Barthes Two – What Evidence?

In my previous Barthes post, I discussed Barthes use of the photograph as evidence and how the use of disguise by the referent of the photograph dilutes how effective this evidence can be. However, as the posts of hhmorgan and alexlouisealonso show, the referent does not need to be actively disguised to reduce its evidential value. In fact, these three photographs can be used to examine Barthes claim that a photograph can “lie as to the meaning…never as to its existence.” (Barthes 87), which appears to be an attempt to justify the role of the photograph as evidence. Even though there are contrasts between these photographs, their referents and the knowledge of the referent possessed by the author of their respective blog posts, all three have unclear meaning. These photographs may provide evidence, but it is unclear what it this evidence proves beyond a very vague knowledge of the referent’s existence.

In the post entitled “Four Generations”, reference is made to the author’s perception of that photograph’s punctum “a prick, an almost eerily haunting aspect that holds me. The man in the middle, holding the baby, holds your gaze with his deep brown eyes that transcend the lack of pigment in the image.” (hhmorgan). However, for me, I would not have noticed the shared eye colour, especially with the lack of colour in the image. If there is one detail that remains with me when I look away, it is the moustache of the man on the right, a detail not even mentioned in this blog post. Whilst Barthes acknowledges that the punctum is unique to each person, dependent on their “sensitive points” (Barthes 27) and therefore it is not surprising that my view of this photograph and hhmorgan’s view are different, this does raise the question of what can be proved with this photograph, or any photograph which two different people will view from completely different perspectives.

This becomes clearer later in hhmorgan’s blog post, as she describes the situation in which the photograph was taken. First she writes “I acknowledge that this photograph holds special meaning to me, and perhaps only I can truly appreciate it. I know its meaning” (hhmorgan). Would she be able to notice “the awkwardness of my great grandfathers hands as he holds the baby” (hhmorgan) if she did not know this photograph was taken shortly before that man abandoned his family? This photograph may be the only evidence of a time that did not last and the existence of these four men, but hhmorgan herself acknowledges that it is her personal knowledge that gives the photograph its power, for me it is a picture of four unknown men in an unknown time and place. The unnatural positioning of the four men does not provide me with any evidence of their lives or the context of this photograph other than what hhmorgan writes in her blog post, which relies on her personal knowledge.

A similar sentiment can be found in the blog post entitled “Mystery to Me” by alexlouisealonso, although this time in reverse. She lacks personal knowledge regarding the context of her photograph “The historical context surrounding the first few years my father spent born and raised in Havana has continued to be a mystery to me.” (alexlouisealonso) and therefore she does not know what this piece of evidence can tell her. “I immediately related what I interpreted as my father’s baptism in Havana to the vague knowledge I have regarding Cuba during the time of this photograph.” (alexlouisealonso) but the vagueness of her pre-existing knowledge prevents her from knowing exactly what she could learn from this photograph, although her first instinct is to try and use the photograph as evidence. This is clearest with her discussion of the man  “I assume to be my grandfather” (alexlouisealonso). This is a direct contrast to Barthes, who sees a photograph of himself that he cannot remember being taken, but still knows was him, or his immediate recognition of his mother and uncle in the Winter Garden photograph despite her youth and unfamiliar clothes. alexlouisealonso must assume, she does not know, there is no definite evidence from this photograph, just the creation of more questions.

Therefore, whilst a photograph can provide evidence, it is evidence of only one moment in time: that there was a man dressed as the Mask but we do not know why, that there were four men of different ages posed together but we do not know their relationships, that there was a baptism but we cannot even identify all the people present. Without knowledge of the context surrounding that moment or at least a caption to label the moment’s intent, it is impossible to know what is the “essence” of the photograph as Barthes seemed to describe or what this “evidence” can be said to prove other than a basic existence.

Works Cited:

  • Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. Trans. Richard Howard. 1980. Great Britain: Vintage, 2000. Print.

Poses

My mother and her three sisters, likely sometime in the 80's.

In chapter thirty-three of Camera Lucida, Barthes argues that “what founds the nature of Photography is the pose…that instant, however brief, in which a real thing happened to be motionless in front of the eye” (Barthes 78). Whether the pose captured by the camera lasts for “the interval of a millionth of a second” like Edgerton’s famous photograph of the drop of milk (78), or the subjects of the photograph purposely sit still and pose for the camera like my mother and her three sisters in the above photograph, it is only the precise moment the camera captures that matters. It is this moment that hangs “motionless in front of the eye” (78), and the past event represented by the photo will always be remembered in that one stationary moment.

