Week 5 – [reality]
This week was all about Barthes and his writings in Camera Lucida. I remember reading this book in undergrad and not really understanding anything. I feel like I got more from it this time, and I feel that the Perloff reading actually made much more sense of the Barthes reading.
Barthes believes several things:
- Believes viewers look at photographs as the real objects, as if the objects represented in the photograph are the actual objects
- Death is the eidos of the photograph
- Barthes is particularly interested in the ‘punctum’ of a photograph
- He likes listening to cameras
- He doesn’t like to be photographed
I’ll get back to Barthes in a minute.
Amelia Jones briefly delved into the issue of truth in photography with Hippolyte Bayard’s Self-portrait as a Drowned Man. I find it funny that one of the first instances in the history of photography was the first instance of questioning truth in a photograph. I am not sure if Bayard wanted that effect (I think he was rather after a critique on Daguerre’s quick rise to fame and the support from the French government of Daguerre over Bayard) but whether he wanted it or not, it is there. Ever since then, truth in photography has been questioned. However, what I find fascinating in current culture is that, even though many people claim to know that images can easily be manipulated, how easily photos are believed.
This can also be said for social media within news organizations. Recently, news organizations such as NBC have had their Twitter feeds hacked into and false news ‘tweeted’. Although it is not photography, I think it is still pertinent to the conversation because it speaks to a culture’s willingness to believe what they think are credible sources, and the general population wants to believe photographs.
What I was happiest with this week was my introduction to the work of Christian Boltanski through Marjorie Perloff’s piece. I really find his work interesting especially in relation to the reading for this week. This is where the Barthes reading and Jones reading come together for me. Boltanski’s work deals specifically with the authenticity of the photographic object. The idea of photography as record.
Boltanski also has the same notions about death in photographs that Barthes does. Perloff summarizes this by saying, “When we look at a photograph of ourselves or of others, we are really looking at the return of the dead.” (Perloff, 2) This is because, as Barthes points out, “What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.” (Barthes, 4) Boltanski takes this literally with his work Les Suisses Morts, in which he hangs obituary photos of 3000 Swiss citizens. About the work (and death in general) he says,
We are all so complicated and then we die. We are a subject one day, with our vanities, our loves, our worries, and then one day, abruptly, we become nothing but an object, an absolutely disgusting pile of shit. We pass very quickly from one stage to the next, it’s very bizarre. (Perloff, 10)
What Barthes said about the medium of photography is what Boltanski is saying about life. One day we are an subject, and the next we have changed to object. In the eyes of Barthes, this is the same as having your photo taken. At one moment you are a living breathing subject, then as your photo is taken, you are transformed into an object, forever captured.
I will continue to look into Boltanski as I find both his work and his personality in general extremely interesting.