Memory and Temporality in Photographs

Barthes talks about photographs in terms of the moment that was captured and how that single frozen moment can block memory. However, as sneibart and johannahi discuss in their posts, photographs can represent so much more in terms of temporality and memories. Photographs – especially family photographs – are much more complicated than Barthes describes in Camera Lucida.

In my post “Poses,” I discussed how Barthes defines a photograph through the pose: “that instant, however brief, in which a real thing happened to be motionless in front of the eye” (Barthes 78). Whatever the context of a photograph, there was always a real moment, what Barthes calls the “that-has-been” (Barthes 77), that really happened and is now captured as an image. According to Barthes, it is because of this captured fragment that photography “actually blocks memory, quickly becomes a counter-memory” (Barthes 91). Rather than remembering an event as it was, Barthes remembers an event through the lens of the photograph and the precise moment that it shows. The only sense of time that Barthes gives to a photograph other than the moment it portrays is a sense of a ticking “clock [or] watch” (Barthes 15), counting down to the death of the people in the photograph: “Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe” (Barthes 96).

Sneibart’s post “More Photographs” shows that the temporality of a photograph can be more complicated than this. Sneibart tells of a picture that she and her cousins take at the beach every summer. They take the same picture every year, with all of the girls lined up in a row wearing watching outfits, arms interlinked behind each other’s backs. For sneibart, this photograph is much more than simply a single moment frozen in time, or a reminder of the death waiting in the future for these girls. For her, this photograph is a living and growing thing that documents the changes of the past and promises more beach-time fun in the future. She uses a great analogy here to illustrate the difference between what Barthes says about the temporality of a photograph and what she sees instead: “Photography is not subtraction but addition; it is not a countdown but a stopwatch” (“More Photographs”). Because of the progression sneibart gets to see as the photograph is retaken every year, this annual photograph shows a much more positive and dynamic view of the temporality of a photograph than Barthes gives.

Johannahi’s post “An Imaginary Line Into the Past” shows yet another way that photographs can play with the perception of time and memory. Johannahi shows us a photograph of four generations of women in her family gathered together for the sake of her brother’s baptism. Whereas sneibart’s photograph spoke to her as a point on a timeline that was heading into the future, johannahi looks at this picture of her family and sees “an almost tangible…line that connects us” to the past” (“An Imaginary Line”). Johannahi follows the line further into the past than even her great-grandmother (the oldest woman in the photograph) and tries to “leave the frame of the photograph” to make a connection with ever more distant relatives. The line fades as johannahi goes farther into the past, but the line is still there, “invisible to our eyes [but] in our memory.” This is a very interesting view on the temporality of the photograph, as it transcends the moment that it was taken to include people who existed before the image was ever taken.

Clearly, Barthes’s generalization of the photograph as a single moment in time evoking counter-memories is an oversimplification that is not always true. Depending on the photograph and the person looking at the photograph, photography can give promises of a future, or even foray deep into the past. Photographs are more than just the moment that is captured in the image, because of the memories and subjectivity that come with different viewers.

The Generalization of Singularity

In Camera Lucida, Barthes acknowledges that there are two layers in perceiving and describing a photograph, and these different aspects are uttered with “the voice of banality (to say what everyone sees and knows) and the voice of singularity (to replenish such banality with all the élan of an emotion which belonged only to myself)” (76). He distinguishes between what he calls the “That-has-been” and what he says one adds when looking at a photograph. For Barthes, the “That-has-been” in a photograph is the thing that is the object of a photograph, that exists (or has existed) in reality and was placed before the camera; it is what everyone can see when looking at a photograph. This “factual objectivity” is complemented by a more personal and intimate perception of what the photograph means to us. We view photographs with a certain subjectivity. This subjectivity adds something to our perception of the photograph that is not apparent in the photograph itself because it is an interpretation of what we see, or an association with what we see. This applies in particular to photographs of one’s own family, when the viewer has certain knowledge or memories that go beyond what is actually depicted and make him or her see more than is actually there.

Many of the essays dealing with Camera Lucida that have been submitted for this course expand Barthes’ notion that the viewer reads something subjective into an image, something that goes beyond the actual content of a photograph. The authors of these essays do conduct “singular” interpretations, but these interpretations are not necessarily subjective in that they represent their own thoughts and feelings towards the image but those of others, or in that they establish connections with other photographs or with historical contexts.

Fbbillups’ post “Defy and Reconcile,” for example, shows how a photograph of a landscape represents the day on which the author was conceived – this is not the author’s own, personal reading but her mother’s; nevertheless it completely changes the way fbbillup looks at the photograph. The author refutes Barthes’ statement that a “photograph does not call up the past” (82). For her mother, a look at the photograph calls up that day when her daughter “was made.” But this very subjective, personal content “that now lingers in the image” is not only what the mother sees, but it also becomes something that her daughter cannot forget anymore; even though this is not the author’s own personal memory, it becomes part of what the author sees in the photograph – something that is neither in the photograph (of a landscape) nor in her own memory.