 

The interesting thing about Barthes’s assertion here is that the concept of the pose can be very different for different photographs, and yet still be termed the same. One way that the pose can manifest is in a way consistent with the connotations associated with the word: a person or people who are aware that they are being photographed, pose for the photograph. Barthes defines this sense of the pose in the beginning of Camera Lucida when he describes the careful way he presents himself to the camera. Barthes aims for “[his] image, buffeted among a thousand shifting photographs, altering with situation and age, should always coincide with [his] profound self” (12).Barthes – and anyone else placed in front of a camera – tries to make himself appear in photographs in a way that  says certain things about him, in a way that captures either the true self or a purposeful identity.

 

One can clearly see in my photograph the poses chosen by my mother and my aunts Paula (on the left) and Cathy (front and center). My mother (in the pink sweater on the right) sits forlornly self-conscious, with a halfhearted smile barely lifting one corner of her mouth. She loves to tell the story of this photograph: her sister Cathy offered to fix her hair for the purpose of this photo, and because Cathy was the oldest and did these sorts of things, she gave my mother a huge, poofy hairdo. My mother’s pose makes it clear that she feels hideous and embarrassed; she tries to make herself unobtrusive in the photograph. Cathy, the ‘hairdresser’, sits in the middle with a big cheesy smile on her face, pleased with her handiwork and wanting to show the world her fun spirit and beauty. Paula, always the rebel when she was younger and still hostile towards cameras to this day, also makes her feelings clear in her pose: squared shoulders, head tilted to the side, and eyes staring defiantly directly at the camera make it clear that wants to portray that she is too cool to be sitting for this photograph

 

The second sense of the pose which is necessarily included in Barthes’s discussion is a more spontaneous moment of captured movement. It is just a fragment of what was actually happening, but it is the fragment that happened to be captured, and this piece of time is the one that is frozen in the photograph. The difference between this sense of the pose and the previous one is that this pose is not planned; it simply happens. Barthes compares photography to cinematography here to make this idea more clear. In cinema, “something has passed in front of the [camera]”, because the continual series of images flit past our eyes one after the other, creating an illusion of motion and thus no single frozen moment. In photography, however, “something has posed in front of the [camera] and has remained there forever” (78). Something happens – “in front of the same tiny hole” (78) as in cinematography – but something entirely different is captured. Only one of the series of images that would have been captured in cinematography exists in photography. Only that one moment is frozen, but there was motion surrounding it when it was first taken. Despite this motion though, the spontaneous pose is just as frozen in time as the planned pose discussed above.

 

This concept of the pose is easier to see in other photographs, but it is definitely evident in the photograph of my aunts as well. With her perfect posture in the back row, Susie, the youngest sister, is clearly trying to ‘pose’ in the same way as her sisters. However, at the same time she is visibly trying to hold back laughter as she glances sideways at my mother and her crazy hair. Maybe the moment before the one captured in the photograph, she was looking at the camera and purposefully posing. Maybe the moment after the camera flashed, she couldn’t hold her laughter in anymore, and in true Aunt Susie-style, started cracking jokes and teasing my mother. If this were a video I would know for certain, but because this is merely a single pose captured in a photograph, Susie will forever be holding back laughter in this single moment that will last forever.

 

The circumstances of the two different senses of posing are very different, but nonetheless Barthes is right in that it is the single, frozen moment in time that he calls the pose which is the very nature of a photograph.

Complicating the Punctum

“I am looking at the eyes that looked” at the man, the legend, my grandfather, Carl Gray (Barthes, 3).  I call him the “legend” because only the fondest memories now describe this man I will never know.  The language of these stories deceive me.  I want to know his story not the history of Carl Gray.  He vitalizes the referent of a childish memory of a man whose existence words cannot fully describe.  He epitomizes the “that has been.”  Somehow his existence within one moment (captured and stolen by the camera) verifies his life and his legacy, a family indebted to his memory and devoted to its timelessness.

Carl Gray never existed for me.  Looking at this photograph, I see “a subject who feels he is becoming an object”(Barthes, 14).  I believe in him through the image I have of the man my mother would love, the man she hoped my father would become, and the man my grandmother would never let go of.

