Most photographs are representative images that have a denotative or factual importance that gives preeminence to the signified (the referent in reality) over the signifier (the photograph). This is the ontological nature of photography and provides what most people expect from the medium.
The aesthetic and technical strategies of Pictorialism give more credence to the observance of truth to Nature than to the object in its world, demanding a reading on the level of signifier only. Thus, a gnarled and decaying stump of a tree is read not just as an object, but as its signifier, Nature, and perhaps even more, death and decay. Barthes refers to this kind of reading as an “obtuse meaning, outside of language, yet inside what we may call interlocution.”1