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I One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon's youngest brother,. Jerome, taken in And I realized then, with an amazement I. Wiki for Collaborative Studies of Arts, Media and Humanities. ROLAND BARTHES. A Barthes Reader. Mythologies. A Lover's Discourse. Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography. TRANSLATED BY. Richard Howard.
Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Mythologizing in Camera Lucida. Roland Barthes Writing the image: After Roland Barthes, ed.
CL, 15; emphasis added which the verb intersum means. CL, 77 It seems that for Barthes, then, "noise of Time" counterbalances For Barthes, this is the genius of Photography and its horror: a photo- Death encoded in the photograph of himself. For me, the stories trig- graph simultaneously testifies to the presence of a thing at a certain past gered by the pictures of my family and me do the same.
In this context, moment and to its absolute pastness, its death. By attesting that what Barthes's concepts of studium and punctum emerge as the "tools" that en- we see indeed existed, Photography partakes in the economy of death able him to view photographs other than those of himself.
Rather than and resurrection CL, 82 , and it is in this context that Barthes ana- as "flat death," he sees them from a variety of points of view: as adven- lyzes the Winter Garden photograph his mother when she was five ture, as information, according to their ability to paint, surprise, signify, years old. His method of analysis, "a casual, even Barthes's goal in looking through the photographs of hts mother after cynical phenomenology," is steeped in a paradox of wanting, on the she died was to find "the truth of the face" he had loved CL, As he one hand, "to give name to Photography's essence" as an eidetic science enters the labyrinth ofthose photographs, he confesses: and recognizing, on the other hand, that Photography, always a "contin- I knew that at the center of this labyrinth I would find nothing but this sole pic- gency, singularity, risk" CL, 20 , participates in what he calls "bana1ity.
The Winter Garden Photograph was my Anadne, not be- [. CL, 73 for "sentimenta1" reasons, as a Spectator who wants "to explore it [. Here, photography's banality and pathos are joined.
He arrives at the notion of satori via the agency Barthes's quasi-phenomenological investigations cancel out the opera- of punctum. That phenomenological perspec. Barthes likens the novelistic thread of "love and death" that parallels the paradigm of life effect to that of the Haiku: "For the notation of a haiku, too, is unde- velopable: everything is given, without provoking a desire for or even and death he mentions later [CL, 92] - which is no different from my a possibility of a rhetorical expansion" CL, All photographs, as Bar.
And that mythologized print has the capacity to func- condition which the Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani, using a phrase tion as Ariadne's thread thanks to the "luminous rays" and the optic of almost as beautiful as Shelley's, called the enchantment of the heart.
He refers to The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, it as the "that-has-been" of photography: its interfuit.
Whether or not the against the colloquial English word 5hot, the latter forever marked for subject is already dead," adds Barthes, "every photograph is this catas- me to the point that I never use the phrase "to take a shot. Is it because of the family mythology hidden behind those old photo- For Barthes, the light that reaches the Spectator literally resurrects graphs of my grandparents, those "patches" my mother showed me the referent from flat death.
In photographs of relatives, the rays re- when I was little? Barthes sees the equation between resemblance and identity as my grandfather mysteriously disappeared. Rumor had tt that he, along "an absurd, purely legal, even penal affair" CL, Skeptical about with other officers, had been taken prisoner by the Nazis. For seven his mother's likeness, he finds "the splendor of her truth" only in the months my grandmother made trips to Lublin's Castle, which had been Winter Garden Photograph, "one which does not look 'like' her," the turned into a Nazi prison, to deliver food parcels to her husband.
O ne photograph of a child he never knew CL, My grandmother, fatally IOJUred, d1ed on new insights into the nature of that truth about his mother that Barthes Sunday,! July She was thirty-seven. Six months later, on 22Janu- has set out to find through this book.
The photograph can only authen- ary , my grandfather unexpectedly reappeared. It turned out that ticate the existence of his mother before he could have possibly known all this time he had been in a labor camp in Russia. He managed to es- her. Five days later, on Sunday, graph yet improbable I cannot prove it " CL, My mom found him traces what he calls "genetic features" and lineage in the photograph; shot, lying face down in the snow outside the house.
He was forty-five. The luminous rays soul, as it reduces her to a metaphor of his own experience. None of that emanate from the two faces engender punctum in me, not so much this could possibly have been experienced by any other spectator, who, by the referents themselves, as by the interfuit, the "this-has-beenness" of in viewing the Winter Garden Photograph, would have at best imparted what I apprehend.
