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Critical analysis of Barthes’s Camera Lucida-Reflections on Photography Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Mar 31st, 2019

Barthes, in his Camera Lucida-Reflections on Photography tried to bring out some unique meaning from a photographic image. In addition, his view was that a photograph could signify a very real scenario in life, a quality that he considered very distinctive in an individual interpreter.

Following the death of his mother in 1977, Barthes wrote Camera Lucida – whose primary focus was to bring out the significance and the meaning of her childhood photograph. His attempt to demonstrate the relationship between studuim (the observable photographs’ symbolic meaning) and punctum (the subjective and personal view which penetrates through the viewer), was particularly remarkable and somewhat sensible.

Barthes was disturbed by the fact that such peculiarities fall down when the personal significance that is connoted on a photograph is made known to others, and can have its representational logic streamlined. Bathes, therefore, found a remedy to this sort of personal significance from his mother’s picture.

He maintained that a picture has a potential to create deceitfulness in the fantasy of ‘what is’, where the description of ‘What was’ is so specific. His mother’s death has led to physical representation of what has vanished. The reminiscence of the worlds’ dynamic nature is depicted to us, by way of avoiding the reality. These views reflect a very unique and personal sentiment that cannot be parted from him. He felt a great loss after the departure of his mother, an ordeal that kept reflecting back in his mind whenever he viewed the photograph.

Besides serving as a source of dedication to his mother and a portrayal of his grief, this work generally demonstrated the relationship between cultural society, meaning, and subjectivity. When he differentiates between stadium and punctum, he admits that certain aspects in the photograph could have adopted ‘The Look’.

The inner intention could have been understood by the subject’s reflection. Therefore, the photograph relies on circumstances, and is a sign of ongoing course of reinterpretation, and the work is generated out of a particular time in history. At this juncture, interpretation of the photography is flexible, and what is not disclosed in a photograph is the one that creates the difference between self identity and photographic understanding.

Barthes seems to hold the opinion that photography has a strong power to communicate, and that such power depends on its direct relationship with the theme. Therefore, there is no need of associating it with the ordinary cultural information. However, regardless of the kind of understanding in a certain photograph, straightforward meaning must be present. An example of this is punctum which is actually pre-linguistic.

The kind of experience that can be associated with puntum is connected with a kind of photography description that directs physical association, which may prompt a spontaneous reminiscence. The reactions are only some of its kinds to the spectators of a photograph. The uniqueness of Barthes interpretation is also evident because he saw no need of reproducing the photograph, because after all, other people would not recognize its meaning or attach deep meaning in it.

The punctum is only seen by Barthes, while the rest of the aspects are visible to others. Bathes has managed to reveal to us that photograph is for the indexical rather than the iconic. This is because the ‘symbolic photograph’ reflects an image which is optionally not real, but essentially the actual object that was posed in front of the camera for a photograph to appear.

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