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Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography Paperback – May 1, 1982

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Review

"This is a great book--flawed, impossible, infuriating, and moving . . . but he has accomplished in this extraordinary book something finer than mere polemic. En route to his last painful discovery, Barthes takes the reader on an exquisitely rendered, lyrical journey into the heart of his own life and the medium he came to love, a medium that flirts constantly with the 'intractable reality' of the human condition."--Douglas Davis, Newsweek

About the Author

Roland Barthes was born in 1915 and studied French literature and the classics at the University of Paris. After teaching French at universities in Romania and Egypt, he joined the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, where he devoted himself to research in sociology and lexicology. He was a professor at the College de France until his death in 1980.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 119 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (May 1, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374521344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809013982
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

118 of 127 people found the following review helpful By "lexo-2x" on April 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
You don't have to be especially interested in photography to get something out of Camera Lucida. It was Roland Barthes' final book, the last of his great and highly idiosyncratic trilogy of autobiographical works (the earlier two being "A Lover's Discourse" and "Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes").
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.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Scott Esposito on November 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Roland Barthes - Camera Lucida
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.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 1997
Format: Paperback
One of my favorite books. Its discussion on the
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.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 1996
Format: Paperback
Barthes takes us on a somewhat rambling journey as he
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.)
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By pename on July 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
I am somewhat stunned and dismayed by the negative reviews of this book. In fact, it has seem to elicit a sense of vitriol in some.

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.
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