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

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

make note of important points that you don’t completely follow. Record a list of questions you have concerning the reading.

Key terms to analyze:

Linguistic sign: 



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. Also include several possible historical 19th or 20th-century advertisements that use racial, ethnic, or gender stereotypes to sell the product. See below for details. Throughout the history of imaging and photographic processes, we have learned to not only capture moments of time and space but to additionally create depth in the meaning of captured moments. As a French thinker that was involved in the semiotics field and the Structuralist movement, Roland Barthes’ essay “Rhetoric of the Image” delves into an analysis of the use of semiological elements in imagery, the messages in nature that images tend to send across, defined as their linguistic message, non-coded and coded iconic messages. An audience would tend to analyze images in their linguistic messages as they feature textual components with an image’s representational aspects, directing viewers towards a clear or unexpected interpretation. When it comes to non-coded iconic messages, they are interpreted through the meanings that the image may denote, be it objective, literal, perceptual, or innocent. Finally, a coded iconic message within the image interpretation that would be understood may feature meanings that are subjective, connotation, cultural, ideological, or even symbolic. Without us realizing it, images in their meaning subconsciously persuade and influence audiences through our own understandings of the subjects within them. Barthe’s analysis of a Panzani advertisement indicates the linguistic message being both denotational and connotation in the sense of it being a subject of “Italianicity”, the shopping and return with fresh market groceries, “culinary service” in the combination of kitchen ingredients, and a compositional aspect relating to a still-life portrait. Barthe’s interpretation of the advertisement being a return from shopping for groceries at the market, due to the subjects of the half-open bag of cooking ingredients, and knowing that there lies a culture of “shopping around for oneself”, where we are mostly familiarized with on an unintentionally conscious scale.