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Camera Lucida: Roland Barthes

Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography is a short book published in 1980. In it the author, Roland Barthes, writes about the emotional hardship he faced after the death of his mother and its relationship to photography. There is a deeply melancholic tone to the words throughout.

Barthes talks about photographs of his mother, and how they aren’t the version of her that he remembers. He compares them to his dreams of her where he felt that, while he knew it was her, it was never quite her. In photographs, when we (the spectrum, as Barthes calls it) know we’re being photographed, we change our demeanour for the camera. Barthes could not find comfort in these posed images, until he found one where he felt he could truly see her in it.

He touches on how even after a person dies, a photograph immortalises them so they never truly die. They are alive every time the photograph is viewed by another.

I find this is something I can relate to. I’ve lost many people close to me, but I don’t have many photographs of them. The photographs I do have can’t seem to match with the image of them I have in my memory. The photographs are from a time before I was born, or they were posed (subconsciously) in a manner they wouldn’t have otherwise done naturally.

His views on photography are an interesting read, despite the melancholia, but his views are coming from a self-proclaimed non-photographer.

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Barthes talks about the idea of ‘Stadium’ and ‘Punctum’. Stadium is the element that creates interest in an image. It is a literal image without deeper meaning. The Punctum is what we, the viewer, can see after the image is made. The punctum is the deeper, more emotional side of the image.

A simple photograph I made of flowers in a local park that emphasises the idea of stadium.
A low key image I made of a (my) child holding her teddy bear. This is an example of punctum as it makes you look for the deeper meaning underneath it.