“In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art”.
Reading Camera Lucida is both a rewarding and frustrating experience. For me it is slow going as the process involves a lot of close reading, weighing and parsing each sentence for its meaning both intended by the author and my own interpretation. Like rich food I find its best in small amounts, giving me time to digest each morsel one by one before I attempt to read the next piece. While I sometimes find the language a little obscure I don’t want to put anybody off reading it as there are certainly some interesting ideas and reflections on photography here.
Chapter 5 or He who is photographed tells us the experience from the perceptive of the “target, the referent” and I have to say that I recognise some of the experiences and emotions. His use of the word target is telling I think. He doesn’t enjoy the experience perhaps? His opinion is not based however on his experiences as a maker of photographs as he goes on to say “One of these practices was barred to me and I was not to investigate it: I am not a photographer” So I can assume that the views expressed are those of someone who is or has been both a “spectator” and a “target. “Now, once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of “posing”, I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image”. I challenge anyone to deny that they recognise this feeling, who hasn’t pushed out their chest, pulled in the belly, straightened their hair before they were photographed? Of course this really only applies to adults because children are not that self-conscious. I also recognise that “myself, never coincides with image”, how many times have I looked at a photograph of me and thought that I do not look like that?
Speaking as a photographer I find this chapter brings me face to face with an aspect or a view of photography that I find a little uncomfortable.“Photography transformed subject into object, and even one might say into museum object”. Subject: a person or thing that is being discussed, described, or dealt with. Object: a material thing that can be seen and touched. By the process of photographing them, am I taking people or places and effectively turning them into things? I suppose that this is what literally what happens, for example when I look at my family photograph albums I am looking at my memories, ephemeral moments, taking material form onto photographic paper. Recently I have been working on a series of self portraits and from this process I can relate to what he says here. It feels very strange to be both the subject/target/referent and the operator at the same time. The photograph produced by this process, at least at first, often leaves me feeling strangely cold and remote from it. Any photographer who doubts what he says should try being their own subject.
As the subject being photographed he does not have a very high opinion of the Operator, speaking of the “ the Photographers organ is not his eye but his finger” and it seems to me that he demeans all photographers by reducing our status from that of the organ grinder to that of the monkey. No offense taken….