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Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography by Roland Barthes
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Camera Lucida Quotes (showing 1-30 of 40)
“Ultimately — or at the limit — in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. 'The necessary condition for an image is sight,'Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: 'We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not (i)emerge(i), do not (i)leave(i): they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches — and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“It is said that mourning, by its gradual labour, slowly erases pain; I could not, I cannot believe this; because for me, Time eliminates the emotion of loss (I do note weep), that is all. For the rest, everything has remained motionless. For what I have lost is not a Figure (the Mother), but a being; and not a being, but a quality (a soul): not the indispensable, but the irreplaceable.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jerome, taken in 1852. And I realized then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since: ‘I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor.’ Sometimes I would mention this amazement, but since no one seemed to share it, nor even to understand it (life consists of these little touches of solitude), I forgot about it.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“The Photograph is an extended, loaded evidence — as if it caricatured not the figure of what it represents (quite the converse) but its very existence ... The Photograph then becomes a bizarre (i)medium(i), a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest (o)shared(i) hallucination (on the one hand 'it is not there,' on the other 'but it has indeed been'): a mad image, chafed by reality.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“The Photograph is violent: not because it shows violent tings, but because on each occasion (i)it fills the sight by force(i), and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed (that we can sometimes call it mild does not contradict its violence: many say that sugar is mild, but to me sugar is violent, and I call it so).”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“The incapacity to name is a good symptom of disturbance.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“In an initial period, Photography, in order to surprise, photographs the notable; but soon, by a familiar reversal, it decrees notable whatever it photographs. The 'anything whatever' then becomes the sophisticated acme of value.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“A paradox: the same century invented History and PHotography. But History is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and the Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony; so that everything, today, prepares our race for this impotence: to be no longer able to conceive duration, affectively or symbolically: the age of the Photograph is also the age of revolutions, contestations, assassinations, explosions, in short, of impatiences, of everything which denies ripening.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“For the photograph's immobility is somehow the result of a perverse confusion between two concepts: the Real and the Live: by attesting that the object has been real, the photograph surreptitiously induces belief that it is alive, because of that delusion which makes us attribute to Reality an absolute superior, somehow eternal value; but by shifting this reality to the past ('this-has-been'), the photograph suggests that it is already dead.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“It is as if the Photograph always carries its referent with itself, both affected by the same amorous or funereal immobility, at the very heart of the moving world: they are glued together, limb by limb, like the condemned man and the corpse in certain tortures; or even like those pairs of fish (sharks, I think, according to Michelet) which navigate in convoy, as though united by an eternal coitus.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“For Death must be somewhere in a society; if it is no longer (or less intensely) in religion, it must be elsewhere; perhaps in this image which produces Death while trying to preserve life. Contemporary with the withdrawal of rites, Photography may correspond to the intrusion, in our modern society, of an asymbolic Death, outside of religion, outside of ritual, a kind of abrupt dive into literal Death. ”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“We know the original relation of the theater and the cult of the Dead: the first actors separated themselves from the community by playing the role of the Dead: to make oneself up was to designate oneself as a body simultaneously living and dead: the whitened bust of the totemic theater, the man with the painted face in the Chinese theater, the rice-paste makeup of the Indian Katha-Kali, the Japanese No mask ... Now it is this same relation which I find in the Photograph; however 'lifelike' we strive to make it (and this frenzy to be lifelike can only be our mythic denial of an apprehension of death), Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumes as such, publicly.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“Usually the amateur is defined as an immature state of the artist: someone who cannot — or will not — achieve the mastery of a profession. But in the field of photographic practice, it is the amateur, on the contrary, who is the assumption of the professional: for it is he who stands closer to the (i)noeme(i) of Photography.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence. In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: She is going to die: I shudder… over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“Henceforth I would have to cosent to combine two voices: the voice of banality (to say what everyone sees and knows) and the voice of singularity (to replenish such banality with all the élan of an emotion which belonged only to myself).”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“I want a History of Looking. For the Photograph is the advent of myself as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity. Even odder: it was before Photography that men had the most to say about the vision of the double. Heautoscopy was compared with an hallucinosis; for centuries this was a great mythic theme.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“I imagine that the essential gesture of the Operator is to surprise something or someone (through the little hole in the camera), and that this gesture is therefore perfect when it is performed unbeknownst to the subject being photographed. From this gesture derive all photographs whose principle (or better whose alibi) is “shock”; for the photographic “shock” consists less in traumatizing than in revealing what was so well hidden that the actor himself was unaware or unconscious of it.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“Another unary photograph is the pornographic photograph (I am not saying the erotic photograph: the erotic is a pornographic that has been disturbed, fissured). Nothing more homogeneous than a pornographic photograph. It is always a naive photograph, without intention and without calculation. Like a shop window which shows only one illuminated piece of jewelry, it is completely constituted by the presentation of only one thing: sex: no secondary, untimely object ever manages to half conceal, delay, or distract... A proof a contrario: Mapplethorpe shifts his close-ups of genitalia from the pornographic to the erotic by photographing the fabric of underwear at very close range: the photograph is no longer unary, since I am interested in the texture of the material.


The presence (the dynamics) of this blind field is, I believe, what distinguishes the erotic photograph from the pornographic photograph. Pornography ordinarily represents the sexual organs, making them into a motionless object (a fetish), flattered like an idol that does not leave its niche; for me, there is no punctum in the pornographic image; at most it amuses me (and even then, boredom follows quickly). The erotic photograph, on the contrary (and this is its very condition), does not make the sexual organs into a central object; it may very well not show them at all; it takes the spectator outside its frame, and it is there that I animate this photograph and that it animates me.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“Painting can feign reality without having seen it. Discourse combines signs which have referents, of course, but these referents can be and are most often 'chimeras.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“One of the marks of our world is perhaps this reversal: we live according to a generalized image-repertoire. Consider the United Sates, where everything is transformed into images: only images exist and are produced and are consumes ... Such a reversal necessarily raises the ethical question: not that the image is immoral, irreligious, or diabolic (as some have declared it, upon the advent of the Photograph), but because, when generalized, it completely de-realizes the human world of conflicts and desires, under cover of illustrating it.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“The Winter Photograph was my Ariadne, not because it would help me discover a secret thing (monster or treasure), but because it would tell me what constituted that thread which drew me toward Photography. I had understood that henceforth I must interrogate the evidence of Photography, not from the viewpoint of pleasure, but in relation to what we romantically call love and death.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“The unary Photograph has every reason to be banal, 'unity'
of composition being the first rule of vulgar (and notably, of academic) rhetoric: 'The subject,' says one handbook for amateur photographers, 'must be simple, free of useless accessories; this is called the Search for Unity.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“...The editors of (i)Life(i) rejected Kerész'a photographs when he arrived in the United States in 1937 because, they said, his images 'spoke too much'; they made us reflect, suggested a meaning — a different meaning from the literal one. Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is (i)pensive(i), when it thinks.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“I feel that the Photograph creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice (apology of this mortiferous power: certain Communards paid with their lives for their willingness or even their eagerness to pose on the barricades: defeated, they were recognized by Thiers's police and shot, almost every one).”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
“In 1850, August Salzmann photographed, near Jerusalem, the road to Beith-Lehem (as it was spelled at the time): nothing but stony ground, olive trees; but three tenses dizzy my consciousness: my present, the time of Jesus, and that of the photographer, all this under the instance of 'reality' — and no longer through the elaborations of the text, whether fictional or poetic, which itself is never credible down to the root.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

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