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Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography Paperback – May 1, 1982
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Top Customer Reviews
Although the book is ostensibly about Barthes' attempt to work out why he is moved by some photographs and not by others, it soon reveals itself to be a meditation on the absence inherent in photography. Barthes wrote before radical manipulation of the image had become a standard practice in photography, but even if he hadn't it would make no difference, as he is only interested in photographs insofar as they depict something that was there at that particular time, and is now (presumably) gone. He is particularly eloquent on a photograph - deliberately unreproduced here - of his beloved mother, who'd died shortly before he began to write the book. He doesn't even try to elaborate a grand theory of photography; this is unashamedly a book about himself and the loss he has suffered, which he finds echoed and prefigured in the photographs that he holds dear. This being the case, he is able to write as movingly and beautifully about a 19th century photograph of a condemned man ("I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake") as he can about the cherished Winter Garden photograph of his mother (which he doesn't reproduce in the book because, he says with heartbreaking discreetness, "it exists only for me").
Barthes wouldn't feel much at home in the digital age. For all his academic reputation as a whip-cracking avant-gardist, his most powerful and convincing writing is always yearning back to the past.Read more ›
Frequently as I read through the brief, but provocative, Camera Lucida I would turn to the author photograph of Barthes on the back of the book. The further I got into Barthes' book the more I wondered just what he would have thought of the photo of himself. You see, in the pages of Camera Lucida Barthes explains how he sees most portraits as mere images that are far separated from the true identity, much less the soul, of the subject. And so I wondered, did Barthes ever see this portrait of himself? Was he the one who chose it for the back cover? Are the subtleties of this photograph effects Barthes consciously created as he posed for the camera?
These questions that arouse in my mind went to the heart of, indeed were a product of my reading of, Camera Lucida. In this book Barthes explores the nature of photography, what sets it apart from other arts, what are its benefits, its liabilities. He also wonders what exactly a photograph is, what that cold image on paper truly captures.
The book opens with Barthes wondering what is that one thing that a photograph, out of all other forms of art, possesses. While contemplating this he also muses that a photograph is forever linked to the object of which it is taken. That is to say that a photograph of a girl is always linked to that girl whereas a painting of a girl might very well be the construction of the author's mind and have no real world analog. Barthes does well to open with these two thoughts because they become the central insights on which he hangs the rest of his theories.Read more ›
subject of "photography" is incidental; instead, individual photos dominate. Camera Lucida is a
book about loss & grief, mortality, and love. It
is highly elliptical and idiosyncratic ("rambling"
to some), beautiful and deeply moving. It's the one great thing I got out of English grad school.
attempts to understand the essential meaning of photographs and
to uncover what it is that a
photograph captures. Barthes cites a number of examples and he
makes his search for meaning very personal when he
discusses in detail his search for, and his
understanding of, the photograph which
captures the essential spirit of "his mother" for him. The book
has tedious passages, but does capture some of what transpires
when one finds a photograph which appeals. Camera
Lucida will be of interest to photographers who care about their
craft. For them, the book speaks in words about something
they probably already have an implicit understanding of.
People who take only casual
notice of photographs will likely be bored in reading Camera Lucida, and may never
finish the book. (The book was written before the computer
and digital revolution. Thus, a bit of the content is
dated by the manipulation of images which that
revolution has enabled.)
It is a brilliant book. How does one state simply such a complicated phenomenon. One doesn't. Those who rated this book so poorly biggest gripe was the complexity of the writing. Well - it is a complex topic. But, I think Barthes beautifully and deftly counters this complexity with his personal reflections. The book is both a critical assessment of photography and an emotional one as well, and this is what makes it so wonderful.
It is not wholly unexpected that most all the negative reviews of this book come late in the day - in the ever increasing time of sound-bites, instant pleasures and generally non-reflective immersion.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Marvelous book, excellent musings on photography. I bought it as a grad student (as many do) and really found it of value.Published 14 months ago by Charlene Smith
I bought this book for my photography class. Its an interesting book, but its hard to read; I don't if this is a translation issue or if the author actually wrote it with... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Francys
I had to read it for school, and I am not interested in photography, so I felt that it was a little boring and a lot about self-reflection. Read morePublished on June 18, 2013 by Doly Mallet Flores
This is a great book! Barthes is an extremey intelligent man and had a lot to say about photography. Read morePublished on May 30, 2012 by Ker
A tried and true essay of many years. Not the sort of book you can read during the TV commercials, but well worth the effort.Published on July 20, 2010 by Mr. Paul E. Wayland
Written shortly after his mother's death there is a very dark and mortal tone in this reading. Roland Barthes refers to life and death heavily throughout the book and the ongoing... Read morePublished on August 18, 2009 by Damien T. Franco
Great book for ALL photographers. It is out of print and available on here for a great price. Everytime I have read it, it offers new insight on how I view photographyPublished on February 3, 2009 by Matthew E. Lavere