Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes
May 24, 2007 by Wulf Forrester-Barker
As you may have noticed from this blog and volume of my contributions to Flickr, I have enjoyed a deepening interest in photography over recent months. I have been learning by experience, both my own and that gained through interaction with other photographers. As befits a self-confessed bookworm, I have also been voraciously reading books on the subject.
Therefore, it was not surprising that Camera Lucida, by Roland Barthes, should catch my eye when I spotted it in the photography section of the local library. Reading the synopsis on the back, I was expecting an interesting and insightful book that would allow this famous philosopher to improve my understanding of the photographic art.
Having finished the book, I regret to say that I have come away disappointed. I recognise that my feelings are partly due to my expectations and also lack of preparation for such reading material. Possibly Barthes is too erudite for me; I am not well schooled in his writing and struggled to glean sustenance from his verbiage.
However, it transpires that the subject of the work is the author’s attempt to understand how he reacts to certain photographic portraits. He is explicitly clear that he has no interest in the process of making and composing a photograph. Photography is devalued because the subject is, instead, the observer. For a student of philosophy, or of Barthes himself, this book might have more value but, for me as a would-be student of photography, it turned out to be a dead-end and I would rather it had been filed elsewhere on the shelves, safely out of my sight!
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