Roland Barthes “Camera Lucida”

Where to start my simple review….

Well this was the first book that I have read in connection with my degree and to be fair my first impressions where mind-boggling. I spent several hours wading through treacle, maple syrup and ten foot of the thickest fog I had ever seen in my life. My dictionary page was getting used every five minutes and started to think that this was not for me.

I put the book down and then did some research on Barthes and came back to the book with a fresh pair if eyes. The research made me feel that I should give this author the chance to prove his worth as he is so well respected.

HOW my view had changed post research.

I will summarise the main points for me below. This does not attempt to pick the bones out of each Chapter but will give you a flavour of my learning points.

  • Chapter 11 talks about “Studium” and Chapter 9 discusses “Punctum”. The are two words that have been adopted by Barthes and have now found their way into the very should of my image making.
  • Studium ; – The initial part of a photograph that grabs your attention.
  • Punctum ; – The part (unexpected) that will retain your interest and keep you looking at the image.
  • Therefore does every image need both parts? Not necessarily, as some images are made to be glanced at, but for an image to have any considerable viewing time, there must always be some form of Studium or you will glance at it and not recognise what the maker of this image is wanting to portray. For me both parts are needed for the image to generate orange of emotions and thoughts.
  • The Punctum is the clever part for me, even more so, when this is planned. In saying that a Punctum within an image can be accidental and these are some times more interesting.


Above is an accidental Punctum from an earlier exercise.

  • Punctum is the thinking part of the image. This should start you asking a number of questions such as what, where, when, who, how and why.  Try this for yourselves with any imagery. The best ones for me, will have a definite ps in there. PS (Punctum +Studium)and  with a ps being that bit extra at the bottom of the letter/email that gives you more information and makes you return to it.
  • The second half of the book takes on a more morbid and obsessive turn, but is unbelievably  fascinating. He becomes preoccupied with an image of his mother ,(when she was a young child) following her death. The book considers his feelings for this image and the impact on his life. He discusses, very cleverly how all young photographers become agents of death, which is in interesting concept in itself.  In a way I feel his infatuation with the image of his mother is somewhat unhealthy, as this manifests itself in so many ways. In fact he debates how photography can be either mad or tame, and this thought needs further consideration, as images can be both, but can they be anything in else at the same time. Yes in my opinion…….

I am looking forward to rereading this book soon, to gain further insight as I believe there is more learning in there.

This has given me a thought process that did not exist prior to reading this book. Some will dismiss it as arty rubbish (my initial thoughts) but I am so over joyed I read this book.

This is a book all photography students should read and then read again, and refer to in times of photographic reflection.



One thought on “Roland Barthes “Camera Lucida”

  1. Chas Bedford February 8, 2017 / 19:19

    Given that most of us read Barthes in the English translation, I have to wonder how much of the dictionary-busting language is due to the author and how much to the translator.


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