Mter Roland Barthes, elements that produces desire in the reader who, deprived of the visual how else could I view these three photographs? The flat death of the photograph encodes at once the pastness of the Notes once-present moment and the click that "shot," "removed" that moment 1. For Barthes, p. Concerned mainly with political offenders, the NKVD used Its broad investigative and judicial powers to carry out Stalin's massive purges of the s. Polish government-in-exile was formed in France in , based on a constitution.
As a civil and military resistance movement had formed in occupied Poland in September after the German invasion, the Polish government-in-exile assured the survival of the Polish Republic under the leadership and supreme command of General Sikorski. Defined as a detail that fascinates, but also as a wound that interrupts the studium, that cuts or pricks the image and the corporeal gaze that would view it, the punctum points directly toward that affective field opened by images—a field that always evokes enjoyment as both pleasurable and wounding.
Emerging with the ghostly force of the supplement, the punctum appears as a kind of transit or relay between the photograph and the viewer that, despite its vio- lence, despite its singularity, nevertheless can be drawn into a network of associations. Like the language that moves in relation to affect, in relation to desire and mourning, the punctum works in relation to the studium.
This concept of a ghost is scarcely gras- pable in its self as the ghost of a concept. Neither life nor death, but the haunting of the one by the other. This is why, if the studium names a kind of education, knowledge, and civil- ity that produces a general interest, an average effect, it does so in the form of a simulacrum.
The studium designates an imposture, a fiction of generality that can only take the form of a myth. Indeed, in the same way that generality is nothing but a masquerade of gener- ality, it is impossible to posit, within any image, a space of absolute transgression. But just as chance belongs to the amorous repetition, the punctum is far from being pure contingency or pure singularity: That Barthes both preserves and dissolves this opposition between differ- ence and repetition, that he seeks to have it enact the paradoxical character of the photograph, is perhaps even more legible if we trace the way in which it is mobi- lized within his text a little more carefully.
For example, it is legible when, in the moment in which he confronts the Winter Garden Photograph, he admits: Thus I could understand my generality; but having understood it, invincibly I escaped from it. In the Mother, 7. University of Chicago Press, , p. How can we believe in the originality of someone who is not an unprecedented figure in his life but a person who is repeated in the life of others, a figure almost as archetypal as the mother?
In sig- naling originality through the words of another, Barthes stages the paradoxical character of mourning. Effectively, he suggests, the pain or grief that we experi- ence before a loss is always contradictory: At the same time, and like everyone else, we think that our suffering is entirely unique.
And we are not wrong here, because, paradoxically, what is repeated each time that we fall in love or that we lose someone is precisely the radical originality of love or loss. Photography, like love or death, is the experience of the singularity that is repeated or of the repetition that appears as something singular. The punc- tum and studium do not belong entirely to the image or to the mode of perceiving it—they are neither only attributes of the image nor only a projection of the gaze—but rather are points of connection between the history of the image and the history of the gaze.
This is why the true punctum sometimes comes a little later. As a means of visualizing this paradox, the front cover of the Spanish edition of Camera Lucida presents an image of an antique camera—a machine that reminds us of the daguerrotype or of a cer- tain auratic moment—in the process of copying or taking a photograph. The camera is there, in the center of the cover, between two large quotation marks that, like citation, love, mourning, or photog- raphy, infinitely reproduce its originality.
That he identi- fies this punctum through a series of associations and displacements that evoke his history, his affections, and his inscription within a language, a culture, and a famil- ial network that precede him, means that the punctum emerges in relation to elements of the studium.
If this particular detail moves him, if he registers this par- ticular wound, it is because this wound already is in him, somewhere in his history, even if in a displaced, encrypted, and illegible manner. In other words, the punctum, in all its singularity, in its absolute irreducibility, encrypts an entire network of substitutions that, composing and decomposing it at the same time, prevent it from ever being what it is, from ever being self-identical to itself.
It wounds the form of time, intensely and irrecuperably. This disorder is introduced by the photograph from the very beginning, however, since every photograph is marked by the singular moment in which it was taken, a moment that, because it cannot be reproduced or repeated, because it is not redeemable in the present, inhabits the present like a kind of ghost.
The photograph therefore does not only look backward—it does not only evoke lost time and melancholy—but it also opens onto a future: It is the field of the possible, of what, within the photograph, cannot be said to be sim- ply here and now, but rather evoked, like a promise, in relation to the past and to an unknown future which is still to come, but has, as its horizon, our future death.
This is why, bound together like the copy and its negative, the punctum and the studium are the two fictional poles of photography: Punctum and studium are the two threads that, together, constitute the materiality of photographic language: In this way, every photograph not only shows what it exhibits—not only shows a relation between an observed subject and a subject observing captured on a piece of photo- graphic paper—but also says, exhibit s, or performs what photography is.
