One of this week’s essays from Classic Essays on Photography is by Roland Barthes where using advertising he talks about the topics and connotation and denotation. In his essay “Rhetoric of the Image”, he chooses to analyze an advertisement for Panzani. Connotation refers to how images are depicted while denotation refers to what is being depicted. If we look at the denotation of the advertisement we see that a net is depicted. There is also a connotative sign like the net bag, for example can “signify the miraculous draught of fishes plenty.”(280) He says there is difficulty analyzing connotation because “there is no particular analytical language corresponding to the particularity of its signifieds.” Instead he comes up with the word Italianicity as the best word to account for the signifieds of connotation. He says that linguistically there is a sign of the word Panzani which denotatively gives the name of the firm but there is this additional signifed called Italianicty which connatatively represents the word Panzani. Italianicity refers to the Italian assonance of the name Panzani (271). So the word Panzani is both connotational and denotational. Within the photograph itself is connotation because of “man’s intervention (framing, distance, lighting, focus, speed).”(278) All of these aspects pertain to how the images are depicted, or connotation.
In his essay Barthes refers to myth as relating to connotation. He says that in this photograph “the absence of a code clearly reinforces the myth of photographic naturalness: the scene is there, captured mechanically not humanly (the mechanical is here a guarantee of objectivity).”(278) According to Barthes myths serve to make cultural values seem objective and natural and just the way things are. In the case of the Panzani advertisement the myth is that the photograph’s Italianicity is natural; a message without a code.
Illustrating how Barthes saw myths as the dominant ideology of our time is his essay “Myth Today” in the book Mythologies. Here he analyzes a copy of Paris-Match. He says “I am at the barber’s, and a copy of Paris-Match is offered to me. On the cover, a young Negro in a French uniform is saluting, with his eyes uplifted, probably fixed on a fold of the tricolour. All this is the meaning of the picture. But, whether naively or not, I see very well what it signifies to me: that France is a great Empire, that all her sons, without any colour discrimination, faithfully serve under her flag, and that there is no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this Negro in serving his so-called oppressors.”( http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~mryder/itc/barthes/myth_today.html) Here the combination of signifier and signified perpetuate the myth of imperial devotion.
I think it will be interesting to take these concepts of denotation and connotation and myth and apply them to photographic essays on the web. I would also like to further explore Barthe’s idea of myth in contemporary photographs and how photography, without codes, perpetuates the myth of naturalness and ideology of the bourgeois.