IAP 4 research point 4.1 anchorage and relay


Barthes (1977) defines anchorage as text that tells the viewer what an image is about, narrowing down its potential range of meanings and significance to that intended by the publisher of the image. It helps the viewer “to focus not simply [their] gaze but also [their] understanding”. Anchorage text often takes the form of a caption, and is most frequently seen alongside news images and advertising images.


Barthes defines relay as text that can advance the narrative of an image by including meanings that are not to be found in the image itself. Relay is often used in the memes that are now so common in social media, where it is used to humorous effect to subvert the apparent meaning of the image. Examples include the “distracted boyfriend” image, which has been paired with many different versions of relay text.

An awareness of the effects of these different kinds of text and their respective impacts on the viewer’s reading of an image – anchorage pinning down meaning and relay adding meaning that isn’t evident in the original image – is useful for the photographer because it widens the scope of what can be achieved in terms of communicating with an audience.

References and resources

Barthes, R. (1987) Image Music Text. London: Fontana.