Positions and Practice PHO710 Topic 7: WORDS and PICTURES Paradox within 'The Photographic Message'.

Updated: Sep 4

“The press photograph is a message”, states Barthes, pointing out that photographs contain a paradox; “the photographic paradox can be seen as the co-existence of two messages” (1961:198). He goes on to explain that “by definition, the scene itself, the literal reality” (1961:196) is the first order or ‘denoted’ (1961:197) message transmitted by the photographic image, which he further explains as the only structure of information “that totally exhausts its mode of existence”(1961:197).

The paradox is created by the written text, the ‘connoted’ (1961:197) or second order message, which provides the facility for the reader to interpret the photograph and apply their own ‘code’ or meaning. In the image the reader observes the attack, the written article reminds them of Pearl Harbour; 7 December 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”(President Franklin D Roosevelt. 8 December 1941. US Capitol Building, Washington D.C. Speech) ; and being drawn into WW2. The parasitic relationship in the image is that words draw on the historical connotations of the headline to create the concept of being drawn into a major conflict due to the unexpected attack depicted in the image.


BARTHES, R 1961 “The Photographic Message “ from “Image Music Text “ LONDON: Fontana Press / Harper Collins Publishers


In general i don't post much in the way of explanatory texts, and often I don't even caption images. I think that this gives the viewer the opprtunity to impose their own imagination and 'write their own story' to accompany my images, so I don't view it as a negative or a limiting feature of my photographic practice.

However, I might try to caption more images in future.

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