Roland Bathes Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by simulacra2525, Jun 9, 2008.

  1. simulacra2525

    simulacra2525 TPF Noob!

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    I am quite new to this forum and have started a new thread for all those who want to discuss photography from a theoretical and critical point of view. I have recently finished Roland Bathes Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography and want to know what other people think!

    I am partiuarly interested in his idea of the punctum and the idea of photography as a reflection of death.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2008
  2. Give me till the weekend... after your last thread entry I looked it up, and decided it looked interesting. Amazon just delivered it to me this afternoon, and I will read it on a business trip this week.
     
  3. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    Barthes work, like Sontag's On Photography, is a good introduction to the 'intellectual' side of Photography but it is not really anything more than that.
    In Camera Lucida photographs almost take the role of Proust's madeleine and largely serve as an anchor for Barthes' thoughts and reminiscences. A much better book if you want an intro to the more critical side is his Mythologies.
    Do bear in mind that Barthes was approaching Photography from the direction of Linguistics so a lot of what he analyses is actually his verbal description of the image and not the image itself. This led him into some serious errors and mistakes.
    Enjoyable reading, nonetheless.


    PS This actual forum was largely set up for the discussion of theoretical and critical matters outside the scope of the other, more 'techy' forums ;)
     
  4. simulacra2525

    simulacra2525 TPF Noob!

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    Yeah, i agree that Camera Lucida is much a reflection of Barthes personal life, although i guess for this reason i like it - i read it like a novel and along side Swann´s Way - so see the connection between Prouts involuntary memory and the punctum - or thats how i understood it anyway.

    But Barthes does talk in CL about the photograph as a "little simulacra" which is a topic that fascinates me - especially in relation to photgraphy and surrealist art.
     
  5. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    A worthwhile book is Roland Barthes by Michael Moriarty.
    It's something of a commentary on the writings of Barthes.

    Do remember that Barthes was first and foremost a linguist so he looks at photographs as if they were literature. This leads to all sorts of mistakes.
    "Little simulacra" translates as "little images" (with a hint of them only being 'superficial' likenesses) which is nothing more than a literal description of what a photograph seems to be.
    As photographs (in the pure sense) are constrained to having a surface similarity to the objects they are representations of by the Laws of Physics then calling them "little simulacra" is just stating the obvious. ;)
     
  6. abraxas

    abraxas No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    HvR- Just wondering how do you mean, "mistakes?"
     
  7. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    He draws conclusions about images that work fine for language but not for pictorial representations. Images cannot be subjected to linguistic analysis because they work in a completely different way*.
    And he also had a habit of analysing things that weren't there.
    The classic example is his interpretation of a a photo showing an African soldier saluting the French flag. But if you see the photo you find that the French flag is not shown. The soldier could therefore have been saluting anything so Barthes analysis becomes nonsense.
    It is worth noting that at the end of his life Barthes did admit that he had been mistaken about a number of things.


    *It is this that was supposed to be forming the basis of my PhD but I found that so much more needed to be done before I got there that I have had to change tack.
     
  8. abraxas

    abraxas No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Thnx.
     
  9. simulacra2525

    simulacra2525 TPF Noob!

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    Do remember that Barthes was first and foremost a linguist so he looks at photographs as if they were literature. This leads to all sorts of mistakes.
    "Little simulacra" translates as "little images" (with a hint of them only being 'superficial' likenesses) which is nothing more than a literal description of what a photograph seems to be.
    As photographs (in the pure sense) are constrained to having a surface similarity to the objects they are representations of by the Laws of Physics then calling them "little simulacra" is just stating the obvious. ;)[/quote]

    Coming from a background in linguistics and visual studies - i am interested in treating visual representation as a different kind of language, so it is not linguistic, but structures itself like a language like, for example, the use of tropes . . . Perhaps this is why i like Barthes.

    In the copy (English!) of Camera Lucida i own "little simulacra" IS the translation, which after reading Baudrillards "Simulacra and Simulation", is far from obvious to me! I know this was written few years after CL but i find it interesting to think of the photographs that Barthes discusses in relation to Baudrillards description of the simulacra, as something with no "original", something "never exchanged for the real."
     
  10. Helen B

    Helen B TPF Noob!

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    I always enjoy reading Barthes because like Proust, Baudrillard, Burgin and many others, it is such seminal stuff. So full of paths and non-paths to wander off down, or up, or around.

    One of my favourite unfilmed film scripts is the sequel to Fahrenheit 451. It's Fahrenheit 452: Camp Fire, a story about an illiterate boy who tries to become a book of photographs (Camp Fire by Hamish Fulton), so that he can befriend the woman who is Far from the Madding Crowd. (There, I've given away some pieces of evidence)

    Best,
    Helen
     
  11. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    It depends upon what you define as 'visual representation'.
    It is possible to use Barthes method (as he did himself) to see cultural products in terms of signifier and signified and thus to interpret their 'hidden' meaning. But this relies heavily on the viewer's interpretation. Thus you can analyse the same cultural object from a Marxist viewpoint, a Feminist viewpoint, a Structuralist viewpoint, a Post-Modern viewpoint... And each approach will certainly come to a completely different conclusion.
    This is not really a problem providing you do not try to claim that one particular approach is 'better' or 'more correct' than any other.
    The danger with using this method for photographs is that you fail to consider the photograph itself but instead analyse only what is depicted within the photograph. That is to say the illusion that a photograph presents to the viewer is so good that the photograph itself becomes invisible and the object depicted therein is considered as if it were the object itself.
    For example, if you look at a photograph of a horse and start discussing the nature, social and historical role, or political significance of the horse in Western culture you are using the photograph as nothing more than a starting point for your own views and you are not discussing the photograph as an object in it's own right.
    A similar danger ensues if you start looking for Language in a photograph. Is anything you find inherent in the image or is it just projected onto it by the viewer?
    I suspect it is the latter.
    I readily accept that the photograph is a vehicle for communication, but communication does not necessitate language. Language is only one form of communication, though it is a form so potent and attractive that it is hard for us to step outside of it.
     
  12. simulacra2525

    simulacra2525 TPF Noob!

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    But do you not think that although Barthes talked about what the photographs were of, he also commented about the nature of photography itself. When he talk about the photograph signifying both a life but also inevitable death, is he not talking about the photograph itself? The actual nature of what a photograph indicates (or represents)?

    Perhaps i have misunderstood your comments - it seem interesting to consider a photo as both an form (object itself) and content (what the object refers to). I guess that it is not always so easy to distinguish between them . . .
     

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