Word (for thought)

I have always found this photograph compellingly sorrowful. It strikes me as such a doleful, yet wonderfully accurate, mirror of the young bride who once dwelled there—ever left alone in its stifling emptiness as her new and unfamiliar husband fruitlessly searched for gold in the encompassing mountains of Colorado. I am pierced by this story of the forgotten child-bride. I am infected by her overwhelming solitude, a seclusion that later impelled her into madness (an insanity that her boyish husband could not shake from her). I bleed from the ache that she endured.

Except.

This is a lie.

There was no young girl. She is but a fabrication, a story I created when I was 15 and bestowed upon this house, this photograph. She is simultaneously the “misfortune” and “voluptuous pleasure” of language (Barthes 85). From this language, my fictitious words, we can derive no “certainty,” no true legitimacy of being. Had I not confided in you, as readers and viewers, that my words were merely an imaginative tail conjured in the mind of a romantic youth, there would be no way of knowing if what I wrote was ever a truth.

I find the discrepancy between writing and photography one of the most fascinating realities that Barthes indulged us with in Camera Lucida. That, unlike words, Photography simply cannot lie is, to me at least, the wounding beauty (and purity) of Photography. (Quite) personally, I see this as the strongest of Barthes definitions of the photographic essence. While we, as photographers, can tweak the image (blur it, edit it, create stories for it, title it), we cannot deny the “that-has-been” (77). It is this indisputable core of photography—that no matter what meaning we link to it through language, it maintains a pure authentication “indifferent to all intermediaries” (87)—that so haunts me.

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