Barthes’ Connotation Procedures 1: Trick Effects.

NB! There is a completely new version of this post at Phenomenology and  Photography. Please visit. /140412

Again I am referring to a recent post for an overview of what Roland Barthes has to say about connotation procedures in his article The Photographic Message from 1961.

Let me also explain the rather technical syntax for the titles of these posts. Barthes used the name connotation procedures (in the English translation that is). Each have a additional title and a number. The first precedure he actually talks about is trick effects, or how you can change the overall meaning content of a photography by “tricking” your way around. In my post chronology this is post 4 (of 6).

1. Trick effects

Imagine that a certain politician fell out of grace. You could simply remove him from the photograph without anyone noticing and still present the photo as a historical fact. Or you could add a person or two, change the background from indoor to outdoor. There are many ways that you can go about such a intent.

Trick effects can be crude like in the instances mentioned, or they can be minor when you change the saturation of a colour, do a simple straightening of a horizon, or just add a bit of contrast to the final image.

Barthes does not mention these last option in his article, but I will add them here, since image manipulation of this sort have increased severely over the years. With photo editor software, this is a piece of cake nowadays. Even removing or adding a person is fairly easy.

Go to any photo site on the internet, you will find heavily manipulated stuff all over. In fact you will find much more manipulated stuff then straight photography. Nothing wrong in that, as long as you are aware of what is going on. It is not always there for you to see at first glance. You may not like this, since it blurs the borders between “reality” and “fiction”, but I am afraid that you have to live with it.

Bringing it down to basics; image manipulation might alter both the denotative and the connotative content of an image. Thus it is in Barthes’ term a connotation procedure.

In the picture you find below, you’ll see such a trick that Barthes is intending in his article. I have inserted the head of a woman into the lens this gentleman (whom I know well) looks through. Just for the fun of it 🙂

I am sure that the effect does not escape you. Is the red lady “a picture in his mind”, or is it “something he looks for or desire?” Or something quite different, maybe. I will leave you do decide. Under any circumstance this insert has altered the meaning content of this image, would you not say? It is an example of Barthes trick effects in photography as a way to manipulate communication content.

Lady in Lens

Copyright 2003: Knut Skjærven.

Library Thing. (Roland Barthes: Image, Music, Text, pages 15-31, Fontana Press 1977, UK. Essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath).

Buy the English translation of Barthes’ work. Follow the link and support the site:

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