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Roland Barthes's ‘Camera Obscura’ : The Photographic Specificity

  • The Journal of Aesthetics and Science of Art
  • Abbr : JASA
  • 2010, 32(), pp.311-342
  • Publisher : 한국미학예술학회
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Other Arts and Kinesiology
  • Published : December 30, 2010

Park Sangwoo 1

1중앙대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper attempts to make a critical analyse of Roland Barthes's idea of photographic specificity, which is the central subject of his Camera Lucida. By doing so, I aim to make a contribution to the discussion on the ontology of photography and suggest a method by which to interpret photography more appropriately. Barthes's real concern in this book is not ‘punctum’ but the specificity of photography, which is the fundamental properties of the photography as distinguished from those of language or other images. It is, in a word, ‘what is photography?’, finally the ontology of the photography. The specificity of the photography by which Barthes means in the book is that of the photographic referent. From this photographic specificity Barthes infer ‘that-has-been’, which is, he thinks, the essence of photography. The conclusion is summarized as follows. First, Barthes sees only the referent in a photograph, and forgets the operator(photographer and camera) faced with the referent. However, in all photographs, remain the traces of the photographed and of the operator. Thus we have to stick to the dualistic approach considering the referent and the operator at the same time when interpreting a photograph, instead of having the monistic approach considering only the referent in the photograph. Second, Barthes's arguments that the specificity of photography is that of the referent, and that photography has the power of authenticating the existence of the referent are very appropriate. But his argument is limited in that what he meant by the contents of the photographic authentication is not concrete but abstract. A photograph does not authenticate the abstract, general space and time, but the very concrete, specific space and time such as universal time, exposure time, referent speed. Barthes gives a photograph the excessive power of authentication. Consequently he makes a mistake of taking the authenticating capacity of the text for that of the photography. Thirdly, Barthes connects photography with Camera Lucida meaning the idea of lightness, based on the certainty of the referent and of the ‘that-has-been’. But otherwise photography do not have the certainty of any kind, I will connect the photography with the idea of darkness. So photography is not Camera Lucida, but Camera Obscura or black box.

Citation status

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This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.