Camera Lucida, by Roland Barthes, (2000) London, Vintage Classics, ISBN: 9-780099-225416.
Barthes examines, photography, what photography is, and how it works as a medium for art, commercial, social and private use. This is an important book to read, unfortunately it can be a little hard to read, perhaps because of the translation and Barthes academic language; but worth persevering with.
A photograph is never anything but an antiphon (chant) of, “Look see,” “Here it is.” It points a finger at the relationship it hold, it can not escape its denoted meaning. (page 5).
A photograph never distinguishes itself from its referent (what it represents).
A photo is a ‘signifier’
Barthes identifies two elements to a picture that is needed to make it interesting and he named them ‘Studium’ and ‘Punctum’. Words he has taken from the Latin language. ‘Studium’ is the general pleasing or good composition of the picture and Punctum is an element that punctuates through the image, an element that ‘pricks’ / creates an emotional response of some kind. (Page 25 – 28.)
The one thing that I got but didn’t fully realise until now is his idea of studium and punctum, a fellow student helped me with this when he posted a link to a good video explaining this theory. https://phlearn.com/punctum-better-image
Francesca Woodman’s images I find both a little erotic and disturbing. Woodman clearly a lot of pent up sexual-tension with an artistic voice wanting to be heard. If I was to say that there was an element of narcissism in Woodman’s photos I think I would be wrong. I think that she was probably insecure about herself and her looks, yes she was very self-indulgent which may sadly have lead her to her death. I believe there are indications of her moods of depression in her images. We all sometime feel that we could just disappear and I think that Woodman acts out some of these wished imaginings in her photos. I personally, think that Woodman’s images don’t need accompanying text for the images to be appreciated. However, they communicate best as set.
Woodman clearly had mental-health issues and I wonder that perhaps the wider issue here is the stigma attached to this form of health-issue and the lack of understanding and help available for sufferers. Many artist suffer from depression as many artists by there nature are bipolar in some degree and perhaps educational institutions such as schools and colleges / universities should also watch for this and offer counselling and support. Woodman committed suicide in 1981 and over 30 years later we are still loosing talent through our lack of understanding of how to help.
Brotherus has used her naked body to put ‘a spotlight’ on herself. I think that her nakedness not only reflects her sense of vulnerability but also her lock of power and sense of naked honesty. She uses nakedness to grab the attention of the audience / viewer in order to pass on her intended message.
For me Brotherus images instil mixed feelings of sympathy and admiration for both her struggle and sadness and her honesty and dignified strength.
Some may interpret Brotherus’s work as a little self-indulgent; but I would disagree. Brotherus has used herself as a subject to bring to peoples attention issues that are often hidden. These issues she has experienced for herself and therefore can tell the story from the inside. By using herself as the model and subject she enforces the truth and her own honesty.
I don’t believe that this style of images can be imitated purely for image sake by ‘outsiders’. These images come from the heart and therefore if mimicked would lack the context that these images were created to represent. These images have been made to represent the artist own feelings and emotions and whilst the images can be replicated the emotional message the originals carry can not without some honest intent from the new artist. In this way only another artist going through similar experiences can produce similar work and would then have his or her own style and signature. Anything else would be a false facsimile.
As mentioned above, I believe that the motivation of these artist are to raise awareness of issues, that are often hidden from public-sight. Naturally these issues have to be close and personal to the artist in order for the artist to be able to be an insider and produce honest and truthful images.
This image by Duane Michals cleverly uses hand written text to suggest a personal relationship between the author of the caption and man in the image. The black and white print eliminates any distracting colours to concentrate the emotional feeling of love. However, is the picture a genuine snap shot of the artist and his ex? or is it a composed image? Who took the photograph? Why was he of she in the bedroom with them?
I would suggest that this is a posed photograph and the hand written text intentionally alters the context to suggest a personal memory a reflection on a past relationship; but fiction all the same. Below is another image which we can see is posed and the hand written message adds humour to the context.
Two very different essays , the first was made with the photographer W. Eugene Smith’s chronicling the life of a Country Doctor in the State of Colorado in the late 1940 over a period of three weeks for Life magazine. The images and accompanying text paints a portrait of a general practitioner dedicated to his work and his community with some dramatic images and some apparent good candid portraits. Smith claims that he began by taking pictures without film in order to relax his subjects and as they got used to his company he then started taking picture for real. However, he is also had no qualms about staging photographs in order to provide life magazine with the images required. Smith was also an outsider and although he spent several weeks with Dr. Ceriani the documentary element lacks a personal – emotional involvement type feeling to the pictures.
Bryony Campbell’s work on the other-hand seems to be electrically charged with raw emotional involvement. Campbell’s images clearly have not been staged and this honesty to her work produces such strong emotional feelings that they are almost palpable. Whilst Smith’s work make an interesting documentary, Campbell’s work touches her audience on a much more personal level. The sensitive subject matter she has chosen to document touches us all as it is a subject that we all have to face but all either don’t want to talk about or know how to talk about, Campbell’s essay gives people that opportunity. As it is about her and her family it is clearly a documentary from the inside and so instead of appearing to be intrusive or insensitive the work appears to be candid and honest.
Campbell describes her work of The Dad Project as an end without an end, this could refer to her spiritual belief but I suspect that it has more to do with that this project has become a part of her life and a part of her. She writes in her website blog that at the end of an interview at the BBC for the World Service the interviewer asked her, “Is it hard to talk about the experience and then just get on with a normal day? Do you feel that the project is stopping you from moving on?” Campbell reflects that the project has become part of her normal day and that it has helped her in her grieving process and as such does not feel the need to ‘move on’. One does not get over the loss of a loved one, one simply learns how to live with that loss and therefore in a sense we all experience at some-point an end without an end.