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'The Photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only and for certain what has been.' Discuss

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'The Photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only and for certain what has been.' There are numerous avenues of photographic practice which attempt to portray and exhibit the subject of death and transition. From the Memento Mori (from the Latin 'remember you will die' or 'remember your mortality') which exists as a concept across several artistic disciplines (as well as photography), to the post-mortem photographic movement, in which the articulation of death and mortality is put across in a photographic art form, both of which are established and often overt (Martin, 1993). Particularly in popular culture the concepts of mortality and transition are purveyed frequently and the scopic regime of fashion photography has been largely dominated by dramatic and sensational imagery of death and transitory evolution for many years. As Barthes asserts: "The fashion photograph is not just any photograph, it bears little relationship to the news photograph or the snapshot, for example; it has its own units and rules; within photographic communication, it forms a specific language" (Barthes, 1967) For one to accurately interpret the quote 'the photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only and for certain what has been' within the framework of Roland Barthes' significant work on photography and the nature of the photograph, La Chambre claire (or Camera Lucida): Notes on photography (1980), this context should initially be appropriately addressed and outlined. ...read more.


When Barthes wrote Camera Lucida: Notes on photography, it is starkly apparent that his words and attitude are incredibly influenced (and it could equally be argued that because of this these words made more glib, or perhaps even aphoristic) by the grief brought upon by the death of his mother: "...the photograph's immobility is somehow the result of a perverse confusion between two concepts: the Real and the Live: by attesting that the object has been real, the photograph surreptitiously induces belief that it is alive, because of that delusion which makes us attribute to Reality an absolute superior, somehow eternal value; but by shifting this reality to the past ('this-has-been'), the photograph suggests that it is already dead." (Barthes, 1981) Whilst there is a significant argument for a relationship between photography and death throughout Camera Lucida: Notes on photography, it could be considered that there is also a much stronger case to be made for the relationship between the camera and love; not only as being the impetus behind such a text but as a more valid correlation between itself and the photograph than death. As Barthes states: "It is as if the Photograph always carries its referent with itself, both affected by the same amorous or funereal immobility, at the very heart of the moving world: they are glued together, limb by limb, like the condemned man and the corpse in certain tortures; or even like those pairs of fish (sharks, I think, according to Michelet) ...read more.


Barthes' own subjective involvement with the still images of his own considered selection forms the basis of creation upon which he builds the foundations of the notions contained within Camera Lucida: Notes on photography. In much the same approach one could view the picture in Figure one (Roland Barthes with students from his 1974 Seminar at the �cole des Hautes �tudes) with a similar emotional response as Barthes' reaction when viewing pictures of his deceased mother, should the viewer have such an emotional attachment to Barthes in the first place. The response would also be tangible should the viewer merely have the prior knowledge of who Barthes is and that he is now himself deceased. Most of the major figures in psychoanalysis including Freud, Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan agree that what fuels creative drive is a response to something missing. For Lacan in particular this was driven by a visual recognition of our complete mirror image when, as small children, we had very limited control over our physical body (Lacan, 1991). This ties in heavily with Kristeva's work on abjection but more crucially it is this profound sense of loss which permeates throughout Barthes' work in Camera Lucida: Notes on photography, and also removes the objectivity from the book which one would normally and usually expect from such an important text, particularly one which purports to be academic in delivery and value, but especially one which has become such an important point of reference for an entire artistic discipline. ...read more.

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