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Camera Lucida | Study Guide

Roland Barthes

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Roland Barthes

Year Published





Memoir, Philosophy

At a Glance

In Camera Lucida Roland Barthes explains the unique testimonial power of photography. He breaks down photographs into two elements: the studium and the punctum. The studium is a general interest in a photograph. The punctum is the mysterious emotional puncture of a photograph often caused by an incidental detail in the photograph. According to Barthes photographs capture moments in time and can therefore retain evidence of a person's soul. As he searches through old photographs of his recently deceased mother, Barthes finds her essence captured in a photograph of her as a child. The photograph thus defeats time, occupying the past (when she was a child) the present (of looking at the photograph) and the future (his mother's life that has not taken place yet in the photograph). Brathes processed his grief over his mother's death by writing Camera Lucida. For that reason, the book is celebrated as much for its keen observations on photography as its moving portrait of grief and philosophical investigation of death.

About the Title

A camera lucida, Latin for "light chamber," is a primitive image-making device that predates the modern camera. It reflects light through a prism, reproducing below the prism a traceable image of what is in front of the prism. They were often used to trace landscapes or objects being examined through the camera lucida.


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