My memory of Carl Gray, the grandfather I never met, rests in this one photograph of him standing on a porch.  I assume this porch belongs to my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother’s mother, Mama Dear, who died around the same time as my birth.  Yet, Carl Gray never returned to my grandmother, Maggie Lee’s hometown in Mobile, Alabama.  This memory of mine represents pure fantasy.  Why would Maggie Lee’s husband return to the home she abandoned to establish a life in New York?  I recall this fictional moment disregarding its improbable nature. How could I remember a man I never met?  I believe in Carl Gray through this image. I could never show nor explain this image to you or for anyone else.  No one can see this photograph as it exists only in my memory.

I reject Barthe’s portrayal of the punctum.  For, this photograph depicts the essence of a punctum in itself.  It is the memory “that has been” not a moment.  The image of my grandfather on a porch pricks me not because I recall his fierce eyes or his bold, stiff posture.  It pricks me because it does not exist, which is quite the opposite for Barthes.  In reference to a photograph of a man waiting to be hanged, Barthes comments, “By giving me the absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death in the future” (Barthes, 96).  (I know my grandfather must die 30 years after this photo, but the image of him on the porch shows me life in the future).  I know he must die, but I know this image will last forever in my memory in my own personal fiction.  Yet, for Barthes, he continues, “What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.  In front of the photograph as my mother as a child, I tell myself: she is going to die: I shudder, […], over a catastrophe which has already occurred.” (Barthes, 96).

For me, this photograph of the man waiting to be hanged appropriates the photograph of my grandfather getting his portrait taken, but this equivalent does not prick me.  This equivalent reminds me that my image of him on a porch does not exist.  I need not shudder “over a catastrophe which has already occurred” because the photograph confirms the existence of this false image of my memory.  Barthes argues, “every photograph is this catastrophe” (Barthes, 96).  What catastrophe?  The punctum for me epitomizes this image, which represents a whole photograph depicting a reoccurring miracle not a “catastrophe.”

It does not seem Barthes addresses all of the complications associated with the punctum.  How would Barthes respond to the punctum representing a whole image rather than “a detail”?  The spectrum of my image of Carl Gray on the porch is the photograph of his identity in what moment being stolen and captured by the lens of a camera as the camera commits the silent murder.  That spectrum provides an image others can see and try to comprehend of my memory of him in this photograph that does not exist.

“A photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see” (Barthes, 6).  I agree with Barthes that the spectrum describes how you see this photograph.  Yet, I cannot comprehend what you may see when you look at this photograph; for, the punctum, my memory of him in one photograph of pure fantasy disables me from seeing this photograph for in my eyes it is “always invisible.”  I see the legend of my deceased grandfather and my memory of him in one image on my Great Grandmother’s porch in Mobile, Alabama.  I close my eyes and see this punctum, an artificial memory of a manipulated image. It is not the photograph that I see.

Defy and Reconcile

I apologize for the quality of the photograph--it is a photo of a photo and, thus, lost some of its essence in the process

“The Photograph does not call up the past…The effect it produces upon me is not to restore what has been abolished (by time, by distance) but to attest that what I see has indeed existed” (Barthes 82).

Of all of the tangles and complexities of Barthes analysis in Camera Lucida, it is this sole statement that so lingers with me.  Thus, in the entirety of Camera Lucida, it is this single, striking moment that holds the greatest dynamism in that it simultaneously illuminates the boldest falsity and the greatest truth of photography. In that a photograph is born only through the literal light “emanation of the referent” (80), we cannot deny that photography is the most genuine evidence of the “that-has-been” (77). This is an indisputable core of photography—that no matter what we link to a photograph, it maintains a pure authentication and simply cannot lie (87). Yet, just prior to Barthes veracious statement, is one that I feel obliged to refute: that a “photograph does not call up the past.”

My mother took the above photograph nearly two decades ago in a small town in Pennsylvania. Many years later, I found the print in her office, after shuffling through the mountains of cookbooks, sleeping cats, old art projects that she refuses to throw away, brushing my hands up against the curled edges of her work in the process. I picked up print after print until I found this one, which I was immediately attracted to, either for its beauty or for its sense of displacement amongst images of family vacations, baby photos, and class portraits.

I took the photograph with me to college and hung it up in my room, hoping that its charm would mask the dullness of the dorm’s haggard walls. In town for parents weekend, my mother froze when she recognized the image. Ripping it off the wall for closer inspection, she laughed, and, looking at me in her characteristically shameless manner, she remarked, “Bailey, this the day you were made.” This unsettling information, naturally, propelled me to force the photo from her hands and stuff it into a filing box, where it has remained ever since. As incredibly embarrassing and uncomfortable as this scene is for me to reveal, it is essential to disproving Barthes claim that photography “does not call up the past” (82).

