The opening image in Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida.
Some passages from Camera Lucida I have found of note:
So I make myself the measure of photographic “knowledge.” What does my body know of Photography? I observed that a photograph can be the object of three practices (or of three emotions, or of three intentions): to do, to undergo, to look. The Operator is the Photographer. the Spectator is ourselves, all of us who glance through collections of photographs–in magazines and newspapers, in books, albums, archives… And the person or thing photographed is the target, the referent, a kind of little simulacrum, any eidolon emitted by the object, which I should like to call the Spectrum of the Photograph, because this word retains, through its root, a relation to “spectacle” and adds to it that rather terrible thing which is there in every photograph: the return of the dead. (9)
Ultimately, what I am seeking in the photograph taken of me (the “intention” according to which I look at it) is Death: Death is the eidos of that Photograph. Hence, strangely, the only thing that I tolerate, that I like, that is familiar to me, when I am photographed, is the sound of the camera. For me, the Photographer’s organ is not his eye (which terrifies me) but his finger: what is linked to the trigger of the lens, to the metallic shifting of the plates (when the camera still has such things). i love thesemechanical soundsin an almost voluptuous way, as if, in the Photograph, they were the very thing–and the only thing–to which my desire clings, their abrupt click breakingthrough the mortiferous layer of the Pose. For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches–and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood. (15)
[S]tudium, which doesn’t mean, at least not immediately, “study,” but application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity. It is by studium that I am interested in so many photographs, whether I receive them as political testimony or enjoy them as good historical scenes: for it is culturally (this connotation is present in studium) that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions.
The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time it is not I who seek it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that it also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points; precisely, these marks, these wounds are so many points.This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole–and also a cast of the dice. (26-27)
Yet it is not (it seems to me) by Painting that Photography touches art, but by Theatre. Niepce and Daguerre are always put at the origin of Photography (even if the latter has somewhat usurped the former’s place); now Daguerre, when he took over Niepce’s invention, was running a panorama theatre animated by light shows and movements in the Place du Chateau. The camera obscura, in short, has generated at one and the same time perspective painting, photography, and the diorama, which are all three arts of the stage; but if Photography seems to me closer to the Theatre, it is by way of a singular intermediary (and perhaps I am the only one who sees it): by way of Death. We know the original relation of the theatre and the cult of the Dead: the first actors separated themselves from the community by playing the role of the Dead: to make oneself up was to designate oneself as a body simultaneously living and dead: the whitened bust of the totemic theatre, the man with the painted face in the Chinese theatre, the rice-paste makeup of the Indian Kathakali, the Japanese No mask… Now it is this same relation which I find in the Photograph; however “lifelike” we strive to make it (and this frenzy to be lifelike can only be our mythic denial of an apprehension of death), Photography is a kind of primitive theatre, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead. (31-32)
The studium is ultimately always coded, the punctum is not… Nothing surprising, then, if sometimes, despite its clarity, the punctum should be revealed only after the fact, when the photograph is no longer in front of me and I think back on it. I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision oriented its language wrongly, engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss its point of effect, the punctum… I had just realized that however immediate and incisive it was, the punctum could accomodate a certain latency (but never any scrutiny). Ultimately – or at the limit – in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes… The photograph must be silent (there are blustering photographs, and I don’t like them): this is not a question of discretion, but of music. Absolute subjectivity is achieved only in a state, an effort, of silence (shutting your eyes is to make the image speak in silence). (51-55)