Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography ペーパーバック – 1993/7/15
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Barthes shares his passionate, in-depth knowledge and understanding of photography.
Examining the themes of presence and absence, the relationship between photography and theatre, history and death, these 'reflections on photography' begin as an investigation into the nature of photographs. Then, as Barthes contemplates a photograph of his mother as a child, the book becomes an exposition of his own mind.
"Of all his works it is the most accessible in language and the most revealing about the author. And effortlessly, as if in passing, his reflections on photography raise questions and doubts which will permanently affect the vision of the reader" (Guardian)
"Roland Barthes' final book - less a critical essay than a suite of valedictory meditations - is his most beautiful, and most painful" (Observer)
"Profoundly shaped the way the medium is regarded" (Guardian)
"I am moved by the sense of discovery in Camera Lucida, by the glimpse of a return to a lost world" (New Society)
Barthes begins by announcing that the subject compels him to dispense with the compulsion to theorizing that seems endemic to French academic writing. A promising and welcome beginning. But Theory keeps intruding, in the form of jargon (the distinction between Operator, Spectator and Spectrum, which is pretty much dropped shortly after being introduced), various dichotomies (which tend to be introduced for the primary purpose of being subverted), the generation of paradoxes, and the usual rather melodramatic "last word" concerning the inexpressible, the ineffable, and of course Death. Despite his promise to utilize as data his own personal experience of photographs in order to reach the essence of "Photography" [sic], Barthes never manages to get beyond the framework of "representation", "likeness" and "referent", all concepts (dating back to Barthes' early work in semiology) that tend to obfuscate rather than reveal how photographs present themselves to our minds. For the first thing to notice about a photograph is that it does not provide a "likeness" of a thing but rather the thing itself, the difference being that in the photograph the thing doesn't exist (here, now). In other words, the theoretical apparatus surrounding the concept of representation is inherently inadequate to understand what a photograph is, but Barthes relies on it (even if in a negative mode) from start to finish. Also annoying is the preciosity of the writing (its delight in its look and sound, suggesting an aesthete rather than a thinker), and the (again) characteristic striving for brilliance for its own sake. It's easier to appear brilliant when obfuscating than when enlightening, because philosophical and aesthetic truth is discovered not when we learn something new (via fresh information or neologisms) but rather when we are able to recall something we already know, but for some reason are unable to acknowledge. For these reasons, I find Barthes' reflections on photography to be at times very interesting and subtle but of limited value.