What Does Roland Barthes’ Work Mean for Photographers Today?

In 1980, philosopher Roland Barthes published a book that would shift our understanding of photography. Drawing on Barthes’ words, Jamie Windsor asks the question: How much control do we have over our photographs?

Windsor delves into his archive and reflects on Barthes’ writing as means of questioning how we perceive our images. Can we ever gain emotional distance from what we photograph, or is our engagement with the image-making process always going to make that level of separation impossible? Whatever the answer, it’s certainly interesting to come back to images after a year or two and see them with eyes that have been refreshed by the passage of time.

Camera Lucida is a staple in photography courses around the world, and as Windsor mentions, it’s important to note that Barthes himself was not a photographer — or at least, he was not known as one. One of the most interesting points for me is his take on what it means to sit for a portrait, and how this act of being captured in time is connected with our own mortality. Every photograph reduces a subject to being an object, a process that Barthes seems to find uncomfortable.

The book contains some provocative thoughts which are not explored in great depth but act as points of departure. One of the most interesting points for me is the idea of “future anteriority,” the process by which a photograph of yourself separates you slightly from your sense of who you are, offering a new means of understanding through a medium that brings with it a level of instability.

Has Camera Lucida affected your concept of photography? Let us know in the comments below.

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