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  • stevenrabone

Informing Contexts - So Where Is The Author Now?

Roland Barthes suggested that accompanying text gives anchorage to the image, i.e. makes the meaning of the image overt and therefore allows the viewer to focus not only on the gaze but also on the understanding of the image. As we have seen this week, advertisers are very aware of this and for many the power of words in an advert are as powerful as the image. I feel this is particularly the case where the image without words can have a number of meanings that can lead the viewer to misread or not understand the authors (photographers) intentions.

For example let us look at the following advert that I have cropped in so that the words are removed from it.

What do you see with this image. Two young girls both in relatively relaxed pose, is there a message here about the innocence of youth, is there a racial question here in terms of the colour of their skin, or a foreboding of what is to come, as both children stare straight back at the viewer. Are there any clues to the message it is trying to give us, they are clearly sat in a school library, an American flag draped in the colour perhaps giving some indication.

So if we now view the full image, does the image and the 'anchorage' to its meaning become clear?

This advert was part of a campaign run by Moms Demand Action, demanding the US Government make sense of the gun laws in America and the campaign included a number of similar images. Whilst the message itself is pretty shocking, from a photography and image making point of view it is the fact that the image alone has a number of meanings. This then give gravitas to the actual words when they are read and the viewer fully comprehends the message of the advertisement.

As has already been quoted in this feed, John Berger's quote in relation to text does again relate to this image pointing to the fact 'the image now illustrates the sentence' . I guess looking at the above you could also argue that the sentence now illustrates the image.

In his book On Photographs David Campany challenges the idea that whilst we talk of a visual culture it is perhaps more a 'scripto-visual' because photography and writing have always been combined. Many photographic practices developed with the full expectation that the written word would be a key element in the final image. Whilst advertising is the obvious place where this fusion exists, there are so many other examples where the written word that accompanies the image, either embedded into it or alongside it in an editorial capacity. These genres will include fashion, photojournalism and documentary but can be extended to a whole number of other types of practices.

And yet in much the same way that images can have more than one meaning then so can words be used to initially throw the viewer off from the message. In this following image, what are your emotions as you read through the image.

The power of the image and written word come together to give the message that UN Women were looking to get across. This was achieved through a mix of oppositional and perhaps negotiated readings that the viewer has in interpreting this advert.

I will leave this response with an image by Lalla Essaydi who perhaps takes the idea that words and images can work together to another level. Born in Morocco, Essaydi incorporates Arabic Calligraphy in much of her work. Inscribed in henna on the fabrics and faces of the women I cannot read the text and yet her images are so much richer for the words inclusion in this work.


1. Cropped version - Moms Demand Action Campaign 2017 - Anon

2. Moms Demand Action Campaign 2017 - Anon

3. UnWomen - The Autocomplete Truth 2013 - Anon

4. Les Femmes du Moroc-Moorish Women 2006 - Lalla Essaydi


KSAT. (2013). Report: Powerful gun control PSAs spark controversy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2021]. (2021). [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2021]. (2021). Lalla Essaydi | Artist Profile, Exhibitions & Artworks. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2021].


John Berger - Ways of Seeing - Pengiun 1972 p28

David Campany - On Photographs - Thames & Hudson -2020 p 124


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