Project 2: Image and Text – Part 1

Project 2 : Image and text
Part 1 : Narrative, anchor and relay

This Project is continuing from the picture essay to look at how text and image can be combined in different ways. It touches upon the difference between a picture essay/story and classical prose. A writer will normally present paragraphs etc in a particular order that governs how a piece is read, although I have to say that I’m one of those people who sometimes looks at the end of a story first. Other people might read every word whereas I tend to scan to get the essence of the rhythm and mood and a sense of the unfolding story. For some reason or other this enables me to allow my imagination freer rein. I guess I’m a post-modern reader!

I don’t want to dwell too much on narrative and writing because this project is about narrative and images, but it’s a fascinating subject. There was an interesting discussion over on the OCA student forum some time ago here (for those who are able to access it).  Tutor Peter Haveland gave us some links to relevant essays etc and this one by Paul Barolsky gave me food for thought. It rests its argument, “There is No Such Thing as Narrative Art” on an image by Ghiberti which refers to seven episodes from a Biblical episode. Barolsky states , “Understanding the way in which the panel relates to the Bible story requires the beholder to retell the story to himself. This act of recollection is itself a narrative. The figures that refer to this narrative are not a narrative in themselves” “This is because the composition of the work is more important than its allusions to narrative and, if anything, the harmonious arrangement of figures in space distracts viewers from the temporal sequence of the Biblical narrative.” Bartolsky continues,

The proper appreciation of Ghiberti’s art rests on the understanding that “Ghiberti’s panel essentially spatial and only temporal by implication. The difference between narrative and image is based on fundamental differences between space and time, between literary composition and pictorial composition……When we attempt to put words to such mute images as Ghiberti’s, we ourselves become narrators. “

What was interesting to me first is the aspect of the ‘beholder’ having to retell the story to himself. You have to know the story first. It made me think about the wall paintings in the early Churches – put there to remind worshippers of the glories of God and the temptations of Satan and in pictorial form for those (not allowed education) who were unable to read, not only in their own language but also in Latin. Needing to know the story first brings in cultural aspects and how this affects the viewer of an image.

More recently, in Postmodern narrative in literature, …” ‘experimental’ authors have challenged the beginning, middle and end narrative and the notion of authorship control that had its roots in traditional and classical literature” (p. 54, Boothroyd, S., OCA 2014). Roland Barthes and Michael Foucault referred to this as ‘the death of the author’ that allowed the readers to put themselves into the story. This is implying that the reader had always been passive but I disagree here to some extent. Hasn’t the reader or listener always put themselves into the story identifying with particular characters? I’m thinking of folk tales here.

Turning back to image and text, Roland Barthes (1967) used the terms Anchor and Relay to define different ways of using words with pictures. His examples concerned advertising and his was a pejorative analysis of the subtle ways in which the creators of advertisements aim to manipulate the reader/viewer into buying the products.

….all images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a “floating chain” of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others:

Anchoring text fixes the meaning of an image into one clear and distinct message.

The function of relay is less common (at least as far as the fixed image is concerned); it can be seen particularly in cartoons and comic strips. Here text (most often a snatch of dialogue) and image stand in a complementary relationship.

Image and text ‘bounce’ off each other and widen the scope for ambiguity and varying interpretations.


This asks me to cut out some pictures from a newspaper and write my own captions, using both anchoring and relaying text.

  • How do the words put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
  • How many meanings can you give to the same picture?

One of the images I chose was this from the Independent Newspaper of 15th February 2015. I came out with such captions as

  • 10am on 15th February 2015. Boston is covered in snow. (anchor)
  • Shoppers are unable to use their cars (anchor, although there’s scope for expansion into another story)
  • There’s a cold wind blowing over Boston (relay)

I do think though that this kind of image has a more ‘arty’ appeal together with a universal application that lends itself towards relay. The snow is hiding landscape details and the woman is wearing dark clothes, worn for warmth not style probably. In fact, as you can see if you follow the link, the caption itself provides a relay to an article concerning the state of the American economy.

Maria Short looks at the relationship between image and text in her book Context and Narrative (pp 144, 2011) and provides examples of the way in which the use of text, (as caption or within the image, as print or handwriting) works with, or against, the image to allow wider interpretation or create ironic tension. Paul Reas’ early work I Can Help  (1988) has a documentary style that reminded me, in a more everyday way, of the work of Anna Fox. For example the shopper dressed in a cuddly sweater with a pig pattern, rummaging into the labelled frozen meat section in the supermarket, or the man in combat trousers, cigarette in mouth, holding up the wallpaper of a fighting soldier. Very colourful, wide-angle, reminding me as well of those other elements in ‘telling a story about the truth’ – the colour, tone, orientation, composition etc.

The C&N Handbook asks us to look at further examples from the work of Sophie Calle and Sophy Rickett and I’ll look at these and others in the next part.

9th March 2015


References [accessed 6.3.2015 [accessed 6.3.2015] for those who can access