Explain contingency in relation to Barthes camera Lucida.   Photography is contingent on the real. It is a physical consequence of the existence of a certain state of affairs. It is this...

Explain contingency in relation to Barthes camera Lucida.

 

Photography is contingent on the real. It is a physical consequence of the existence of a certain state of affairs. It is this contingency of the photograph that seems to indicate that photography has no essence of its own. This contingency, then, is in fact what constitutes photography

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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"A photograph is invisible; it is not it that we see." 

Barthes was not trying to analyze photography for its social or cultural impact.  Nor was he, as Benjamin might have been, investigating the significance of the mass reproduction of art, images or even machines and technology in general.  Barthes was looking at the ontological nature of photography or 'a photograph,' what it is, in and of itself; it's being.  He begins with noting that a photograph is inextricably linked to its referent.  In other words, a photograph of a woman in a field is 'a photograph of a woman in a field.'  That sentence just sounds redundant.  But, the point is that the photograph itself is what I would call a 'looking moment' of that Real woman in the field. 

Think of it this way: the photograph is a window pane.  You look out (through) the window and see the woman in the field.  If you could freeze that 'looking moment' for the smallest increment of time, you would have the concept of the photograph, frozen, as it were, on the window pane. But the window pane is transparent; it is nothing. Yet, the image that you would freeze on the pain/photographic plate is a sign or signifier that refers to the real woman in the field. How can a physical referrring sign, essentially - like the window - be made of nothing?  A signifying, transparent 'nothing' can only be something in relation to what it refers to.  Therefore, the photograph, analogous to the window pane, is contingent on the real woman in the field. 

The photograph, itself (physically) is capture light, framed by the camera obscura; captured as if you were to capture your momentary 'looking' through the window pane. The captured light (photograph) is not the woman; it is not Her and yet it comes from her.   It is the 'event' of your looking, happens to be captured or frozen in time on the window pane/plate.

Now, when Barthes goes on to discuss the human experience of viewing the photograph, the viewer of the photograph is separated from the real woman in field - through time. So, when you look at the photograph, your relation to the real woman in the field is thus: viewer - relation of photograph to real woman - time - real woman.

Perhaps I am complicating this.  Think of it like a triangle: I (A) am the viewer. I point (look) at someone (B).  B points at the real woman in the field (C). B is the photograph.  When I look at a photograph, I am "pointing at a pointing!"  In other words, I am looking at a single event of looking. Now, to grasp Barthes' idea of contingency, imagine that the person (B), representing the photograph, is invisible. And I can't point/look at (C) because I (A) and the real woman (C) are separated by time.

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