Project 2 – Image and Text


Cut out some pictures from a newspaper and write your own captions.

  • How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
  • How many meanings can you give to the same picture?
    Try the same exercise for both anchoring and relaying. Blog about it.

In his essay Barthes (1) used an advertisement in his example for Panzani, an Italian food brand.

Anchorage to put it simply, is when the text controls the meaning of an image. It is rigid in its meaning and has one agenda. Anchor text is an important accompaniment to an image when you want to convey one particular message to the viewer, since images are ambiguous by nature and varying meanings can be interpreted by different viewers. Barthes (1. p7) describes this as the most frequent function of the linguistic message (the text) found in press photographs and advertisements.

On a digital level anchoring text has also been described by Google’s John Mueller (2) by search engines to assist in the understanding of the context of a particular link and is therefore used to rank websites, which is useful in regard to SEO and the optimal performance of website ranking. So you could think of the image as the website that the link (or text) is describing.

Relay text, on the other hand, Barthes describes as being less common as far as a fixed image is concerned (1. p7). He notes that it is more commonly associated with cartoons and comic strips, where the text and the image compliment each other.

As Barthes describes in his essay (1 p5)., the linguistic message (i.e the text as described above) is one part in the overall context and meaning of an image, which cannot be avoided in photography. The others being the denoted image (1. p8), the literal image recorded as we see it and then lastly, the Rhetoric of the Image, or the Symbolic Message (1. p11), which is the various connotations invoked and derived from the image in addition to its literary meaning, depending on who is viewing it.

It’s important to consider the latter two in photography when you are trying to guide a viewer directly to a rigid meaning. I am not sure if, indeed, it is entirely possible to execute this fully where photography is concerned, especially when you step away from the advertisement image and into documentary photography. There are many points to consider. One of the most important points being, who the actual viewer is and their own background and history, which plays a part in how they are likely to view an image. In marketing and advertisement, of course, this would be considered “the target audience” and would help shape advertisement photography, thus making the message more clear and precise. In documentary photography, it isn’t so easy to achieve since the audience that you are trying to convince, is most likely to be wider and more complex to analyse.

However, as per this exercise, concentrating purely on the linguistic message, I looked at some old newspaper articles and pictures that my late Grandfather had kept.

Example of Anchorage Text (3)

Firstly, I had a look at an advertisement image for a Seiko Watch, to get a clearer understanding for myself what Barthes had been described when he looked at the Panzani Advertisement and to have a clear example of Anchorage Text.

In this image below, you have the clear, bold, anchor text “Good-bye Battery” along with it’s clear message – “This watch doesn’t need a battery!” This immediately tells the viewer why they should buy this watch. Then there is the smaller text below the image, giving more details regarding the product. The image of the watch is clear and concise. You know this is an advert for a watch, there isn’t much left for interpretation.

Advertisement – 1997

Example of Relay Text (3)

I chose to look at another advertisement from the pages of a 1950’s Newspaper to get an example of relay text, since this time, the advertisement looked more like a comic strip (despite it still clearly portraying a direct message i.e. Buy Kelloggs Corn Flakes). I know that this is not an actual photograph but is still a good example of what Barthes is describing. The relay text tells the “story” of Annie in the bottom left hand corner. It creates the fuller picture, gives the viewer more information and although direct on its path for meaning, is open to more interpretations from the viewer, perhaps by way of relatability. The Anchor text is clear and on point, for example “It’s Calorific” and “No Hidden Hunger” were important messages to people still struggling on rations in post-war Britain.

Advertisement Kelloggs 1950’s

My examples (3)

This example below from a 1950’s newspaper, tells the story of a young lady who sings as she washes cups and scrubs hospital floors. Clearly, the supporting text is very much needed with the accompanying photograph. You need this information to tell the story, the picture only identifies her visually to the viewer. This image is therefore, very much open to interpretation. The writer has chosen to emphasise the point, that this lady scrubs floors but yet she can sing, who’d have thought it?!

You could change the title and story to “Hospital Worker Accused of Stealing Patient’s Food” (Anchor Text) The emphasis could remain on the fact that she scrubbed the floors (in conjunction as the relay text) which could elicit a sad response perhaps, that she was struggling and poor. Or open to the interpretation that she scrubs floors and then uses these dirty hands to eat the defenceless patient’s food, depriving them and potentially spreading germs.

This picture could support very many an article, perhaps this lady was murdered, jailed or won a competition. Obviously, the newspaper would need to report honestly, or face a potential libel case against them. But the image, itself requires support in order to contextualise it.

This example was one in which my grandfather actually appeared (the last man in the row) alongside Abyssinian soldiers during WWII. The same image was used for various articles and below are two different examples. The first was to the point, the Emperor was reviewing the troops. The second leans towards a more heroic and defiant rhetoric, these soldiers were in revolt, against the enemy and is described as “romantic, thrilling and awe-inspiring”.

Clearly the second focuses on a brave story of heroes, gallantly fighting back against our enemy – The Italians. The text is used to produce feelings of support for the troops, hope and heroism. It has a clear and direct message and meaning.

But what if these were German or Italian Soldiers? Could we then derive some meaning from the fact that some of them look a little tired and maybe we have a chance of overthrowing them? Or that the gentleman (that my grandad identified in biro as a man called Wingate) looks rather stern and imposing and is a worryingly scary adversary? (although, I don’t think newspapers from this time particularly liked to focus on the more negative aspects when it came to trying to elicit hope for the British, since many of the British men were fighting and dying in this war). Perhaps, this image portrays the only survivors of a recent battle with the title being something like “Emperor reviews the troops that are left”

Photographs of Soldiers in particular, can be very open to interpretation, depending on the stance of the viewer when it comes to war. Therefore, context can be quite important here, if you want to display a very clear and direct message.

The final example is taken from a 1997 pull out when Princess Diana died.

This conveyed a strong and sad message. One in which the entire nation was captivated and affected by. At this time Diana was often described as the “People’s Princess” which was a strong Anchor text and played well into the mourning of a nation. The relay text worked well in the series of images, showing Diana as smiling, with children, casual and down to earth at times. The relay text showed the detailed proceedings of her funeral and the people who would play a part in this.

From the same pullout a series of images, showing various kinds of people from various backgrounds from Children, punks and clowns, to policemen, men and women. This portrayed the “People” behind this Princess, and served to highlight this important headline. Everyone, was seemingly, in mourning.

It’s also important to consider the fact that the British media were quick to change their tune about Diana as soon as she died. In the weeks beforehand, she was portrayed much less favourably, whilst being pictured on a yacht with Dodi Fayed (who was also killed). And this over-reporting seemed like it was almost to make up for that to the public (since the paparazzi were also blamed for her death).

Could these images of the people morning have served another purpose? Perhaps to highlight a slight hysteria that befell the nation in 1997? None of these people knew her personally and yet they were on their knees, openly sobbing in the streets. The images of Diana herself, had previously been used many times to highlight various aspects of her life, the birth of her children, her charity work, her as a fashion icon, even the breakdown of her marriage. Some stories, favourable and other not so. Therefore, I think this article/pullout is a powerful example of the importance of contextualisation where images and documentary photography are concerned. Where both anchorage and relay text plays a strong part in the detailed narrative of a story unfolding alongside some powerful and emotive images.


  1. Barthes. R Essay – “Rhetoric of the Image”, 1967.
  2. Mueller, J. Anchor Text
  3. Various Newspaper Articles, from 1940-1997, exact sources unknown as derived from cutouts.