Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes seems at first glance to be a book about
photography. It is often classified by critics and reviewers alongside other books
about photography, its subtitle is “Reflections on Photography,” and the book is
filled with reproduced photographs accompanied by discussion about them.
Despite all of this, labeling Camera Lucida purely as a book of photography
theory is misleading. It is true that Barthes begins his venture with the
declaration of purpose, “I wanted to learn at all costs what Photography was ‘in
itself,’ by what essential feature it was to be distinguished from the community of
images” (3). But after embarking on this initially straightforward inquiry, Barthes
finds his efforts stymied. The source of his dilemma, he says, is that all methods
traditionally available for the scrutiny of the arts—sociology, phenomenology,
technical criticism, historical criticism—seem, somehow, to miss the point. They
lead him only to “ultimate dissatisfaction” (8).
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