Book review: Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes


Roland Barthes’ book, Camera Lucida (published in 1980) explores the nature of photography and why certain photographs move us more than others. He muses about this while looking through photographs of his mother who had recently passed away before he began the book. Upon looking through the family photos he discovers one in particular that, for him, captures the true essence of his mother. “The Winter Garden Photograph” as he calls this photo, transcends its medium and becomes “translucent”. While contemplating this he also considers the idea that a photograph is forever connected to the subject.

"The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star."

Although this is a slim book, Camera Lucida is a personal, touching essay of what photographs mean and what separates a good photograph from a great one. Through mourning the loss of his mother he discovers the profound effect that photographs have on the perception of our own history.

Krista Comeau1 Comment