My Grandmother in Paris, circa 1948
I should preface this post by admitting that this is my absolute favorite picture of all time. I wanted to save it for a reading I thought would be relatable, and after reading the second half of Camera Lucida, I figured it was appropriate. I have to confess that I thought about keeping this photograph to myself, because I find it so meaningful and so striking, that I feel the “punctum” Barthes described when I look in my grandmother’s eyes. Something about this photograph in its entirety moves me, and I hesitate to share it with others who it may not move in a similar way.
When describing the Winter Garden Photograph, Barthes says, “I cannot reproduce the WInter Garden Photograph. It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the ‘ordinary,'” (p. 73). While I will let myself “reproduce” this photograph, I can identify with the meaning he discovers behind this photograph, and the emotions he feels even when thinking about it. This photograph was taken shortly after my grandparents married, and it exists as one piece of paper in an album of hundreds of photographs of their travels throughout Europe. However, more than any photograph, this picture sticks with me as I see my grandmother then (young, beautiful, innocent, optimistic), and how I know her now (divorced and remarried, wiser, older). The contrast between then and now is what makes this photograph meaningful for me, as the one physical trait that remains the same, her eyes, is the trait that draws me most into the photograph.
Barthes also suggests that photographs “commonly have the fate of paper (perishable), but even if it is attached to more lasting supports, it is still mortal: like a living organism, it is born on the level of the sprouting silver grains, it flourishes a moment, then ages… Attacked by light, by humidity, it fades, weakens, vanishes; there is nothing left to do but throw it away,” (p. 93). I found this passage particularly interesting in relation to what I am trying to achieve with my major: discovering the significance behind the innovations that come with the age of New Media. Technology, and particularly the ability we have to share pictures, contradicts Barthe’s assertion: this picture will be preserved forever. While I was hesitant to post this picture initially, I am immortalizing it by digitalizing it and subsequently posting it on the internet. It is no longer simply a piece of paper, gathering dust, withering, and fading in an album. It is a piece of history, it is “the past and the real,” (p. 82).