Photography is an amorous experience, magical and paradoxical: III There is something uncanny in every photograph—a force of destabiliza- tion, something that leaves us in suspense even as it fascinates us. This perhaps is because, when we look at an image, we encounter, directly in front of us, and no matter how elusive it may remain, the first sign of chance and contingency— again, what Barthes calls the punctum—and, like all encounters with contingency, this one also produces a certain terror and bedazzlement.
But perhaps it is some- thing else altogether: This is why the photograph always appears as a form of haunting which, evoking a material trace of the past, condenses, among so many other things, the relation between the past and the present, the dead and the liv- ing, and destruction and survival.
The relation between indexicality and truth or testimony is not a characteristic of the index but a particular mode of reading or perceiving the photographic image that simultaneously brings together a conception of the subject, language, and repre- sentation. Camera Lucida distances itself from this relation between photography and truth precisely when it signals that the body that poses for the camera is a photographic body, a subjectivity that does not exist before its representation but that instead constitutes itself in the act of sitting in front of the camera.
Far from demonstrating the truth of reference, the indexical character of the photograph stages its phantasmatic being, its presence in the past and its absence in the present.
The photograph is an index of the photographed, in the same way that his smell, his fingerprints, or the footprints he leaves in the sand are indices of him. The index is a sign linked to mourning and melancholy, and never to truth or testimony.
To put it differently: Nevertheless, it is precisely because there is no single way to read indexicality that an index—for example, a photographic portrait or a lock of hair—says something different to a detective in a police story than to the protago- nist of a romance novel. This is why Alphonse Bertillon and Francis Galton sought a mode of ordering what to their eyes seemed evident: As an index, the photograph bears, according to Barthes, a material relation to the body of the photographed, which is why he can suggest that in photography the presence of that body within a unique moment in the past can never be metaphorical.
From the perspective of its most absolute materiality—that is, as a chemical effect produced by light—photography acquires magical traits. What delights and, at the same time, depresses is the double character of the photographic trace. On the one hand, the image is a real non- metaphorical fragment of a body that belonged to the past. This means that from the very beginning the indexical character of photography offers the promise of immortality. This utopic hope of interrupting or stopping time, of immobilizing the present and freezing it on a two-dimensional surface, is legible in the first uses of photography—particularly in the nineteenth-century custom of taking portraits of the dead—and it remains inscribed within the desire of all pho- tographic technology and, indeed, touches every image the camera takes.
This is why a photograph can be considered an index, in the same way that a fossil or a ruin are indices: On the other hand, as a trace, as an emanation of a body, an index—for example, 9. MIT Press, , pp. While we have evoked many aspects of these discussions, we also have sought, following Barthes, to indicate our distance from them. Notes on Love and Photography 19 a photograph or a footprint on the beach—never gives us precise information about the body that posed for the camera or that sank its feet in the sand.
Nevertheless, what cannot be neglected here is that we are left only with an absence—before the camera and on the sand.
But every index is also the sign of a fatality CL, p. This perhaps is why photography evokes a greater sense of melancholy than other indexical objects: This promise of surrender that produces the immobile object before the tiny hole of the camera is perhaps what returns this absence most mournfully. It is also the sense of stability produced by photography when, embalming time, it moves us to imagine, as we contemplate a photographic portrait, that we are before an embalmed body.
This is why there is something uncanny in every photograph—a force of destabiliza- tion, something that leaves us in suspense even as it fascinates us. It is the force of a mark: The force of the photograph resides in its capacity to fascinate us and to leave us defenseless because photography—which often has been associated with the field of the Imaginary—does nothing else than point toward the very center of the Real, toward that place where we remain with- out words or without a gaze.
This is why we so often remain mute in front of an image: Perhaps to see a photograph we do not need to open our eyes to its literal brutality, but neither do we need to close them. Ultimately—or at the limit—perhaps we can view a photograph best when we look at it with our eyes half-closed, as when we look at the sun.
When we contemplate this remnant, that is, this photograph, we look at it quickly in order to arrest the gaze in a new fragment, in a detail that Barthes calls the punctum. But, as a new totality, it signals the violence enacted in every photographic act, and in photographic lan- guage itself. After all, a photograph is a cut that the eye or the camera realizes in the world, even if only in this fragmentary way.
As Barthes suggests, while looking at a series of photographs of his mother and trying to discover her essence in them: Camera Lucida perfectly identifies the ontological violence that characterizes photographic technology and translates it into a kind of grammar that names the effects of the image on the body of the observed subject and of the subject observ- ing: Nevertheless, Barthes reads this photographic violence—perhaps another name for the force of decontextualiza- tion that takes place in any photograph—in relation not only to melancholy or tragedy but also to enjoyment.
