Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. [Part II]

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York, Hill and Wang, 2010.


In the second part of Camera Lucida, Barthes’s reflection centers on his mother’s absence/presence [in photographs] as a means to get to the noeme [essence] of photography. Through personal reflection and subjective observation, he sifts through studium to locate punctum. Furthermore, he casts photographic evidence as a matter of being (deeper than the flatness of the photograph itself), with capabilities of capturing value of identity in expression, usually sans pose.

Keywords: photography, punctum, studium, Death, air, noeme, satori, Look, affect, culture, interest, ecstasy, Desire


  • I could read my nonexistence in the close my mother had worn before I can remember her (64).
  • I never recognized her except in fragments (65).
  • the figure of a sovereign innocence (69)
  • an image that would be both justice and accuracy–justesse (70)
  • the Winter Garden Photograph was indeed essential, it achieved for me, utopically, the impossible science of the unique being (71).
  • It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the “ordinary”; it cannot in any way constitute the visible object of a science; it cannot establish any objectivity, in the positive sense of the term; at most it would interest your studium: period, clothes, photogeny; but in it, for you, no wound (73).
  • It was as if I were seeking the nature of a verb which had no infinitive, only tense and mode (76).
  • Photography’s Referent is not the same as the referent of other systems of representation. I call “photographic referent” not the optionally real thing to which an image or a sign refers but the necessarily real thing which has been placed before the lens, without which there would be no photograph … in Photography I can never deny that the thing has been there (76).
  • The name of Photography’s noeme will therefore be: “That-has-been,” or again: the Intractable. In Latin …, this would doubtless be said: interfuit: what I see has been here, in this place which extends between infinity and the subject (operator or spectator); it has been here, and yet immediately separated; it has been absolutely, irrefutably present, and yet already deferred. It is all this which the verb intersum means (77).
  • (a noeme can not be repressed) (77)
  • what founds the nature of Photography is the pose (78).
  • 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 … but by shifting this reality to the past (“this-has-been”), the photograph suggests that it is already dead (79).
  • The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed (81).
  • Photography offers an immediate presence to the world–a co-presence; but this presence is not only of a political order (“to participate by the image in contemporary events”), it is also of a metaphysical order (84).
  • The Photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only and for certain what has been (85).
  • The noeme of language is perhaps this impotence, or, to put it positively: language is, by nature, fictional; the attempt to render language unfictional requires an enormous apparatus of measurements: we convoke logic, or, lacking that, sworn oath; but the Photograph is indifferent to all intermediaries: it does not invent; it is authentication itself; the (rare) artifices it permits are not probative; they are, on the contrary, trick pictures: the photograph is laborious only when it fakes (87).
  • Photography never lies: or, rather, it can lie as to the meaning of the thing, being by nature tendentious, never as to its existence (87).
  • Photography’s noeme has nothing to do with its analogy (a feature it shares with all kinds of representations) (88).
  • I thought I could distinguish a field of cultural interest (the studium) from that unexpected flash which sometimes crosses the field and which I called the punctum. I now know that there exists another punctum (another “stigmatum”) than “detail.” This new punctum which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (“that-has-been“), its pure representation (96).
  • By giving me the absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence (96).
  • Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly (98).
  • Resemblance is a conformity, but to what? to an identity (100).
  • Photography is flat, platitudinous (106)
  • It is a mistake to associate Photography … with the notion of a dark passage (camera obscura). It is camera lucida that we should say … for, from the eye’s viewpoint, “the essence of the image is to be altogether outside, without intimacy, and yet more inaccessible and mysterious than the thought of the innermost being; without signification, yet summoning up the depth of any possible meaning; unrevealed yet manifest, having that absence-as-presence which constitutes the lure and the fascination of the Sirens (Blanchot) (106).
  • Since Photography (this is its noeme) authenticates the existence of a certain being … the Photograph’s platitude becomes more painful, for it can correspond to my fond desire only more painful, for it can correspond to my fond desire only by something inexpressible: evident … yet improbable … This something is what I call the air (the expression, the look) (107).
  • The air of a face is unanalyzable (once I can decompose, I prove or I reject, in short I doubt, I deviate from the Photograph, which is by nature totally evidence: evidence is what does not want to be decomposed). The air is not a schematic, intellectual datum … Nor … a simple analogy … the air is that exorbitant thing which induces from body to soul–animula, little individual soul, good in one person, bad in another (109).
  • The air .. is a kind of intractable supplement of identity, what is given as an act of grace, stripped of any “importance”: the air expresses the subject insofar as that subject assigns itself no importance (109).
  • if these thousand photographs have each missed my air …my effigy will perpetuate … my identity, not my value (110).
  • One might say that the Photograph separates attention from perception, and yields up only the former, even if it is impossible without the latter; this is that aberrant thing, noesis without noeme, an action of thought without thought, an aim without a target (111).
  • Such would be the Photograph’s “fate”; by leading me to believe (it is true, one time out of how many?) that I have found what Calvino calls the “true total photograph,”it accomplishes the unheard=of identification of reality (“that-has-been”) with truth (“there-she-is!”); it becomes at once evidential and exclamative; it bears the effigy to that crazy point where affect (love, compassion, grief, enthusiasm, desire) is a guarantee of Being (113).
  • Photography can in fact be an art: when there is no longer any madness in it, when its noeme is forgotten and when consequently its essence no longer acts on me (117).
  • Mad or tame? Photography can be one or the other: tame if its realism remains relative, tempered by aesthetic or empirical habits … mad if this realism is absolute and … original, obliging to the loving and terrified consciousness to return to the very letter of Time … The choice is mine: to subject its spectacle to the civilized code of perfect illusions, or to confront in it the wakening of intractable reality (119).


  • Blanchot
  • Calvino
  • Sontag


  • Want to explore more about how vision triggers memory of other senses (64)
  • Curious about the potentialities of ‘has been’ also being ‘not yet’? Does the photograph mark this moment of intra-action?
  • How do we read what Barthes calls the “intention” of reading (78) against the encounter of studium in what he assumes to be the intention of photographer (27)? His assumptions about studium seem to cross into reader intention, no?
  • Although folks seem to get hung up on this want to be true to punctum as only found in the photography-viewing experience, Barthes introduction of “new punctum” suggests possibility for growth, added layers of meaning, less of a purist approach to the term (96). In assuming that Dyer is correct in his collection of “beginnings”/”perpetual setting forth” assessment of Camera Lucida (x), perhaps extending the punctum experience beyond photography (to text, to painting, to sculpture, etc.) makes sense.

One thought on “Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. [Part II]

  1. Pingback: Panagia, Davide. “The Photographs Tell It All” [Epilogue] | {kin}aesthetic composure

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