 1

Part 4 – Research Point 1

The research point is to look at the Barthes essay Rhetoric of the Image and reflect on looking at his definitions of anchorage and relay, thinking about examples of these and considering how you could use them in your own work.

I will start by admitting that I find Barthes a complex read. This may be partly because he wrote in French and I am reading translations. It may be because his background is in philosophy and semiotics. I find I always have to have a dictionary to hand. I looked at the essay as a whole as the parts on anchorage and relay can only be understood in context.

All quotes are from the Rhetoric of the image – initially published in 1964, republished in Image Music Text in 1977 and obtained here from The Photography Reader (2019).

In the Rhetoric of the Image Barthes starts by saying that many people, especially linguists feel that images are weak communicators in comparison with language but other think that it is ‘ineffably rich’.

Barthes then looks at levels of messages in photographs. The first linguistic – and actual words such as a caption or labels within the image. These can have both denotational and connotational meanings. He then describes a clearly coded iconic message- the details of the image and what it shows (in this case the makings of soup) – the perceptual message or the denoted image.  The third level he describes as a ‘message without a code’, a literal message that we understand because of our previous knowledge – the cultural message or the connoted, symbolic image.

He notes that linking of text and image is common. Does the image duplicate information in the words or does the text add ‘fresh information’ to a picture? He sees us (in 1964) as a civilisation of writing and speech rather than of images and notes that there is a linguistic message (length variable and irrelevant) with every image – title, caption, dialogue, accompanying article.

All images are polysemous (have multiple meanings). The reader chooses. The linguistic message is one way of fixing the message, resolving the (terror of) uncertainty. The text helps to identity the scene – what is it?

Anchorage – tells you what of all the possible denotive meanings is the one that you are supposed to understand – to focus not simply my gaze but also my understanding.  It limits what you see.  It directs you to the meaning that is desired (especially in advertising). Anchorage is a control, a selective explanation (elucidation). It acts to repress (cut down) the meaning of the image to that wished by the creator or society.

 Relay (less common than anchorage) is often seen in cartoons/comics. ‘The text and image stand in a complimentary relationship’. The unity of the message becomes important rather than the individual items. He describes the information gained by the text as more ‘costly’ as it need more formal learning to acquire and the information from the image as ‘lazier’ and ‘quick’ allowing a hurried reader to avoid the necessity of verbal descriptions. He also notes that either text or image will usually be dominant.

Barthes then goes on to talk about the denoted image. He says that although a photograph, ‘by virtue of its absolutely analogue nature’ – is a message without a code – but also that everybody automatically understands more then the liberal image because of our cultural knowledge. However, a photograph is different from a drawing as any drawing chooses what to show, as opposed to a photograph which (once the frame has been decided) shows everything. The photograph records, evoking not only being-there but also having-been-there. There is always the evidence of this is how it was. It is different from any other form of image making (a mutation of a way of passing on information).

The connoted (symbolic image) is complex because there are as many possible interpretations as there are readers. The interpretation depends on prior knowledge, a ‘body of attitudes’. The language of the image consisted both utterances emitted by the creator and the utterances received from the viewer. Therefore, they may/will include surprises. The whole set of connotations from the image Barthes calls a rhetoric.

 He ends by noting that the meaning (of an image) is torn internally between culture and nature – but the whole thing combines to tell a story.

In summary:

Barthes defines anchorage as the controlling words that direct the reader to what the creator wishes him/her to see. Relay in text is something that sits alongside the image and gives additional value, is complimentary. Anchorage directs you; relay suggests possibilities.


  1. In the book Our Forbidden Land by Faye Godwin (Godwin, 1990) she uses a combination of both. The images are accompanied by a simple text such as ‘Stubble Burning, east Kent’ which, by itself, would allow you to look at the image and think ‘Oh. It must be winter’ or ‘That makes a lot of smoke’ – but she then accompanies the image with a passage of information about the context which makes it clear that she wants you to read it as an obnoxious and dangerous process.
  2. In The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin she uses simple factual titles such as ‘Christie and Sandy on the beach, Provincetown, Mass.1976’ which’ while grounding the image in reality, this happened, I was then then – allows you to make up your own story.
  3. In Tal Uf Tal Ab by Robert Frank there is even less information, the name of the person or a place. You are left with your own interpretation.
  4. In a copy of the magazine Breathe (picked at random off the floor) -the images (while often very attractive) are clearly secondary to the anchoring text, for instance, a long article entitled ‘Food for the soul’ (Yates, 2016) which is accompanied by luscious looking strawberries, cherries and raspberries. This is very similar in use to the advertisement Barthes describes in Image of the Rhetoric, although here you are being sold a lifestyle rather than a specific product.

How might this help me?

In much of the work I do I want the reader/viewer to develop their own ideas. To Think. To feel. To imagine. But, equally, I do want to give some direction – I take images of people with disabilities. I do not want the viewer to be negative. I want them to go into their world not look from outside with contempt. I think I need to consider the relay type text, maybe a simple caption, a single word – but with an essay (possibly too formal) at some point.

