Rhetoric is the ‘technique of using the means of expression to persuade’. The hallmark of all rhetoric is that it involves at least two levels of language, the proper or denoted and the figurative or connoted.”

Aesthetics of Photography

You will be reading and annotating an excerpt from Roland Barthes’ 1977 essay, Rhetoric of the Image.” This essay is challenging, but it contains important tools for deconstructing advertising using a semiotic approach and for the “close reading” of visual images.

Read and annotate Roland Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image essay from Image – Music – Text, Translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang, 1977. (excerpt) using our Hypothesis group. 

Because this can be a difficult text with many new terms, consider reviewing some or all of the following before reading the text:

Key Themes and Takeaways

Roland Barthes Rhetoric of the Image essay from Image – Music – Text, Translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang, 1977. (excerpt)

Roland Barthes was a prominent French thinker associated with the field of semiotics and the Structuralist movement. This essay was written in response to a series of articles that Barthes had been following in a well-regarded linguistics journal. In his essay, Barthes attempts to demonstrate that images contain most of the same semiological elements, ie, signs, signifiers, signifieds, as a spoken or written language.  

  • Semiological elements are present in an image, yet they differ from language in that they imitate nature, and are non-linear.
  • Every image, especially photographs in advertisements, consist of 3 messages: (1) a linguistic message, (2) a non-coded iconic message, and (3) a coded iconic message
  • The linguistic message of an image is the textual component that works alongside representational aspects of an image (most advertisements combine text and image)
  • A linguistic message can direct the viewer toward a clear interpretation, or invite unexpected interpretations 
  • The non-coded iconic message of an image is the objective, denotational, literal, perceptual, innocent meanings that can be understood from the image.
  • The coded iconic message of an image is the subjective, connotational, cultural, symbolic, ideological meanings that can be understood from the image.
  • Images are rhetorical in the sense that coded elements perform functions similar to those of persuasive linguistic devices


Read and annotate the text with your classmates in our Hypothesis group following the instructions below. After reading and annotating the text, create a rough draft of your response in your Research Journal. Your response should be about 200 words and checked for spelling and grammar errors. Lastly, create a new post and publish your response.

1. Open the readings

In a new tab, open the essay Roland Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image essay from Image – Music – Text, Translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang, 1977. (excerpt)

2. Enable Hypothesis

The reading links above will automatically open Hypothesis. Login to your account and select our group (IMPORTANT!) from the dropdown to make sure your annotations and highlights will be recorded in the group. See Using Hypothesis for details.

3. Consider these questions.

As you read, make note of all important terms (ie. linguistic sign, connoted, denoted, etc.), especially if their meaning is unclear.  Also, make note of important points that you don’t completely follow. Record a list of questions you have concerning the reading.

NOTE: you don’t need to answer these questions in this response, just have them in your mind as you read.

  • How do images hold and convey meaning?
  • What are they trying to say?
  • How do they persuade and influence us?

4Read & Annotate.

Consider the questions/prompts listed above while you practice close reading with annotations. Annotations are part of your grade. Share at least 3 annotations in the Hypothesis group, including your questions, definitions, and ideas with your classmates. Add the tags: Rhetoric of Image and Reading Response 8 to your annotations in Hypothesis.

5. Draft your Reading Response.

In your Research Journal, write a draft of your 200-word response and include your understanding of the key terms identified in the essay. Also, include anything that you don’t understand.

Check your reading response for grammar and spelling errors. Use the word count tool. Use the Grammarly app or something similar to improve the clarity of your writing. Use embedded visual examples to supplement your reading response.

6. Post your Reading Response.

When ready, create a new post titled “Reading Response 8 – YourInitials.”

Copy and paste the following at the top of the post: Roland Barthes’ “Rhetoric of the Image” essay from Image – Music – Text, Translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang, 1977. (excerpt)

Paste your reading response from your Research Journal. Add links to your annotations in the Hypothesis group at the bottom of your post. Always add links and attribution for any images that you use in your post. Adjust any formatting issues that may have occurred while pasting. Use the Reading Response (Example) as a guide.

Please be sure to add the following title, category, and tags to your posts. For help with adding Categories and Tags, see OpenLab Help.

  • TITLE: Reading Response 8 – Your Initials
  • CATEGORY: Reading Responses
  • TAG: Reading Response #8
  • TAG: Your Name

Due Date(s)

Your reading response is due the day before the next session to allow time for review.


More info

  • Tutorials > Using Hypothesis
  • Assignments > Research Journal
  • Tutorials > Posting & Commenting
  • Example Post > Reading Response (Example)


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