Images and Texts: Rhetoric of the Image: Roland Barthes (1964)

‘Taking photographs out of the boxes at random, he tried to look into the faces without seeking either signs or secrets…To keep himself from getting pulled into these faces’ stories, he avoided reading the captions …’ – Orhan Pamuk, The Black Book (2006: 282-3)

Image-text relationships has been shaped by the writing of Roland Barthes.  Barthes identified three possible image-text relations, text supporting image (Anchorage), image supporting Text (Illustration) and the two being equal (Relay).

The Anchorage is the most common one.  It can be found in news photos and advertising while others where there is a complementarity between image and text can be found in cartoons and films, it is where the text helps to move the action forward.

Image and text are unequal in status if one of them overcomes the other trying to modify it.  The modifying element is considered to be dependent on the modified one.  If both image and text are joined equally with no sign of modification from one element on the other; it’s considered independent.  When both image and text are equal and modify each other it’s considered complementary.

Rhetoric of the Image: Roland Barthes (1964):



Panzani Advertisement

Barthes used the advertising image of (Panzani) to address the different messages conveyed by a system of sign.

Barthes explains that the word image comes from a Latin term meaning “imitation” and he uses the advertising image to evaluate the true function of the images and the messages they convey:

The Linguistic Message:

Its support are the captions and the labels.  The sign Panzani is the name of the firm as well as its assonance and it suggests Italianicity.

The Symbolic Message:

The idea of the image the advertisement represents is:

  • Return from market.
  • freshness of products
  • The half-open bag signifies unpacked.
  • The tomato, the pepper hue colours (yellow, green and red) signifies Italy flag (Italianicity).

Other signs are:

  • Culinary service which is represented by the different objects in the image.
  • Overall composition of the image evokes reminiscent of a still life.


The Literal Message:

The non coded message in the image is that a signifier and a signified are the same which means the tomato in the image signifies a tomato and the same goes for the pepper and other objects in the image.

In “Rhetoric of the Image” Barthes gives an example of an Italian pasta brand that is aimed at the French customer.  Barthes addresses the message that the viewer not understanding the things spoken does not stand on the way of associating Italian with quality pasta.


Bibliography / References:

Barthes, R.  Rhetoric of the Image [online]. Available from: [Accessed 17, February 2017].

Dulcie M. Engel. Every Picture Tells a Story: The Language and Function of French Newspaper Captions  [online]. Available from: [Accessed 17, February 2017].

McCabe, H. (2009). The Rhetoric Of The Image – Roland Barthes (1964) [online]. Traces of the Real.  Available from: [Accessed 17, February 2017].

Martinec R., Salway A.  A System for Image-Text Relations in New (and Old) Media [online]. Available from: [Accessed 17, February 2017].

The Cultural Reader (2011).  Roland Barthes / Rhetoric of the Image – Summary, Notes and Reviews.  Available from:  [Accessed 17, February 2017].


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