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photographic codes


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In semiotic discourse, the processes of transformation involved in the production of images with a camera. Supposedly, someone once handed the artist Picasso a photograph, asking, ‘Can't you paint my wife realistically like this?’ The artist replied, ‘Is that really what she looks like?’ Receiving an affirmative answer, he declared,‘Then she must be very flat, and quite small.’ Barthes noted that a photograph appears to be ‘a message without a code’, referring to its indexicality and irreducibility to recombinable elements, but he went on to argue that the common-sense notion that it is purely denotative is a myth. The British art historian John Tagg (b.1949) adds that ‘the transparency of the photograph is its most powerful rhetorical device’. Semioticians refer to ‘reading photographs’. Photographic codes include genre, camerawork (lens choice, focus, aperture, exposure, camera position), composition (framing, distance, camera angle, lighting), film (quality, type, colour), developing (exposure, treatments) and printing (paper, size, cropping). See alsopictorial codes; representational codes; visual semiotics.

Subjects: Media Studies.


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