Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Breakfast Exercise

"The press photograph is a message", Roland Barthes wrote in 1961 (in his essay "The Photographic Image"). In his view, this message consists of two meanings, the denotative meaning (i.e. that representing the world, "literal reality" - the analogon) and the connotative meaning (i.e. that expressing the photographer's take on the motif as well as, possibly, social attitudes and prejudices). While the former is a message without a code, the latter is thoroughly encoded, thereby representing "the manner in which the society to a certain extent communicates what it thinks of it [i.e. the topic]." This leads to what Barthes calls "the photographic paradox" (that a coded message is based on a message without a code) ... but let's not go into that.

Rather, let us all together apply Barthes' distinction between denotation and connotation to this photograph from yesterday's Independent, accompanying an article entitled: "The brain drain: What if all the Poles went home?" (a good, reasonable, liberal piece defending the fundamental worthiness of all those eastern European labourers without whom little Britain could not be):


Whatever basic, uncoded message we might find in this picture ("three people al fresco"), it is completely submerged by its social encoding - this picture is an obvious piece of unflattering propaganda. As in Pre-Raphaelite photo-realism, each and every detail in this picture is heavily symbolic - from the careful arrangement of the three bodies, to the mossy slabs on which they stand, to the dramatic skies: ordinariness rendered outstanding by the photographer's attentive, arty eye. This little group is a sign of our troubled times of intolerance and xenophobia, where brave reporters from the Independent, like knights in shining armour, come to the aid of the downtrodden victims of the British tabloid press.

But don't they also look a little like a cross between Romero's living dead (or suchlike horror fare: especially the sturdy little girl, who resembles the zombie children in the 1950s movie where all the kids in a little town are possessed ... can someone remind me of the title, please?*) and the kind of eerie creatures that people the illustrations of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower? Looking ahead and up (but also outside of the picture), benevolently smiling - possibly already aware of a promised land somewhere else, where they can do their plumbing and laundering and toilet cleaning in peace.

That's what those eager, benevolent Polish faces are saying (whom the hypocritical article asks us - not? - to love): "Please, please let us clean toilets in peace!"

And the image responds: "Yes, but not here. And would you please turn off the lights before you leave."

[UPDATE] Someone did remind me! Thanks to Ario I now know that I was thinking of Wolf Rilla's Village of the Damned (1960).


Kind of apt, I believe.

1 comment:

Ario said...

Great post.

can someone remind me of the title, please?

The first film that comes to mind is Village Of The Damned. Do you mean that one?