Semiotics / Roland Barthes


Semiotics is the study of the social, cultural, and historical processes through which signs such as photographs acquire and circulate meaning. It is a useful critical approach challenging simplistic beliefs in the realism of photographic images. It emphasizes the relationship between signified (the meaning or content) and signifier (the form of the message), based on social and cultural consensus.



Semiotics began to become a major approach to cultural studies in the late 1960s, partly as a result of the work of Roland Barthes(1915-1918). He was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic and semiotician. Throughout his career, Barthes had an interest in photography and its potential to communicate actual events. He had often written about photography, but his last major work, called “Camera Lucida”, was both, partly an essay about the nature of photography and partly a meditation on photographs of his mother, Henriette Barthes. He attempted to show how a photographic image could represent implied meanings and thus be used by bourgeois culture to infer ‘naturalistic truths’. But he still considered the photograph to have a unique potential for presenting a completely real representation of the world. Reflecting on the relationship between the ” studium”, which is the obvious symbolic meaning of a photograph, and the “punctum” , which is purely personal and dependent on the individual, that what pierces the viewer. Barthes explained that a picture creates a falseness in the illusion of ‘what is’, where ‘what was’ would be a more accurate description. Instead of making reality solid, it reminds us of the world’s ever changing nature.






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