Monash University
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Roland Barthes's Photobiographies: Towards an “Exemption from Meaning”

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-05-22, 04:28 authored by Fabien Arribert-Narce
Roland Barthes's interest in photography began at a very early stage in his career. Indeed, several texts in Mythologies, one of his first major works, and published in 1957, are dedicated to the role of photography in French society of the 1950s. At this time, Barthes was interested in the potential of the photograph as a powerful mass communication medium used, for example, to glorify Hollywood actors. In the following years, his work focused mainly on advertising and press photography, with articles such as "The Photographic Message" (1961) and "Rhetoric of the Image" (1964), in which he analyses the ways in which pictures convey meaning. At this stage, he conceived the photograph as a fundamentally ambivalent and paradoxical object, involving the "co-existence of two messages", "the one without a code" (pure denotation), and "the other with a code" (that is to say a whole range of connotations).


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