Barthes explains at the beginning of Camera Lucida, “I wanted to learn at all costs what Photography was ’in itself,’ by what essential feature it was to be distinguished from the community of images.” He does not want to examine either the formal aspects of the photograph (composition and aesthetics) or the social uses of photography; his intent is an ontological one. He succeeds, almost incidentally, in showing, in a multitude of ways, the single fact that makes a photograph what it is: its evidentiality.
A photographic image is not derived from a subject, thereby signifying it; the photograph is evidence of the previous existence of the subject, and does not then signify its subject so much as it is literally caused by the subject. Photography is contingent on the real. It is a physical consequence of the existence of a certain state of affairs (the subject) at some time. Barthes’s examinations of the nature of photography are all dependent on this first insight. It is this contingency of the photograph that seems to indicate that photography has no essence of its own (what it is, is its subject). This contingency, then, is in fact what constitutes photography.
Barthes’s second intent, however, is somewhat different, though related. He wished to examine his experience of photography, to find the springs of the emotions he experienced before certain photographs. This search, this meditation, gives the book its spirit....
(The entire section is 1208 words.)
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