Susannah Hays

 Roland Barthes Camera Lucida          Roland Barthes

Marpa was very upset when his son was killed, and one of his disciples said: “You used to tell us that everything is illusion. Is it not so with the death of your son? Is not that an illusion?” And Marpa replied: “True, but the death of my son is a super-illusion.”

—Chogyam Trungpa
Practice of the Tibetan Way

Photography: Degree Zero

Within the last year of Roland Barthes’ career he wrote the provocative essay Camera Lucida where he reflects on photography from two perspectives: First, he examines the nature and essence of photography by playing experientially with a photograph’s capacity to evoke memories. Second, his essay serves as an epitaph for his mother. This eulogy is inseparable from his effort to describe the essence of photography. What movement occurs when the observer observes himself self-reflexively looking? What does Barthes mean when he says--when he looks at a photograph, he wants to be a primitive without culture? What does a photograph make one feel?

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Barthes’ work, a collection of essays by contemporary critical theorists and historians of photography (including contributions by Geoffrey Batchen, Victor Burgin, Eduardo Cadava, Doug Nickel, Jay Prosser and others) have been gathered in order to engage Barthes’ endlessly moving, ontological study of photography. By re-reading this now canonical text and looking closely at the numerous critical essays, which surround its publication, conversation will emerge debating the nature and status of photography today. Students will be asked to prepare a critical review on one of the author’s texts OR create their own camera lucida, by curating a little history of photography providing a selection of 20 images with a corresponding text.

    © 2006 Susannah Hays