Bashful of the content that now lingers in the image, I no longer display it publicly (until now). And yet, I cannot get rid of it. With the knowledge that it is in this one moment that I first existed, I simply cannot dispose of it. I latch onto the photograph because due to my mother’s memory, it seems to make me more real—through the photograph I am fully ratified.

In Chapter 37, Barthes claims that photography actually “blocks memory” (91). Yet, when my mother caught sight of this picture hanging on my wall, a memory came to her via the image—the photograph literally called up the past. The photograph did not refuse the remembrance, the context. Defying Barthes, we mustn’t separate memory from photography, for there is a wonderful link that exists between the two. In the case of this photograph, even though it is not my own memory (it is more like outside context), it is only through the coupling of this confided and adopted memory—that this particular photograph captured the first true day of my life—and the truth of the photograph itself—the light emitting from it—that validates my existence. Here, I go against Barthes in my belief that it is not merely the “luminous rays” and chemical make up of a photograph that “[certifies] a presence” (87), but it is also the memory (or outside context) linked to the photograph the ultimately affirms the “what has been” (85). In doing so, I add a subjective element to the that-has-been. Through our memories and our knowledge of the context surrounding particular photographs, we personalize the that-has-been to our own taste, creating an imperative intimacy. It is not merely chemicals that develop a photograph—our minds do as well. It is through these outside additions that the that-has-been becomes important.

Yet, despite this inherent bond between photographs and memory, we must be wary when it comes to the truth behind imagery. As I explored in my last post, the “misfortune” and the “voluptuous pleasure” of language is that it can never be as certain as photography—it has the potential to be fictitious (Barthes 85). In a sense, memory is like language in that it can be contorted and skewed with time and marred with falsity. We cannot always believe our own memories, as they tend to blur with the passing of time, nor can we always believe the memories of others—we never know if the confider is telling the truth. And it is here that we must make a decision: we must choose to believe the content contained in memory, whether it is our own or not, or we must chose to deny it. I chose to believe my mother’s memory because it seemed to make me more of a reality, however, I will never truly know if there is any certainty in her words because it was not captured in a photograph (thank goodness…).

Memory lives through photography. When we forget, a photograph sparks remembrance. When we deny, a photograph provides proof (Recall Barthes in Chapter 36). We cannot choose between believing or rejecting a photograph as we can with memories and words. While memory and photography survive together—constantly merging together to validate existence—it is only through a photograph that we can ultimately ratify and essence.

I want to be just like you

In Camera Lucida, Barthes boldly claims that photographs are violent to our memories: “The Photograph is violent: not because it shows violent things, but because on each occasion it fills the sight by force, and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed” (Barthes, 91). He suggests that when we focus on one frozen moment in time, the image we see represses our memory of details that existed outside the borders of the image, which were at one moment in time framed and can now never be transformed. As if seeing such undeniable evidence from a moment we can no longer experience causes us to replace any recollections we may have of the experience with details only as irrefutable as those captured in the image. However, I have to disagree with Barthes.

While I do agree that images can forcefully fill our vision and perhaps impact or even implant memories of events from our past into our minds, I do not believe that viewing images mars our ability to recall memories beyond what has been photographically captured for us. While details within an image certainly cannot be transformed, I do not find the temporality of an image nearly as limiting as he suggests. Instead, I find that viewing old photographs evokes an overwhelmingly great sense of nostalgia to overcome me and, on some occasions, causes me to reminisce about each detail contained within the photograph in question to the point of remembering more than I ever would have recalled on my own accord prior to viewing the image. For me, the act of rediscovering and examining a photograph is a catalyst for a flood of memories surrounding the edges of a photo’s frame. Many times in my life I have come across old photographs and thought to myself that I had all but forgotten about the moment captured in time before viewing the image in its frozen form. In my experience, seeing images provokes memory upon memory to form inside my brain just like any random event during the course of a regular day can suddenly elicit hundreds of details from a dream you had the previous night, yet had not remembered when you had awoken that day.

This is exactly the experience that I had upon discovering the above picture of my oldest sister and I under a pile of papers on my old desk. Similar to an experience Barthes recalls in Camera Lucida, I do not actually recall the moment in which this photograph was taken, yet Barthes acknowledges the perplexity of this moment by recalling a similar situation: “One day I received from a photographer a picture of myself which I could not remember being taken, for all my efforts; I inspected the tie, the sweater, to discover in what circumstances I had worn them; to no avail. And yet, because it was a photograph I could not deny that I had been there” (Barthes, 85). Yet, because I too do not recall the precise moment in which this photograph was taken, I disagree all the more strongly with Barthes’ argument that a photograph “actually blocks memory, [and] quickly becomes a counter-memory” (Barthes, 91). Surely, if I neither remembered the photograph being taken nor any of the details surrounding the moment in which the photograph had been taken, I would not have experienced such a rush of memories related to the details in the photo. Yet recovering this photo prompted just that.

