Narrative – Project 2: Image and text – Exercise 1


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.

Before attempting this exercise, I decided to do some additional research by reading two essays by Roland Barthes. ‘The Death of the Author¹’ is an essay about the poststructuralist position of some literary authors, adopting a postmodern approach to writing which is  intended to involve the reader to a far greater degree. This is achieved by ambiguity, open ended plots and reduced descriptive language, allowing the reader to put themselves in a story, with their personal histories and memories playing an important part. In ‘Rhetoric of the Image²’ Barthes gives us two terms that help to define ways of using words with pictures:

Anchor – In news stories the text that accompanies pictures is usually there to control meaning – to stop the image from being interpreted in a manner that isn’t in keeping with the political views of the newspaper, for example. In advertising this type of anchoring text is used to fix the meaning of the image into one clear and distinct message (i.e. why you should buy this product).

Relay – In the second definition the text has equal status with the image. Image and text bounce off each other to create a fuller picture that allows for ambiguity and various interpretations. This is more in line with a postmodern view of narrative.

The original captions can be viewed along with the image source at the link above each image.

Anchoring [accessed 16/04/15] 1. Children at Dunmow Primary School attempt to break ‘Pat a Cake’ Guinness World Record.

2. Schools in rural Essex criticised for not teaching ‘Cultural Diversity’. [accessed 16/04/15] 1. Primary school pupil looses patience trying to teach the PM to read.

2. Prime Minister bores children to tears with his election manifesto.

3. Prime Minister pledges to put education first if Conservatives win general election. [accessed 16/04/15] 1. A Queens Guard ‘Breakdances” whilst on duty outside Buckingham palace. Street Dance routines are just a part of wider reforms to modernise Ceremonial Drill, performed for tourists.

2. Soldier is knocked to his feet by a comrade during the changing of the guard, over accusations of involvement with a married woman.

3. Captured: The dramatic moment a Queens Guard is struck by a snipers bullet during terrorist attack on Buckingham Palace.

Relaying [accessed 16/04/15] A typically British primary school? [accessed 16/04/15] “Education, Education, Education!” [accessed 16/04/15]“Man Down!”

How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?

Put quite simply, they change the meaning of the images. When the captions Anchor, any variation on the caption fixes a new meaning and interpretation. Particularly if the image is already ambiguous in nature and can be easily manipulated with words. Some images require far less explanation, and are not as open to mis-representation or mis-interpretation, but I have purposefully chosen recent news images which can be re-contextualised. With Relay, the context is less fixed, as we expect the viewer to bring more to the party in terms of interpretation. A viewers ability to interpret and read the image will depend on the level of ambiguity of the author, the education and cultural upbringing of the viewer.

How many meanings can you give to the same picture?

When using Anchor, any one caption is limited to one meaning. Again, the level of ambiguity in the image will dictate the scope of possible captions and believable narratives. When using Relay, the number of meanings can be endless. Each different viewer will take away a different meaning, or even multiple meanings. I found it far more difficult to come up with meaningful Relay captions for the images, hence only 1 per image, but I think they suit the images very well. The problem here is Authorship and Control over meaning. I have created captions with an intended meaning, but I cannot control the meaning that a viewer derives from it.


¹ [accessed16/04/15]

² [accessed 16/04/15]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s