Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 342

Camera Lucida is philosophical book by French semiotics philosopher and literary theorist Roland Barthes. It is regarded as one of the essential philosophy books on the art of photography. The book was dedicated to Barthes's deceased mother. Interestingly, the book was published two months before Roland Barthes's own death. In this context, the book is just as much about death as it is about the process of photography. One of the sections of the book explored the relationship between mortality and photographs. In particular, Barthes examined the emotions triggered from viewing a photograph that is personally significant to the viewer (i.e. photos of one's childhood and family). This is what Barthes calls the spectrum, or how a photograph affects the spectator. The spectator is not to be confused with the photographer himself/herself or with the person or object being photograph. The spectator is the viewer of the photograph who is unrelated to the process (i.e. museum visitors at a photography exhibit).

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Photographs are physical forms of memories captured. In the mind, memories of particular events and experiences are archived in the subconscious, but these bits of data could be skewed over time because memory is inherently faulty. For instance, details could be left out or exaggerated. In a photograph, the details are factual and will never change if left un-manipulated by post-processing. In this regard, photography could be seen as an almost pure form of documentation.

As a semiotics scholar and lecturer, Barthes also proposed that photographs cannot be broken down into linguistic or cultural codes and that the photograph can affect the person viewing it, the spectator, mentally and physically. Barthes proposes the concept of stadium, which is how visuals could be interpreted in a political or cultural context. He also proposes the punctum: stadium, which is the element in the photograph or visual art that directly affects the viewer emotionally. "Punctum" denotes the "wounding," or emotional response, of the spectator caused by the photograph due to his/her connection to the person or object in the picture.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 740

Camera Lucida was Roland Barthes’s last book. It is ostensibly an attempt to describe the nature of photography, and this aim is addressed in the work. The work is also, however, an evocation of Barthes’s love and grief for his mother, Henriette Barthes, who had died in 1978, shortly before Camera Lucida was written.

Barthes had lived his entire life with his mother, and his grief at her death was enormous. His examination of photography in Camera Lucida is inextricably linked with his attempt to remember his mother by looking at photographs of her. His insight into photography, an art that testifies to and in some sense calls up the past, was conditioned by his special relation to these photographs. Camera Lucida is a very personal work. Other types of photographs—news photographs, portraits by Nadar, photographs of exotic places—are dealt with in the book, but always Barthes writes of them in relation to his own feelings about specific examples of these types of photography.

The work is divided into two parts of twenty-four brief sections each. These parts are very different. Part 1 could be described as illuminating Barthes’s relation to public photographs—photographs by artists, journalists, and others—which are in the public domain. In this part, Barthes devises formal categories to describe and explain the effect certain photographs have on him. These categories are based in the language of phenomenology and are akin to certain of the structural categories he proposed in earlier works in semiology. Yet this first part also reveals...

(The entire section contains 2563 words.)

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