When I was little (age nine in this photo), I wanted to be just like my older sister. I wanted to talk like her, walk like her, and even, as this photo indicates, dress like her. While my sister, seven years my senior, certainly may not have felt the same way about her kid sister mimicking her in habits of all kinds, she humored me and I loved her all the more for it. While I may not remember standing with her on this balcony in Destin, Florida, looking at this picture prompted me to remember, just like it was yesterday, the day I bought that yellow tank top purely because I thought it looked just like my sister’s. While many older siblings would have scoffed at their younger sister for trying to buy exactly the same clothes, my sister simply smiled and told me it did in fact match hers and even suggested we wear them together sometime. Upon hearing these words, the nine-year-old version of myself stood beaming back at her like she had promised me the world and in that moment, nothing else but her affirmation and love for me mattered. Nothing from this memory is to be found within the frame of this photograph, but without the image of the two of us posing in our matching attire to prompt me, I don’t think I would have remembered the moment in which I bought that yellow tank top. While Barthes, may disagree, to me, the memory of buying that yellow shirt is far more meaningful to me than any memory associated with the exact moment this photo was taken. Particularly, since I do not even remember this precise moment in time. Yet without this photograph, I likely would have never remembered that story, and accordingly, the overwhelming feelings of love I felt towards my sister in that moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barthes Assignment – Evidence in Disguise

  One of Barthes’ arguments about photography is that it can provide conclusive evidence of something or someone’s existence. Indeed, he calls the “noeme” or essence of photography the that-has-been because the one thing he knows when looking at any photograph is that whatever is pictured has existed in the real world at some point. However, the role photography can play as evidence is debatable, particularly when the photograph or its referent is disguised or designed to confuse, as we have discovered whilst reading Ronit Matalon or with the photograph given here of a man dressed as the fictional character The Mask. Whilst the background details (what Barthes calls the studium) may provide evidence of place and time and those other family members in the photograph could not deny their presence, the identity of the man dressed as The Mask is hidden by his disguise.

In this photograph, it seems reasonable to suppose that the attention of most spectators would immediately be drawn to the man at the centre, dressed as The Mask. The studium of this photograph, the general details, are a background in dark colours with people wearing dark clothes (although maybe both the tinsel and the light above the bar may be noticeable on closer inspection and suggest the photograph was taken near Christmas). However, the most vivid colour in this photograph is the green on the man’s face, closely followed by the orangey colour of his jacket. This is particularly emphasised by the way the man stands at the photograph’s centre with his hands spread out to make him seem almost as if he is the only person there. Even if, on closer inspection, the other people or details of the location are noticed, it seems likely that the man dressed as The Mask will be the part of the photograph most likely to be remembered, because he stands out so much.

Despite this, this photograph does not operate for me at least like Barthes’ Winter Garden Photograph, providing the essence of the man in the picture. This is because the man is disguised. Whilst he is the most noticeable thing in the picture, this picture is not conclusive proof of his presence. Barthes claims that “In photography, the presence of the thing (at a certain past moment) is never metaphoric;” (Barthes 78) and there is “certainty that such a thing had existed” (Barthes 80). However, The Mask does not exist except as a comic book character, so this photograph does not provide certainty that of the Mask’s existence, but at the same time it does not mean “someone sees the referent[in this case, the man dressed as the Mask]…in person.” (Barthes 79) because the man dressed as the Mask was not photographed with his natural appearance. Whilst this is a family photograph, taken at a family event and with all the people portrayed relations of each other, unless someone were present when this photograph was taken, it cannot be used to prove the certain identity of existence of the man behind the green face paint. He is disguised enough that his true identity is not immediately clear, to the extent that even those at the original event did not immediately recognise him. The fact he is a  member of their family is unclear.

Similarly, the man in the photograph could most likely deny he is the person dressed as The Mask and it would not be possible to conclusively prove otherwise. On page eighty-five of Camera Lucida, Barthes discusses photographs that he does not remember being taken, but where he must admit he was present because he can see himself in the photograph. The real Alan Ward does not look like The Mask, so if he was shown this photograph but denied his presence, we could not prove otherwise.

