Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Decision

If I finish reading all of Eco's fiction, then I can buy myself a copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

But I need to finish the A Series of Unfortunate Events books first, not to mention Zafon's 3 books too. Did I mention I'm also re-reading Morrison's The Invisibles?

I also need to write a preface for a proposed work on Bowie, and now I have the big idea to expand and publish something about Feist.

And I want to buy one of those Starbucks Verismo machines, and I don't even really drink coffee (does a venti 6-pump vanilla latte breve count?).

And I want to buy Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers on DVD. And those books on Disney animation.

But first, if I finish reading all of Eco's fiction, then I can buy myself a copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sections 9-16 in Barthes' Camera Lucida

There are less questions asked below, but certainly an engagement with the text is required. In any case, I will dive in with section 9. Get a nice cup of tea, a fountain pen, and read along (or consult, more properly, after reading, and compare notes).

Section 9: The adventure of the Nicaraguan photo is from the "co-presence of two discontinuous elements, heterogeneous in that they did not belong to the same world ...: the soldiers and the nuns." (23) But the characteristic doesn't seem to translate to other photos by the same photographer (Koen Wessing).

I should mention here, completely off-topic: I'm listening to Bats for Lashes' album Twin Suns while typing this. That's all.

Section 10: Two elements whose co-present establish adventure:
1) the field of general interest for the observer--"studium"--"a kind of general, enthusiastic commitments, ... but without special acuity." (26)
2) "this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me."--"punctum" (26) He calls this a "sting, speck, cut, little hole. ... that accident which pricks me." (27)

These are central ideas from Camera Lucida; we will hear much more about these things throughout the book.

Section 11: He makes a judgment about many photos here, how they please (or displease) him without "pricking" him. (27) "The studium is of the order of liking, not of loving." (27) It is about understanding the intentions of the author, he claims. This is a particularly strange claim for Barthes to make, considering his views on authorial intention elsewhere.

Why does Barthes call the Photograph "dangerous"? (28)

Here he also lists the functions of photography: "to inform, to represent, to surprise, to cause to signify, to provoke desire." (28) He goes on to discuss these five functions in this order in the next five sections of the text.

Section 12: Here, Barthes shows how a photograph can inform, "to accede to an infra-knowledge." (30)

Section 13: Right at the start of this section, Barthes enters into the controversy as to who created photography and, of course, sides with the French. He also makes a definite link between photography and its parent, painting (because of framing and perspective). But then, he makes the link with theatre, because of Death ("however 'lifelike' we strive to make it ..."). (31)

Photography is a kind of primitive theatre, ... a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead. (32)

Section 14: Here, Barthes admits his failings in terms of being the "operator" of cameras. And it seems that he is being a little bit sarcastic (or mean) toward the photographer, suggesting the he or she is only after surprise (he calls this "the essential gesture of the Operator"). (32)

1) The first surprise, for Barthes, in the "rare referent."
2) The second is the ability to apprehend the gesture, to stop time.
3) The third is what he calls "prowess," the ability to see, for instance, the explosion of a drop of milk.
4) The fourth surprise is the "contortion of technique," playing with the technology of photography. (33)
5) And, finally, the fifth type is the "lucky find" of a whimsical, but natural, scene.

Barthes does not speak highly of these "surprising" photographs (at least, that is the sense I have).

Section 15: This is a difficult section on meaning in photographs, and portraiture in particular (remember that this section explores the function, "to cause to signify," above). What he does suggest is that "the semiology of Photography is ... limited to the admirable performances of several portraitists." (38) I what he calls "good photographs," the "object speaks" (at least). (38)

Section 16: Have you ever wanted to live in a photograph? Which one, and why?

For Barthes, this is a requirement: "landscape ... must be habitable, not [only] visitable." (38) He speaks here of a powerful notion of "home" (a notion that, for Barthes, evokes the Mother--this foreshadows his thought further in the book regarding his actual mother, and the obvious safety he felt with her, "a utopian time"). (40)

All, feel free to comment, post, enter into dialogue (especially P.W.).

Monday, September 17, 2012

The first part of a long term exploration of Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida

This post is the first in a weekly series of "dialogue" surrounding Roland Barthes' exploration of photography as a cultural process in his book Camera Lucida (the edition from Hill and Wang from 2010, with a Foreword by Geoff Dyer). I am guiding a student through a directed study of this book (and Barthes' comments regarding photography in general), and so these entries are supposed to represent both kinds of guides, as well as sort of discussion points. Hopefully, these are both helpful and thought provoking. This is an experiment, and all are invited to participate. Comments are welcome.

Right at the outset of the book, the author includes a Polaroid photograph by Daniel Boudinet from 1979. What do you think it was about the image of pillows and drawn curtains that would have enticed Barthes?

Dyer's introduction is full of wonderful points: Barthes' style is "compression and flow." (x) Perhaps Dyer's following statement is ripe for comment: "photography represents the advent of the self as other" (he attributes the sentiment to Barthes here). (xiv)

Consider Dyer's comments about digital photography:
- photograph as a record "of what has been";
- "photography as a technology in the process of becoming past, part of what has been." (xvii)

Section 1: Barthes cannot separate photography from cinema, but decides to figure out what it is apart from the other image-based media (or medium, I suppose, of film). He goes so far as to suggest that it (photography) doesn't exist.

Section 2: The various categorizations of photography, characterizations which could easily be applied to painting. He suggests that the photograph only means what it points to: "it points a finger." it is only a diectic language (that is, meaning is dependent on the context in which it is used). A photograph is always the photograph [of something]. (5) What is Barthes saying about photography as visual semiotics on p. 5? Why do you think Barthes capitalizes Pholography?

Section 3: He decides to look at only a few photographs (ones that he suggests "existed" for him, in order to "formulate the fundamental feature, the universal." (9)

Section 4: Important There are 3 impulses in photography:
1) to do (the Operator - this isn't Barthes)
2) to undergo (the observed subject)
3) to look (the subject observing)
For Barthes, photography is "the return of the dead." (9) He covers photography-according-to-the-photographer (#1 above) as simply a chemical and physical activity, but one outside of his experience. He leaves it alone. (10)

Section 5: Posing for the camera is a problem for Barthes. Photography, unlike painting or drawing, is anything but subtle - at least the artist can imbue the image with some character, whereas photography cannot. (11) "'Myself' never coincides with my [photographic] image." (12) What does Barthes say about painting in history here? What does Barthes mean by the following beautiful phrase: "cameras ... were clocks for seeing."? (15)

Section 6: Barthes constitutes #3 above - the spectator - and admits (simply) that he does not appreciate all photographs. (18)

Section 7: So, then, why the attraction to certain photographs? He talks about "advenience" or "adventure" of a photograph: "This picture advenes, that one doesn't." (19) The photograph that interests Barthes "animates" him. (20)

Section 8: He refers back to earlier sections here, suggesting that he could speak of photography in terms of "material essences" (science) and "regional essences" (perhaps sociology), but instead considers "sentimental" reasons.
I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) bust as a wound: I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think. (21)

Hopefully the questions above will elicit some sort of discussion. There are (probably) no "right" answers, and I certainly don't know them all, but this is certainly a "rich text." It is a personal text, made quite evident by his observation of photography, or his desires for the photographic referent, as a "wound." His personal story comes out as he continues; Camera Lucida is a deeply personal book.