Book Review: Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

Title                  Camera Lucida – Reflection on Photography
Author              Roland Barthes
Date                 1993 (other earlier versions were printed)
Publisher          Vintage
ISBN                 978-0-099-22541-6

This is another book from my college book list and unlike Sontag I have never attempted to read it before. That is till one day in June and I read the whole book in a day, but then at a little over 100 pages it was no arduous task and a far easier read than ‘On Photography’.

Roland Barthes title is a little deceptive, because when I read the book it became less about photography and more about the interpretation of photographs. Barthes set out with the best of intentions to look at the psychology behind photography and how we view it, the book which reads more like a journal becomes very personal and how Barthes in particular uses a single photograph to come to terms with his own bereavement.

Barthes uses plenty of examples to derive the meaning in photographs and fortunately they are shown in the book, whilst the Sontag book which talks about photography doesn’t show any photographs (At least not in the version I own). His deconstruction of the images are personal, in depth and quite in step with the photographers own view of photography.

He is obviously a fan of Richard Avedon (which I am too) and Robert Mapplethorpe (which I am not, if you are offended by risqué nudes I suggest you Google him with safe filters in place) who was the belle du jour at the time Barthes was writing his book. Surprisingly there is no mention of his own countries (France) recent notable photographers Cartier-Bresson or Doisneau, but opts for images by Nadar (heavily exampled throughout) and August Sander.

From the book it becomes evident that Barthes has a preference for portraiture as there is little in the way of landscape (Peach-Robinson) or surrealist photography (Man Ray) featured.

On reflection I enjoyed this book as Barthes only offers his viewpoint on photographs and there is no expectation that you should take his viewpoint to heart, he doesn’t convey himself as a critic or expert on photography just a viewer. The book is well worth a read, and if you have read ‘On Photography’ then follow up with this as soon as you can.

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