The image is comparable, then, to the haiku. Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation, trans.
Richard Howard Berkeley: University of California Press, , p. Hill and Wang, , p. University of California Press, , pp. Like the detective who concerns himself only with those details most pertinent to the resolution of the crime, the analyst who investigates the minute slip that will conduct him to the truth, and the lover who isolates a particular trait or feature in relation to which he surrenders himself to the beloved object, the close-up fragments the world and gathers details that make us forget the whole to which they at one time belonged.
But later, this detail appears again, and with another tone, when Barthes contemplates a portrait of the young Tristan Tzara. Psychoanalysis and the Cinema, trans. Ben Brewster et al. Indiana University Press, , pp. What dazzles us, what wounds us, when we look at a photograph is a marginal and unexpected detail—a kind of emanation of the unconscious within the body or in the image—which is excluded from the inten- tionality of the photographer or the photographed subject or object, and thereby opens the door for chance to enter.
The punctum is a fetish, a fulgurating detail that, irradiating its light, does not occult, but nevertheless makes the rest of the image opaque. This mobile and elusive detail is charged with a metonymic force. It condenses the image and displaces it like a ghost, it can be seen here and then there, it appears now and reappears later. The fragment we call a photograph and the fragment that illuminates it have the power to tear both time and our gaze: Photography is the amorous fetish par excellence, a fragment of the present that, like the relation between two lovers, links and realizes both the past and the future and, in doing so, deranges time altogether.
This experience of burning registers not only the extremity of his desire and love but also, at the very edge of this extremity, the conflagration of his identity. This is why, within the space of the photograph, the dead always are alive, and the alive always are dead without being dead.
This axiom enables Barthes to generalize his experience of the Winter Garden Photograph into a claim about the photograph in general, but it also leads him to read his own death not only in relation to that of his mother, but in relation to the death that is announced by every photograph: I am lost, forever. If neither Barthes nor his mother can remain simply themselves, it is because, bearing the trace of the other, each can become identified with the other.
The possibility of this transformation of the one into the other is confirmed in an extraordinary moment in which Barthes claims, in an extreme temporal reversal, to have given birth to his mother, and therefore to have become a mother himself.
Ultimately I experi- enced her, strong as she had been, my inner law, as my feminine child. Which was my way of resolving Death. He confirms this death—this Fragments, trans.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, , p.
Notes on Love and Photography 25 death that attends birth—when, as happens in this passage, he encounters himself in the figure of the mother.
Giving birth to an image, the mother is another name for photography. Within the world of Camera Lucida, the mother is an incunabulum of images. If the photograph bespeaks a Barthes writes: From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being touches me like the delayed rays of a star. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: If Barthes desires to resurrect his mother, if he wishes to recover and revivify her body, we should not be surprised by his effort to reverse the trajectory of her life, to bring her back to life, and perhaps begin- ning from her death.
This effort is legible, in its most secret and hidden form, in the very structure of Camera Lucida, at least insofar as we can claim—and we believe we can—that the structure and writing of the text embodies his desire.
We can begin to read this effort by first noting that the text is composed of two parts, with each part consisting of twenty-four chapters, for a total of forty-eight chapters. It was written between April 15 and June 3, , which means that it was written in forty-eight days.
The number twenty-four seems particularly significant within the context of the book, since it evokes the number of still frames—the number of photograms—that pass through a film projector every second as well as the number of hours in a day, that is, the number of hours that constitute the cycle between day and night and light and darkness. It is this experience of the displacement and reversal of time that encourages him to seek to conjure his moth- er through an act of writing that is as much an act of desire and love as it is an act of counting.
See Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, p. In this transformation, photography becomes a maternal medium that magically reconnects the body of the viewing subject to the body of the referent by an umbilical cord.
This umbilical cord, in turn, creates a new corpus that envelops both the viewing subject and the photographed object under a common skin. In the act of transforming light into skin, photography transubstantiates the body of the referent and transports it through time and space. Like the mother, the photo- graph exists between life and death, the past and the present, interiority and exteriority, body and image, and subject and image.
It opens onto a future whose lineaments are not yet known, even if what can be known enables us to delineate the contours of the horizon and limit of death. Eduardo Cadava and Aaron Levy Philadelphia: Slought Books; Rosenbach Museum and Library, , p. As he notes: Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier New York: Columbia University Press, , pp. Notes on Love and Photography 29 of this maternal unity.
What makes music music, in other words, is that, in our experience of it, we encounter what is always about to vanish. This is why, for Barthes, music is linked to mourning, and, in particular, within Camera Lucida, to the relation between love and mourning. Like love and death, music begins in its fugitive, transitory character, in the impossibil- ity of our ever comprehending it.