Challenging Genres – Glossary

Denotation and Connotation

  • Denotation – visual signifier
  • Connotation – Cultural signified

Photo codes

  • Sender and receiver need to understand the photographic code
  • Perspective – aspect ratio – built into camera
  • Can vary perspective by changing point of view or lenses
  • Focus = look at this
  • Out of focus = background/losing consciousness
  • Blur = movement

Reality and realism

  • Reality is what we believe exists whereas realism is the mode of representation that supports that reality


  • ‘In terms of photography, rhetoric defines the organisation of codes into an argument’
  • Aristotle ‘The Art of Rhetoric’
  • Aims to analyse and understand the image
  • ‘Roland Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image’ essay unpacks the rhetorical message of an advertising photograph to show or ‘deconstruct’ the ideological values attached to the meaning such images produce’


  • The study of sign systems
  • Originated in the linguistic theory of language systems
  • In ‘Elements of Semiology’ Barthes tried out the idea of using food, furniture, or fashion as types of language. He attempted to identify the fundamental rules (langue) that enabled a practice (parole) ie the rules of playing chess
  • Ferdinand de Saussure suggested that language is an organised system of signs that we operate in order to be able to represent ourselves in human culture
  • Saussure: Words are Signs that gain meaning not from the object named but through the differences between them
  • The basic structure of the English language is the alphabet. Letters are known as phonemes
  • The cat sat on the mat OR The mat sat on the cat. One changed phoneme changes the meaning
  • The letter C only has an identity by not being the letter M
  • English: Dog. French: Chien. An example that the signs (words) in any language are arbitrary or ‘unmotivated’, and have no particular relation to the signified object except cultural convention
  • Saussaure: Sign = Signifier + Signified
  • The Signifier is the image or part of the image. The Signified is the mental image.
  • The same visual signifier can have polysemic signified (different) linguistic meanings depending on the viewers and their viewpoints

Structuralism and post structuralism

  • Roland Barthes involved 1960s
  • Focuses on structures and system of rules that underpin and organise the practice in question
  • Based primarily on linguistic semiotics
  • Aims to discover the grammar of forms
  • Post-structuralism adapted psychoanalysis and deconstruction. Brought the viewer into the frame of the analysis
  • Had effect on a range of disciplines


  • A figurative or metaphorical use of an image, word or expression.
  • A significant or recurrent theme; a motif.


  • A still-life artwork which includes various symbolic objects designed to
    remind the viewer of their mortality and of the worthlessness of worldly
    goods and pleasures.
  • Artworks that remind the viewer of the shortness and fragility of life
    (memento mori – Latin phrase: ‘remember you must die’).
Get In Touch

Send me an email and I'll get back to you asap.

Start typing and press Enter to search