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ART, Barthes Roland, English, Philosophy

Photography as Adventure – Roland Barthes

WILLIAM KLEIN LITILE ITALY. NEW YORK, 1954

WILLIAM KLEIN LITILE ITALY. NEW YORK, 1954

I decided then to take as a guide for my new analysis the attraction I felt for certain photographs.
For of this attraction, at least, I was certain.

What to call it? Fascination? No, this photograph which I pick out and which I love has nothing in common with the shiny point which sways before your eyes and makes your head swim; what it produces in me is the very opposite of hebetude; something more like an internal agitation, an excitement, a certain labor too, the pressure of the unspeakable which wants to be spoken. Well, then? Interest?

Of brief duration; I have no need to question my feelings in order to list the various reasons to be interested in a photograph; one can either desire the object, the landscape,the body it represents; or love or have loved the being it permits us to recognize; or be astonished by what one sees; or else admire or dispute the photographer’s performance, etc.; but these interests are slight, heterogeneous; a certain photograph can satisfy one of them and interest me slight! y; and if another photograph interests me powerfully, I should like to know what there is in it that sets me off. So it seemed that the best word to designate (temporarily) the attraction certain photographs exerted upon me was advenience or even adventure. This picture advenes, that one doesn’t.

The principle of adventure allows me to meake Photography exist.
Conversely, without adventure, no photograph.
I quote Sartre: “Newspaper photographs can very well ‘say nothing to me.’ In other words, I look at them without assuming a posture of existence. Though the persons whose photograph I see are certainly present in the photograph, they are so without existential posture, like the Knight and Death present in Durer’s engraving, but without my positing them. Moreover, cases occur where the photograph leaves me so indifferent that I do not even bother to see it ‘as an image.’ The photograph is vaguely constituted as an object, and the persons who figure there are certainly constituted as persons, but only because of their resemblance to human beings, without any special intentionality. They drift between the shores of perception, between sign and image, without ever approaching either.”

In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me; it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction which makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in no way animated (I do not believe in “lifelike” photographs), but  it animates me this what creates every adventure.

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Camera Lucida (in French, La Chambre claire) is a short book published in 1980 by the Frenchliterary 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. The book develops the twin concepts of studium and punctum:studium denoting the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph, punctumdenoting the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

Camera Lucida, along with Susan Sontag’s On Photography, was one of the most important early academic books of criticism and theorization on photography. Neither writer was a photographer, however, and both works have been much criticised since the 1990s. Nevertheless, it was by no means Barthes’ earliest approach to the subject. Barthes mentions photography in one of his ‘little mythologies’—articles published in the journalLes Lettres Nouvelles starting in 1954 and gathered in Mythologies, published untranslated in 1957. The article “Photography and Electoral Appeal” is more obviously political than Camera Lucida.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Photography as Adventure – Roland Barthes

  1. Take a look at Rachel Sussman work….For nearly a decade, she has been traveling the globe to discover and document its oldest organisms — living things over 2,000 years of age.

    Posted by Sallyzoph | March 14, 2015, 4:01 am

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