Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

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Macmillan, 1981 - Philosophy - 119 pages
This personal, wide-ranging, and contemplative volume--and the last book Barthes published--finds the author applying his influential perceptiveness and associative insight to the subject of photography. To this end, several black-and-white photos (by the likes of Avedon, Clifford, Hine, Mapplethorpe, Nadar, Van Der Zee, and so forth) are reprinted throughout the text.

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CAMERA LUCIDA: Reflections On Photography

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Nothing is more present or more mysterious, still, than the Photograph—so one blinks only at Barthes' assumption, at the start of these meditations on its nature, that he is doing something ... Read full review

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I must admit I was looking forward to receiving Roland Barthe's Camera Lucida having read the copious accolades at Amazon. When I unwrapped it I thought "Is that it? I've written longer emails"--well not quite but this appeared more essay than book.
However, what it lacked in heft was more than made-up for with his use of elaborately complex page long sentences that had me quickly wishing his brief essay had in fact been a brochure. Ok, Ok So, I exaggerate. However, when scanning the blurb by literary critics catching words like " [is] ...his most painful" or "...will permanently affect the vision of the reader" one could be excused for concluding that these were tongue-in-cheek literal expressions for the grammatical torture that lay within.
Chapter One was 171 words or less than a page--I love brevity. By page five I had endured what I thought to be the longest sentence of my life being some sixty-five words when he commenced his next assault comprising an eighty-one word sentence. I had to sit with a dictionary at my side wondering which of the three meanings associated with his choice of obscure word he had in mind.
Rather than setting a critical course Roland's writing style meanders. For instance, Roland writes:
"A specific photograph, in effect is never distinguished from its referent (from what it represents), or at least it is not immediately or generally distinguished from its referent..."
I remember thinking at this point "Make your mind up!" In the space of five pages Roland's meandering sentences and haphazard contradiction was beginning to resemble an almost unedited style of writing that smacked more of thinking-out-loud than critical essay. I was beginning to think that this book should have come with a T-shirt proclaiming "I read the Camera Lucida and survived!"
Anyway, this post is at risk of running longer than the book. The point I'd like to make is that to abandon this work because of his idiosyncratic writing style would be to short-change yourself of the unique perspective Roland provides as a spectator of photography (non-photographer). Whilst his concepts of studium and punctum are limited to personal and individual perspective they provide excellent food for thought as to what pricks us about some photos and not others. I was almost moved to tears as he struggled to find a photo that for him, said everything about his mother.
I heartily recommend this book. Buy it; you'll be better for it. Remember; that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. :))

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About the author (1981)

Roland Barthes was born in 1915 and studied French literature and the classics at the University of Paris. After teaching French at universities in Romania and Egypt, he joined the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, where he devoted himself to research in sociology and lexicology. He was a professor at the College de France until his death in 1980.

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