Ways of Seeing (Where is the truth?)

In his essay ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’, Roland Barthes (1964) analyses the messages contained in images. Roland unlocks the mysteries of advertising, and how images manipulate the way we read them, emphasising that: ‘All images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a “floating chain” of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others’ (p. 39). The question is, what drives us towards a particular way of seeing things? ‘Images can be used like words, we can talk with them’ (Ways of seeing, 1972). The difference is that the linguistic message directs us towards particular meaning, whereas a pure image can have a range of meanings. John Berger (1975) says, that ‘the way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe’ (p.8). It is a chain of connected incentives, that accumulate in the way of seeing. Under the reasoning, if every image we see is perceived through our individual experience, where is the truth? Does the truth really exist?

Spoken language is a system of signs, which is common for all of us, or at least, for a particular group of people, who speak the same language. It is a tool, that enables us to communicate with each other. Thus it has to be clear, consistent. What about images? Can we communicate with them and still be well understood? Well, it is a tricky issue. Let’s think about emoticons. We use them everyday to express our feelings, which sometimes can’t be done with words. The truth is, that they are very personal, we interpret them in a diversified way, which sometimes entails to misunderstandings. In that case, the truth can be nothing else, but the common perception for majority of people. Even the knowledge, that we acquire at school is based on books written by other people. But who said they speak the truth? We just took them as the reliable source for masses, that’s why we call it a ‘common knowledge’.’We are so much a part of a system, that it is impossible to see beyond it’ (Curtis, 2016). Thereby, what if we call our existence into question?

Written by: Magdalena Obmalko, DMC 2019. 


Barthes, R. “The Rhetoric Of The Image”, Image Music Text, 1964 pp.32-51Accessible at:

The Rhetoric Of The Image – Roland Barthes (1964)

Berger, J. (2008) Ways of Seeing. 2nd edn. London: Penguin Books & British Broadcasting Corporation.

Curtis, A. (2016) HyperNormalisation. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Js19h1GW32o&index=3&list=LLEA2LVY6LYRXyZdfXb7qyyw (Accessed: 29 October 2016).

‘Ways of seeing. Episode 1’ (1972) Ways of seeing, Series 1,Episode 1, BBC, 1972. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk(Accessed: 27 October 2016).



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