Project 2 – Reading pictures – Semiotics research

To actively understand the theories of deconstruction, I decided to further my research, using a book from the recommended reading list. The third chapter in Stephen Bull’s Photography covers all areas of the meaning of photographs.

He starts by explaining signifiers and signified. The signifier being the material part of the sign; the way it sounds, or the way it is written. The signified is the mental concept that is produced in the mind of the audience. The use of these words originally came from Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, but were later developed by French writer Roland Barthes.

Barthes further developed this idea by arguing that it was important to also take culture into account when looking at the signified. With this, he developed the ideas of denotation and connotation. Denotation describes how the signs communicate what is in the image, and what is presented in front of you. Connotation is how this is interpreted in regards to when, where and how that communication takes place.

In his essay Rhetoric of the Image (which I researched in previous blog post), Barthes applies denotation and connotation to the advertisement for the Panzani company (seen below). The denotation here, are the literal products you see in the image; the string bag containing the pasta, sauces etc, on a red background. He states that the connotation is a “return from market”, suggesting a careful selection process. The string bag adding authenticity instead of using a paper/plastic bag, the organic quality of food and the colours of the advert being in predominantly Italian colours even though it is for a French advertising company. All of these come together to give the viewer a representation that the products shown will give you one a natural, authentic Italian meal.


All interpretation of photographs are personal; everyone has different views, upbringings and external experiences that can impact and effect they way they view something compared to how the next person might.

In the final part of the chapter, Bull discusses Barthes’ book Camera Lucida. In this book, Barthes tried to find an image of his deceased mother to ‘sum her up’. During this process, he discovered the term ‘studium’, this being the general view of an image; the way most viewers would see a photograph. In addition he discusses ‘punctum’, an ideology that is personal to each individual viewer, something that could affect them in a different way to anyone else.

On reading this chapter of the book, the main point that stood out to me is that there is no ‘one correct way’ of interpreting an image. Different people will have a different viewpoint to what they can see and take from the photograph. You have the obvious symbols and subjects of the photograph that everyone will see, but this will then lead each viewer off at a different tangent dependent on personal experience.



Bull, S. (2009) Photography. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

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