Barthes does attempt to explain the ways in which photography can lie, that it can “lie as to the meaning…never as to its existence.” (Barthes 87). It may be unclear who the man at the centre of this photograph is, but someone was definitely there for the photograph to be taken. However, it is still unclear what exactly does exist here. The Mask? A man dressed as The Mask? Why was he dressed like that? Photography may not me meant to capture more than a moment or an essence, but what essence is portrayed here, especially without a caption to explain who this man is, his history and the history of his family?

Indeed, this photograph in some ways seems more like Barthes description of cinema, “cinema begins to differ from the photograph” because it shows both “the actor’s ‘this-has-been’ and the role’s,” (Barthes 79). This photograph has both an actor and a role, just like a film, but because it is one, frozen moment the temptation is to call it truth. The division between the character and the actor cannot be fully seen, which prevents this photograph from having one truth or one essence.

Therefore, this photograph can be used to criticise Barthes idea that a photograph can provide conclusive evidence of something’s existence in a way cinema cannot. This is because the man in this photograph is deliberately disguising himself and whilst it is difficult to see anything but him in this picture where he is the centrepiece, it is also difficult to know who he is or to understand what evidence is being presented to us within this photograph. We do not know who the man there is and he exists almost as two people: The Mask and a man dressed as The Mask, which prevents us from drawing any conclusions about his identity or this photograph’s purpose.


Works Cited:

  • Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. Trans. Richard Howard. 1980. Great Britain: Vintage, 2000. Print.

Subjective Interpretations

 

 

Barthes asserts that, like a Haiku, a photograph is “undevelopable: everything is given, without provoking the desire for or even the possibility of a rhetorical expansion.” (p. 49) This is true in the literal sense – with only a photograph as reference, there is no way of knowing the details of what lies outside of the photograph. But this interpretation diminishes the importance of subjective experience. Especially with a family photograph, objectivity when looking at photography is virtually impossible.

Barthes’ experience with the Hine’s picture, “Idiot Children in an Institution,” is itself contradictory. Barthes claims, “I am a primitive, a child, a maniac; I dismiss all knowledge, all culture…” (p. 51) However, his very description of the photograph reveals much cultural subjectivity. The fact that he knows the small boy has a “huge Danton collar” and that the girl has a finger bandage comes from his own experiences in life – these are not instinctual observations. Barthes understands that the white thing on the girl’s finger is a bandage that signifies the girl’s finger has been hurt because he is familiar with western society. His assumptions about what the photograph represents will not be “pure” no matter how hard he tries to clear his mind of previous knowledge.

In his own experience with a family photograph, Barthes goes against his supposed desire or ability to see a photograph objectively. He relishes in the subjectivity in which he sees it. He goes so far as to conceal from the reader the photograph of his mother because his subjective reading of the photograph cannot be translated. The problem is that Barthes does not acknowledge that all photographs are seen subjectively and not just those where the viewer has a personal relationship with the subject in the photo.

Barthes worries that his interpretation of the photograph of his mother is not interpreted “truthfully” because it was taken before his birth. Historical photographs tempt us to see the photo as a form of time travel. However, one can never truly see the lens in the same way that the operator (photographer) did when it was taken. “The life of someone whose existence has somewhat preceded our own encloses in its particularity the very tension of History, its division.” (p. 65) This division Barthes refers to is the change brought about by time. Time has affected the context of the photograph. The context in which it was taken years ago cannot possibly be recreated. When seeing a photograph, one will unintentionally filter it through a personal lens that has been produced through a variety of factors, including the place and time of the viewing. Thus, like Barthes viewing his mother “caught in a History,” I realize that I do not see my family photograph, which, according to my grandmother, was taken just outside of Warsaw in the late 1920s or early 1930s, in the way that the photographer saw it.

Much like Barthes, I cannot experience my family photograph, or any photograph, objectively. With every photograph comes a subjective experience – everyone has a context in which they see the world. In some cases, the context is broad – I may see a photograph from the point of view of an American or a female – things many people identify with. But looking at a family photograph is different because they are incredibly specific in the context with which I look at them. I look at this photograph as the granddaughter of the little girl on right, as the great-granddaughter of the man in uniform, and the great-niece of the girl on the left. Only one other person (my sister) can experience this photograph from that point of view, and even then, we are different people with different relationships to those in the photo. It is the personal relationship I have with the people in the photograph that makes it special, and literally no one else can see it exactly as I do.