Section 42: He suggests that, sometimes, he perceives something if the truth in a photograph, what he calls "a likeness." But the likeness is imprecise, imaginary: "they conform to what I expect from them." (101-102) For Barthes, the actual truth (that is not imaginary) exists in photos which are not "a likeness" (such as the Winter Garden photograph).
Section 43: Photos also display, not the truth of the individual, but the truth of lineage. This is both reassuring (Barthes suggests that the thought of origin soothes us) and disappointing: "it bares the mysterious difference of beings issuing from one and the same family." (105)
Section 44: He concludes, "I cannot penetrate, cannot reach into the Photograph." (106) The photograph is unlike the tect ("our vision of it is certain"). The photograph arrests interpretation: "this-has-been." (106-107) I am surprised by this observation. e, in semiotics (visual or textual), do not believe that any sign arrests interpretation (photograph or not).
I don't wish to speak for all semioticians here, but this is certainly what I believe.
Section 45: Barthes' frustration is evident here: he still seeks (more properly, desires something more in the photograph. He wishes to discover the person in the photograph completely. It seems here that Barthes is grasping at straws, so to speak. He wants to find the truth in a photograph, and so he finds, as the locus of his desires, the air (or the expression). But then he immediately writes, "The air of a face is unanalyzable." (107) But it evokes for the observer, "little individual soul, good in one person, bad in another." (109) The air is what allows Barthes to identify his mother in the Winter Garden photograph.
All the photographs of my mother which I was looking through were a little like so many masks; at the last, suddenly the mask vanished: there remained a soul, ageless but not timeless, since this air was the person I used to see, consubstantial with her face, each day of her long life. (110)This is what makes a true photograph: the capturing of the air (one's soul, one's shadow). Barthes suggests it is due to either the photographer's talent or luck, but if it is not present, the photo simply identifies, but it is not a "true" image.
Section 46: He goes to great lengths in this section to come to his point, though he beautifully expresses it:
by leading me to believe ... that I have found what Calvino calls "the try 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 the guarantee of Being. (113)He cites his student, Julia Kristeva, at the end of this section (an honour, I'm sure).
Section 47: What a great start to a section: he concludes his findings (photography shows that "that has been") and confronts his critics. The madness of photography is that it is about the absence of the object and also that the object existed where we see it in the photograph. In this way, photography is a hallucination. (115)
For Barthes (and all of us?), there is a link between Photography, madness, and love, or, more properly, Pity. We love those photos that allow us to enter them, to embrace the subject, to "[go] mad for Pity's sake." (116-117)
Section 48: The last section. Society attempts to control the madness of the photograph (as outlined in the last section). First, it makes photography into art ("no art is made," says Barthes). (117) Photography can be art, but it must be powerless photography. Second, society generalizes and make photography banal. For Barthes, photography is everywhere (he calls this a tyranny).
And, in a way, he calls for the destruction of the medium: "let us abolish the images, let us save immediate Desire (desire without mediation)." (119) But in the end, he suggests the choice is in the hands of the observer, to banalize photography (to make the medium "tame"), or to make it mad, "to confront in it the wakening of intractable reality." (119)
This is a beautiful book, and it has made me want to track down photos of madness, that make me want to get inside of them, that frustrate me because of my inability to do so. I want to find photos of those I love, that show the truth of these people. But, in a way, I also want to find those photographs that hurt me because they simply identify but do not convey the "air" of the subject. Those kinds of photographs don't only point to the absence of the subject, but also the absence of the subject's soul, the truth of them. In that absence, I can grieve, I think. Barthes seems to wave these sorts of photographs, perhaps as art.
I think I can embrace them because of what they lack, and what that lack then evokes from me.
I also want to capitalize "Photography," and write with more semicolons. I won't blame Roland Barthes for that.