I am thinking about a piece of memory work – maybe the words need to be totally separate. Single words in a grid? Minimal size captions on the alternate page?


Frank, R. (2010) Tal Uf Tal Ab. Gottingen, Germany: Steidl.

Godwin, F. (1990) Our forbidden land. London: J. Cape.

Goldin, N. et al. (1986) The ballad of sexual dependency. New York, N.Y.: Aperture Foundation.

Wells, L. (2019) The photography reader: history and theory. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, Ny: Routledge.

Yates, J. (2016) ‘Food for the soul’ In: Breathe 2016 pp.74–75.

Research point 1 – Elina Brotherus

I previously looked at the work of Elina Brotherus when doing CAN while looking at autobiographical portraits (Autobiographical self-portraiture). I have now looked at her work in slightly more detail.

I watched the video of her talk to the OCA students (The Open College of the Arts, 2015) and took notes – the quotes are not exact but give the idea of what she said. It was a fascinating talk and I would recommend it to anyone looking at self-portraiture.

  • Brotherus is a Finnish artist, who works between Finland and France. She initially went to France on a residency but didn’t speak any French. She used a post-it sticker method, starting with basic words. Starting with very concrete words and took photos of them in situ. Gradually moved to less concrete words. Did a series of these images. ‘Starting point of my work’. They took me seriously. Then (2011) invited back to work within the schools. Went back to same place as the initial series to look at the beginning of her art – how would it feel? Eventually became a body of work – ‘a position statement’, a turning point, looking back, again using post-its, but talking in more detail. 12 years ago – then a series of statements about how she felt then and where she is now (when taking the images). The images show a picture with long texts, talking about her life – but more about her feelings ‘I can’t take the company of people my own age’. Made into an exhibition and into a book. Includes ‘all the themes that are important to me’, landscapes, fog, reflections, the human figure in a landscape. A return to autobiographical working. Previously was interested in work related to the history of art.
  • ‘I don’t do things in a hurry, if you have the luxury of time use it’, leave things aside then come back to them.
  • When the work is personal it’s hard to have anyone else there – but when it’s a study of the human figure it can be anybody, it’s easier to position someone else – but when yourself you end up running back and forward. I like to be alone because there are less distractions and I am not worried about the other person.
  • I don’t want to hide the camera release – it shows that the person is also the artist – ‘it’s an invitation to a shared contemplation – that’s also why I like the back image’. It’s a different feel when she (the artist) is looking at us or looking away – ‘a frontal figure is a confrontation’. It’s easier as a spectator to enter in (when it’s the back of the artist) as we are together, but we are not disturbing each other.
  • The Annonciation– it’s a responsibility as an artist to lift the lid on things that are taboo – pictures can allow you a route into things, making something into a picture may allow you to distance yourself, to see myself as a human being and others have similar issues.
  • Work in a sincere way as its all your work, eventually it will all come together, you have your own way of discovering, work more rather than stay at home and think.’ I shoot a lot, then I leave it aside’. Think afterwards, edit and reflect. There is no one right answer, multiple solutions out of a body of work.

    © Elina Brotherus – Le deuil du jeune moi qui a été

I have also looked at more of her work online (Brotherus, 2014). The series discussed above – 12 Ans Après (1999/ 2011 – 2013) shows a combination of her earliest work and the later images taken at the same place. As noted, there are a combination of landscapes and portraits. Interestingly she has mixed portrait and landscape formats for both types of images. All are colour. Most are melancholy. In several the emotions are overflowing. Some, but not all, of the images include the post-it notes, scattered all over the pictures. Unfortunately, I cannot read French – as I think they add another dimension to the work. One of my favourite images from the series is a very simple view of water and sky – La Saône 3.

© Elina Brotherus – La Saône 3

The series Carpe Fucking Diem is a recent series in which she attempts to move beyond her perceived failure (not having children) looking at ‘the surprising and surreal undertones of the everyday life, not totally deprived of humour, because even an unhappy end is not The End’ (Brotherus, 2014b). While this series is not so overtly autobiographical as some of her other work it still is clearly based on her life and her feelings. Some of it was actually shot at the same time as the work for The Annonciation and the two series can /should be looked at in parallel.

© Elina Brotherus – My Dog Is Cuter Than Your Ugly Baby


I find Brotherus’s work fascinating. When I looked at it previously, I actually found it somewhat disturbing and hard to view. My feelings have changed over the last year and I now find it both sad and surprisingly beautiful. The combination of clear autobiography, both sad and funny, (at times uproariously so) with images of small details, a bowl of potatoes, a worm on the street, give an insight into the life of someone I wish I could meet.


Brotherus, E. (2014a). 12 Ans Après [online] Elina Brotherus. Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2019].

Brotherus, E. (2014b). Carpe Fucking Diem. [online] Elina Brotherus. Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2019].

The Open College of the Arts. (2015). Elina Brotherus student talk | The Open College of the Arts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2019].