Personally, I found this book to be of uneven quality. It has flashes where it is very good indeed, and then there are sections where I thought that he was meandering. It is not an easy book, and I 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

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By Roland Barthes. Translated by Richard Howard. For Barthes, one of the high priests of contemporary intellectual opinion, to consider photography, an arriviste in the arena of high culture, would seem certain to secure its importance.

More important, Barthes's relatively brief considerations of photography in ''Mythologies'' and ''Image-Music-Text'' held out the promise that a full-scale analysis would create new ways of thinking and talking about photographs. It does not reveal the long-sought ''grammar'' of photographs, nor does it provide much in the way of clues to their ''reading. Barthes bites into photography like Proust into a madeleine and what results is an intricate, quirky and ultimately frustrating meditation linking photography to death.

Like ''The Pleasure of the Text'' , in which Barthes speaks to a sense of erotic play in literature, ''Camera Lucida'' forsakes the analytic methods on which the author built his reputation in favor of a more personal discourse. Barthes contends that a photograph, because it is ''never distinguished from its referent from what it represents ,'' resists semiotic analysis, which presupposes a division between an image and its referent.

But one suspects a more personal motive behind his impulse to abandon semiotics. Barthes writes of his ''uneasiness'' at being ''torn between two languages, one expressive, the other critical,'' of his ''ultimate dissatisfaction'' with the critical discourses of ''sociology, of semiology, and of psychoanalysis,'' and of his ''desperate resistance to any reductive system.

Barthes's attempt to shift from a critical discourse Andy Grundberg reviews photography for The New York Times. Following his ''old'' manners, he categorizes the effects that photographs can have upon viewers.

His primary insight is to divide the source of a photograph's affect into two categories, which he labels studium and punctum. The studium of a photograph, according to Barthes, is its culturally determined context; the studium is the source of the viewer's usually mild, ''polite interest'' in a photograph, ''the same sort of vague, slippery, irresponsible interest one takes in the people, the entertainments, the books, the clothes'' that one finds ''all right.

Citing a James Van der Zee portrait of a black family dressed in their Sunday best, he locates the studium in its general context of ''respectability, family life, conformism While the mystery of the Mary Janes remains unsolved, the point is clear: the punctum is that part of the photograph that cannot be casually, disinterestedly observed.

In the case of the Van der Zee photograph, the punctum gave ''the black woman in her Sunday best The ultimate effect of punctum is the intimation of death. This Barthes realizes in the personal context of his bereavement over the still recent death of his mother; looking at a portrait of her as a young girl a picture he declines to reproduce in ''Camera Lucida'' , he sees that her death implies his own. From this he arrives at the broad conclusion that every photograph contains the sign of his death, and that the essence of photography is the implied message: ''That has been.

Proust's immense powers of recall embody all that Barthes hopes to extract from a photograph but which, intractably, the photograph refuses to yield. Compared to Susan Sontag's linkage of photography to the esthetic of Surrealism, or even John Berger's often programmatic Marxist discoveries, Barthes's contribution to photographic theory seems meager.

The studium and the punctum, tied as they are to the subjective reactions of individual viewers, are not supple tools for analytic reasoning; rather, they are the last links in a chain of reductive thinking.

If the essence of the photograph is found in death, it leads only to a dead end. Part of the problem is that Barthes's view of photographic practice is limited; his preference is for portraiture, there more clearly to find death lurking behind the photograph's visage. Primarily, though, Barthes's conclusions clear no space for argumentation or elaboration. Walter Benjamin's notion of ''the tiny spark of accident'' in photographs, found in his essay, ''A Short History of Photogra-phy,'' may be Barthes's source for the punctum; however, Barthes does not follow up on Benjamin's linkage of the camera to an ''optical unconscious.

Barthes's initial assumption, that the photograph inevitably carries with it a trace of its subject, is so unfashionable as to be enchanting. How can photography be a modernist art if it cannot shed the burden of its referent? Such a reactionary notion also shared by Benjamin puts more emphasis on subject matter than most contemporary photography critics have been willing to allow. Similarly, Barthes's sense of devil's advocacy leads him to dismiss the photography-was-invented-by-painting theory most recently advanced by Peter Galassi of the Museum of Modern Art in a single sentence.

No, says Barthes, the essential fact is that it was invented by chemists. But just as ''Camera Lucida'' is sure to confound its photographic audience, it will dismay the proponents of semiotics. Besides repeating his earlier position that the photograph has no code, in effect making it unavailable to semiotic inquiry, Barthes summarily rejects the prevailing semiotic view of the medium:. The realists, of whom I am one Surely the death of his mother, with whom he had lived, marked a drastic change in his life, and ''Camera Lucida'' is, in a sad and almost tragic way, a record of his attempts to come to terms with grief.

His fascination with the portrait of his mother, leading to the discovery that the ultimate punctum is death, is the fascination of a man who is seeking, like Proust, to recover a life that has vanished.

But while Barthes does not allow his subtext to consume his text, he cannot suppress it, either. This leads to a curious self-consciousness, as when he anticipates his reviews: ''The noeme essence of Photography is simple, banal; no depth: 'that has been.

A whole book even a short one to discover something I know at first glance? A look at photographic history suggests that it is neither. By the book's end, then, the author seems totally, achingly alone. He is alone among photographic thinkers, alone among semiotic analysts, alone with the memory of his mother. It is no wonder that he sees only death in photographs. Ironically, shortly after completing ''Camera Lucida,'' he was run over and killed on a Paris street, abruptly meeting the death he foresaw.

Barthes also saw desire, grief and pity in photographs, however; one reads ''Camera Lucida'' and encounters the same feelings.

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Besides repeating his earlier position that the photograph has no code, in effect making it unavailable to semiotic inquiry, Barthes summarily rejects the prevailing semiotic view of the medium: ''It is the fashion, nowadays, among Photography's commentators sociologists and semiologists , to seize upon a semantic relativity: no 'reality' great scorn for the 'realists' who do not see that the photograph is always coded , nothing but artifice.

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Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

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Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

Camera Lucida French : La chambre claire is a short book published in by the French literary theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes. It is simultaneously an inquiry into the nature and essence of photography and a eulogy to Barthes' late mother. The book investigates the effects of photography on the spectator as distinct from the photographer, and also from the object photographed, which Barthes calls the "spectrum". In a deeply personal discussion of the lasting emotional effect of certain photographs, Barthes considers photography as asymbolic, irreducible to the codes of language or culture, acting on the body as much as on the mind.

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