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"...myth is constituted by the loss of the historical quality of things:

in it things lose the memory that they once were made." [1]

Roland Barthes

The inaugural volume of Archivo Papers Journal (APJ) began with the simple premise of reflecting on today's images and its discourses and processes of meaning construction, by delving into Barthes's theoretical contributions concerning images as myths and the normalisation of certain ideas. To this end, an interdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners was challenged to reflect on the current dynamics established with the technical image and how it influences meaning construction, thus contributing with critical reflections raised from historical, anthropological, psychoanalytical, and artistic standpoints.

So "What is a myth, today?"[2] The question, posed by Roland Barthes in his book "Mythologies", published in 1957, remains surprisingly relevant in the experience of our digital age, where the speed of both production and reception of information is marked by an excess of images, which "have become active, furious, dangerous..."[3] for being more numerous, "elusive and thus more difficult to control." The technical images of the 21st century continue to impact our reality, generating political and ideological reactions and decisions, despite the fact that it is increasingly difficult to know their origins or the intentions of their production due to the speed at which they are produced, disseminated and transformed. This leads us to "the immediate and complete knowledge of events, in such a way that we have the feeling of being inside History, but with no way of controlling it. As a reaction, one is installed in a constantly changing present which entails the abolition of the past, as fleeting, and of the future, as unimaginable, and therefore entails the loss of historical consciousness and the discrediting of the future."[4] Images are activated and also activate us before they can be understood. Faced with the imperative of the present, of communication in real time, the story that gave rise to the images is set aside, and with it the sense of the reality they carry is also lost, once meaning is found precisely in the same process that generates it. [5]

Therefore, the contemporary scene becomes an ideal environment for the proliferation of myths, since, according to Barthes, myth "is a type of speech"[6] that empties the images of their historical context, while naturalising certain points of view of the world. Myth presents things as "what-goes-without-saying,"[7] and therefore "the history of the meaning becomes remote, and (…) myth inserts itself as a non-historical truth."[8] If in semiotics the sign is the association of a concept (signified) and an image (signifier), myth transforms this sign into "a mere signifier,"[9] in a mere "form." Thus, following Barthes thought, myth is a type of metalanguage that transforms things through a translation that enables a certain "social usage"[10] of those things.

The notion of myth was approached by Barthes in order to account for the ‘false evidence’ that was embedded in the French mass culture of the 1950s, reflecting on different themes of daily life and its materials: a newspaper article, a photograph, a movie, an exhibition, a show... It is relevant to note that, for Barthes, a photograph is a speech in the same way that a newspaper article is, insofar as "pictures become a kind of writing as soon as they are meaningful."[11] However, he emphasises that the visual image is more imperative than, for example, writing, since it imposes “meaning at one stroke, without analysing or diluting it"[12] while, at the same time, it presents multiple elements with different reading directions. In addition, unlike other forms of visual image, photography carries its referent with it and transforms it into "form", turning photography into a privileged subject when it comes to the fabrication of myths.

As Lévi-Strauss noted, myths are not fixed, they can disappear or mutate; some will remain more or less stable over time while others will readjust.[13] "One can conceive of very ancient myths, but there are no eternal ones."[14] As with the photographic image, myth is in continuous transformation, even more so in our digital ecology, where signs multiply, modify, translate, contain each other and disappear in real time. As a consequence, the interpretation of myth today is in continuous reformulation, and "requires a broad understanding of a culture's dynamics."[15]

In this sense, the inaugural issue of Archivo Papers Journal volume entitled Mythologies of the 21st Century brings together the contributions of an interdisciplinary group of researchers from areas such as psychoanalysis, anthropology, art history, photography and artistic practice. If myth imposes a meaning and steals the history that precedes its signification, the essays presented in this issue aim not only to highlight the processes of meaning construction in relation to photographic images, but also to examine artistic strategies that approach the mythical context in order to reterritorialize the meaning of certain pre-established ideas.



Within the present flow of online images, a mythical language emerges when an image is extracted from the continuity that shapes our visuality. The interruption of such visual communication, separating images from its flow, imposes the construction of specific meanings and does so through acts of fascination, "as if all movement had stopped."[16] The authors of this edition contribute to contest such acts of fascination against the common sense that they continuously impose, thus opening images to its history and therefore confronting them not only with its past but also with its potential futures, thereby re-establishing their possibility for generating further meaning, since "truth is image, but there is no image of truth."[17]

Through a historical approach, Luís Quintais reflects on how modernity unifies the perception that each culture has of itself, considering the shadow that technology casts on experience. In his essay “Revisiting the Astonishment: the first Japanese photograph and the myth of origin,” the author highlights the role that photography played when it first arrived in Japan in the 19th century, comparing it to a certain technological charm that continues to emerge in the 21st century. Ana Lúcia Mandelli de Marsillac focuses on the relationship with the body and the ritual. In her essay “Corporal traces, Utopian Inventions in the work of Karin Lambrecht”, she examines the work of the Brazilian artist Karin Lambrecht, who approaches the mythical idea of a complete and immortal body, inaugurated by Modernity, thus recovering the tradition of animal sacrifice and creating a connection between blood and earth as a way of reminding us that the body it exists not only as part of nature, but also of death.

Following a reflection on life and nature, Toya Legido develops a historical path regarding different visual strategies that were applied in the representation and categorisation of plants. In her essay “Photography and Botany: the representation of naturalism and humanism,” she uncovers the ideological context linked to the development of natural sciences knowledge and representations and articulates it with contemporary artwork that engages on critical approaches to such ideas, thus dismantling mythical notions of the herbarium, address, at the same time, the complexity and the controversies of the Anthropocene. Along the same lines, in his essay “Landscape as archive: in the work of Simon Norfolk,” Paul Lowe stresses that photography has the power to return its agency to the landscape, turning landscape itself into a live archive from where different discourses can be generated. Landscape thus becomes a ‘storyteller’ capable of exposing its own history, therefore confusing stereotypes associated with it and contesting the viewer’s preconceptions. By examining Norfolk’s work, the author not only gives visibility to the problems of climate change as he offers potential solutions, highlighting the part of the responsibility that the viewer holds in relation to the subject when looking at such images.



[1] Barthes (1991), Mythologies

[2] Barthes (1991), Mythologies, p.107

[3] Fontcuberta (2016), La furia de las imágenes, p.8

[4] Ibid, p.21

[5] See: Barfield (2019), El arpa y la cámara

[6] Barthes (1991), Mythologies, p.107

[7] Ibid, p.10

[8] Rose (2001), Visual Methodologies,131

[9] Barthes, Ibid., p.113

[10] Ibid., p.108

[11] Ibid., p.109

[12] Ibid., p.108

[13] See: Lévi-Strauss (2010), Mito y significado

[14] Barthes, Ibid., p.108

[15] Rose, Ibid., p.132


[16] Latour (2002), What is Iconoclash?, p.27

[17] Ibid.


BARTHES, R. (1991), "Mythologies", New York: The Noonday Press.

BARFIELD, O. (2019). El arpa y la cámara. Girona, España: Atalanta.

FONTCUBERTA, J. (2016), "La furia de las imágenes. Notas sobre la postfotografía", Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg.

LATOUR, B. (2002), What is Iconoclash ? or Is there a world beyond the image wars?, in Weibel P. and Latour B. Eds., "Iconoclash, Beyond the Image-Wars in Science, Religion and Art", ZKM and MIT Press.

LÉVI-STRAUSS, C. (2010), "Mito y significado", Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

ROSE, G. (2001). Visual Methodologies: an introduction to researching with visual methodologies, Oxford, UK: Sage.


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