Leslie's Reviews > Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes
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Mar 09, 12

bookshelves: college-books

I must confess that I was misled when I chose to read this book for one of my independent reading classes. From the title, I assumed that the book would be about photography, which it only partially concerned. Mainly, Roland Barthes used photography and certain photos to reflect rather philosophically on life, loss, and truth. There were some interesting reflections, and I might have enjoyed the book slightly more if I had opened it with the correct background knowledge. However, as the case was, I was more than a little disappointed and even somewhat irritated by some of Barthes's ideology.
The main question with which Barthes deals is "What is photography?" and "What makes a photograph?" He comes to realize that every photo contains a studium and a punctum. The studium is the story the photo represents--kind of the basic image seen with the eye. The punctum is the striking feature of the photo, whether it is an implied mood or an actual detail. Probably the strangest belief Barthes lays with photography is that every photographer deals with Death since photos are effectually displayers of Death. Barthes makes photos morbid with this pessimistic view that every photo shows "That-Has-Been," even if the subject or place is still in existence. He also believes that photos can't represent the true being of a person. Only fragments or likenesses will be in a picture, and that means that none of the real person will be. His main focus in this argument is his search to find a true representation of his mother after she had died. The only suitable picture he discovers in his backward search through time is one when she was a child. Although it looks nothing like the mother he knew, the mother-as-child best shows who his mother was. Other than the fact that the relationship he describes he and his mother had is slightly awkward, the whole argument is really best described as depressing. For the better part of the second half of the book (when I was forcing myself to keep reading), I was silently wishing that someone had told this guy about Christianity and the saving love of Jesus.
I do enjoy the thought of a maybe mysterious or even haunting photo, but the deep analyzing and the discovery that photos have to have an air or a look or all these other things in order to "wound" us (why would I want to be wounded by a photo?) just made me glad to be done with this book and this guy's mind. He ended on the note of taming photographs. Society tries to make photography an art or makes it into a tyrant in this world of consumerism since we consume images. Barthes calls for photography to remain mad with ecstasy instead of tamed in this fashion. He does have some strange ideas, but I do agree that photos should not be tamed or segmented into a specific block of culture.
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