|An example of a portrait from Photo Wallahs (1991) documentary|
This delicate relationship between image and text seems to be something more than an anchorage and a relay, Barthes’s early structuralist concepts. An anchorage is a caption that helps to stop the 'floating chain' of signifieds: “Shown a plateful of something (in an Amieux advertisement), I may hesitate in identifying the forms and masses; the caption ('rice and tuna fish with mushrooms') helps me to choose the correct level of perception, permits me to focus not simply my gaze but also my understanding” (Barthes, 1977, 39). A relay means that text and image stand in a complementary relationship as equal parts of the general syntagm.
In his analysis of photographic essays (including Bathes’s one) Mitchell continues the same kind of exploration – how an image and language can be connected. The idea is to go beyond a banal illustration, doubling, literal, direct connection. How to build narration by the visual narration as such? Mitchell talks about an essay as something by definition personal and incomplete (Mitchell 1994, 289), and thus a photographic essay shouldn’t bear the burden of a “comprehensive” representation. But how a picture can narrate? What are building blocks of visual narration? I am thinking now about the role of metaphor and the signs that bear explicit cultural connotations as the elements of narration. The portraits in Photo Wallahs films can be read not just appearances but as stories that people and photographers wanted to tell.
Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image, Music, Text: Essays. London: Fontana.
Barthes, Roland. 1981. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Barthes, Roland. 1982. Empire of Signs. New York: Hill and Wang.
Mitchell, W. J. T. 1994. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.