Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, a Start to Understanding Barthes Theories

Here are my notes on the first 13 Chapter’s of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, 1989 which has helped me with my re-work of Assignment 4. Under each subtitle named after the relevant Chapter in the book there is a short summary of what I have learnt from each section including the key terms and their definitions.

Chapter 1

An introduction in to Barthes’ very first realisations that he wanted to learn ‘at all costs’ what Photography was ‘in itself’.

Chapter 2

Barthes starts to expand on his early realisations about Photography. He talks of classification and how the classifications we give to photographs tend to be external and do not relate to their essence.

(Professional/Amateurs) = Empirical

(Landscapes/Portraits/Nudes) = Rhetorical

(Realism/Pictorialism) = Aesthetic

Barthes talks of the nature of a photograph, the inescapable fact that the photograph is a moment in time that occurred once in real life but can be reproduced over and over again: ‘the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially’.

Barthes introduces some terminology:

the referant : what the image represents

He suggests that any one photograph is never separated from its referent. He gives the examples The Windowpane and the Landscape, Good and Evil and Desire & it’s Object. He then points out that there is ‘no photograph without something or someone, of all the objects in the world: why choose (why photograph) this object, this moment, rather than some other?’.

Chapter 3

Bathes speaks of his aversion to reductionism of any kind and in rejecting any hardened language or system (such as phenology, sociology, semiology, psychoanalysis..) he resolved to make himself the mediator for all Photography.

Chapter 4

Barthes suggests that a photograph can be the object of three practices – to do, to undergo, to look.

More terminology is introduced here:

The Operator = the Photographer

The Spectator = Ourselves ‘All of us who glance through collections of photographs – in magazines, & newspapers, in books, albums, archives…’

The Spectrum = that which is on display, the subject

And Barthes explains what Photography technically is in terms of the chemical and physcial processes combined that together produce a Photograph:

Chemically Photography is: the action of light on certain substances

Physically Photography is: the formation of an image through an optical device

Chapter 5

Barthes talks in depth about being the subject of a photo-portrait (from a personal angle) and the inevitability of ‘Death’ of the Spectrum when it is photographed and how photographer’s seek to lessen it’s obviousness (by adding more light to make the subject look more alive or props such as art brushes).

‘In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the Photographer thinks I am and the one he makes use of to exhibit his work’ – Roland Barthes, pg 13 Camera Lucida 1982

Chapter 6

Barthes explains how he does not like every photograph by any one Photographer who’s one image he has been delighted by. Hence photography is an uncertain act. He seems confused by the way that we tend to describe a Photographer as having a style -if that were true he would presumably connect and delight in all Photographs made by that Photographer.

Chapter 7

Barthes sets off to explore what it is that makes one photograph delight him more than another which might satisfy the same interest but yet not fascinate him in the same way. He terms the attraction certain photographs exert on him as adveniences. ‘This picture advenes, that one doesn’t.

Chapter 8

Barthes suggests that Spectators are only interested in Photography for ‘sentimental reasons’. – I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, I think.

Chapter 9

Barthes noticed that just as a photograph can please, interest or intrigue or, contrastly, become non-existent to him that others can simply exist.

Chapter 10

Barthes identifies the two elements which explain the spark in his interest towards certain photographs and terms them:

The Studium: the application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, without special acuity

The Punctum: the sensitive points that jump out and pierce the heart of the viewer – they wound

Chapter 11

Barthes explains the studium and punctum in more detail.

Images with no punctum please or displease without pricking.

The studium is the order of liking and not of loving. I like, I don’t like – not I love or I hate. The studium allows the Spectator to study the Operator and discover his intentions.

Chapter 12

Barthes speaks of Photography’s unique link to ethnological knowledge and questions of. The Photograph can show the dress of a certain culture, the length of nails worn in a certain era much better than a portrait painting can.

Chapter 13

Barthes acknowledges the similarities between Photography and Painting but says that Photography is actually closer to theatre because of their joint relationship with ‘Death’.

‘Photography is a kind of primitive theatre, a kind of Tableau vivant, a figuration of the motionlessand made-up face beneath we see death.’ – Roland Barthes, pg 31, Camera Lucida 1989












2 thoughts on “Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, a Start to Understanding Barthes Theories

  1. Chas Bedford January 17, 2018 / 2:23 pm

    Brilliant! Leave it exactly as it is.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s