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Rolan Barthes: Camera Lucida: Chapter 4

January 17, 2012

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 og 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.

One of these practices was barred to me and I was not to investigate it: I am not a photographer, not even an amateur photographer: too impatient for that: I must see right away what I have produced (Polaroid? Fun, but disappointing, except when a great photographer is involved). I might suppose that the Operator’s emotion (and consequently the essence of Photography-according-to-the-Photographer) had some relation to the ‘little hole’ (stenope) through which he looks, limits, frames, and perspectivizes when he wants to ‘take’ (to surprise). Technically, Photography is at the intersection of two quite distinct procedures; one of a chemical order: the action of light on certain substances; the other of a physical order: the formation of the image through an optical device. It seemed to me that the Spectator’s Photograph descended essentially, so to speak, from the chemical’s revelation of the object (from which I received, by deferred action, the rays), and that the Operator’s Photograph, on the contrary, was linked to the vision framed by the keyhole of the camera obscura. But of that emotion (or of that essence) I could not speak, never having experienced it; I could not join the troupe of those (majority) who dealt with Photography-according-to-the-Photographer. I possessed only two experiences: that of the observed subject and that of the subject observing…

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