frank, or at least emphatic
In "The Rhetoric of the Image" (1964), Roland Barthes developed one of his most prominent theories on photography by analysing an advertisement for Italian pasta. He explained that he chose the field of advertisement because its message (and, more specifically, its use of photography) was intended to be "frank, or at least emphatic", thus suggesting a distinct and transparent meaning.

I always found this assumption somewhat surprising, given the rich layers of moral, social, political, historical (the list goes on) premises and values that all advertisement uses as carriers for its clear-cut imperative "Buy me!". A few episodes of the TV series Mad Men taught me that, most strikingly. Yet, what I took from Barthes's text is the foundational insight that photography tends to naturalize cultural artefacts, or to make what is connoted seem to be given, unalterable, self-evident.

As with all theory, its real-life application complicates the situation by adding (multiple layers of) context to it: Barthes never told us where he took the ad from, what was placed next to it, in which situation he came across it.

This on-going series of photographs is meant to provide visual material for all those interested in the entangled semiotic spheres of contemporary advertisement and the city. Specifically, it shows outdoor advertisement in Switzerland, primarily in Zurich: Here, it seems to me, the premises and values cited earlier tend to present a slightly more pointed version of the status quo of neoliberal capitalism. On the other hand, this rather general contemporary system of values is constantly marked by two factors: first, the specificity and distinction of Swiss culture, history, and mentality – and secondly, by the national referendum which is a constantly advertised reminder of the intersection of politics and economic interests.

You may take this slideshow as a growing archive of semiotic study material – as a window on a part of the world you rarely visit – as a window on a part of the world you visit every day – as a mirror of an artist's ambiguous fascination with the business of advertisement. Or, take it as an attempt to resolve the following contradiction: When Peggy Olson refuses to tailor to the simplistic wishes of a retrograde client, Don Draper replies:

"You are not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems."

mere exposure

A conversation between Arne Schmitt and Peter Steffens form the media agency OMD

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