Sneibart’s “More Photographs” discusses how remembrance of the dead is evident in photography. The author compares epitaphs with photographs, claiming that both point to brief moments that are considered particularly noteworthy or representative of a person’s life. She says that Barthes would see “every picture that is taken [as] one more moment the person has already lived and will not live again.” This the author refutes by showing how the photographs she chose to accompany her post are “not subtraction but addition”: Two pictures that are representative of her family’s tradition of taking pictures of the girls of the wider family in the same pose, at the same place every year. Thus these photographs create a collection of stills that, when compared to each other, show how the girls have grown and changed over time, and how younger cousins are added. But this connection is only evident when viewing the pictures in their context with the photographs that come before and after. Each photograph on its own does not tell its full story or purpose; a context is necessary. However, this context, when added, is not necessarily subjective. Anyone who sees these pictures lined up next to each other will be able to see the connection, even if he or she is not part of this tradition or this family, does not share the same memory. Thus, there is something that goes beyond the actual content of each single photograph, but this “beyond” is not really subjective or personal; everybody can access it.

My own post “An Imaginary Line Into the Past” discusses an idea that is both similar to and the opposite of sneibart’s argument. I use a photograph of my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, my younger brother and me to show how the past is certain while the future is insecure: We know for certain that our ancestors lived at one point in history, even if we do not know anything about them, while we cannot tell yet what will happen to the people in the picture after the photograph was taken. Thus, every family photograph hints at the existence of people beyond the actual frame, of a historical context which everybody in the photograph was part of, what Barthes calls “a certain persistence of the species” (105). Sneibart, too, shares the idea of how photographs can be put into a line within a historical context, but for her the annual photographs of her family “inspire [her] to believe that every year will bring another year, another photograph, and more change.” Thus, her imaginary line leads into the future rather than the past. In both cases, however, this contextualization is not exactly subjective, even though it adds an interpretation to a photograph that is not present in its actual content.

Each of these three posts confirms Barthes’ idea of a dichotomous viewing of photographs. There is both a “that-has-been” and a singular interpretation present in any reflection on photography. Barthes focuses on very subjective, personal interpretations, for example in what he calls the punctum, a specific feature in or association with a photograph that is accessible only for the specific viewer. The punctum can be explained to others, but it will never be perceived in the same way by anyone else, it remains a private emotion. The three posts, however, show ways in which something singular can be added to viewing photographs without this addition being inaccessible to others. This may be supplemental information which can change completely what one sees in a photograph, or it can be a contextualization, in which photographs make more sense in connection with other photographs or with a historical view on family lineage. Thus, all of these posts add to Barthes’ notion that there is something beyond the actual content of a photograph.

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.

That Has Been Made

As I read through the many thoughtful posts on Barthes, I became infatuated with the older photographs posted by my fellow students. I considered at length the implications of my relationship with them and with Barthes, and I came to a dual conclusion. I admire these images for two reasons, each equally important – the “that has been”, related to Barthes description of the Person and also what I will term the “that has been made”. As Vesna Pavolvic described to our class, she takes photographs as well as makes photographs. I found myself considering interminably the role of “operator” in the creation of images.

Photography is ultimately an art form, carefully crafted by its creator, often with an intended audience in mind. A viewer or “spectator” engages with the photograph on a variety of levels, dependent on the context in which the photograph appears and his or her own relationship to the subject depicted. Barthes describes the role of the spectator in relation to the Operator “to experience the intentions which establish and animate his practice, but to experience them “in reverse” in accordance with my role as Spectator” (Barthes 28). The allure of photography arises from each person engaging with the creation of the operator in his or her own way. I spent time with the photograph Babcia, featuring a tight knit looking family happily standing in the woods, posted by Randriaj. Her post  highlights a particular inclination towards interpreting historical photographs differently, she emphasizes every viewing experience is subjective as it is colored by personal context. Randriaj states “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 operator also informs the subject of the image. Historically, the act of taking a photograph was a more formal or precious affair due to the higher cost and physical labor involved. Barthes states “Photography, moreover, began historically as an art of the Person: of identity, of civil status, of what we might call, in all senses of the term, the body’s formality.” (Barthes 79). The fact of these particular photographs existence says something about their meaning, and the meaning they hold in the families who treasure them. The photographs also highlight important moments in the lives of their subjects – such as their honeymoon or the baptism of their child.

I was particularly captivated by the photograph posted by Alexlouisealsonso, as well as the two images shared by hhmorgan. El bautismo de Juan Carlos is an almost perfect exposure. A zoom into this image shows that it is on a very heavy weight paper. Furthermore the bottom corner shows what I believe is a signature. The operator of this image considered him or herself an artist – and this image a worthy work. The print is very technically strong and well composed. However, its strength does not lie solely in technical prowess. The greatest success of the operator is clearly the wonderfully captured moment of the very expressive baby, engaging quite marvelously with the ceremony director. The image reflects Barthes notion of the Person, and the cognizance of the body, certainly in the stiff postures of the adults in the ceremony. I am intrigued by this image because the baby is outside of the restrictions of photographic awareness. In her post discussing the photograph Alexlouisealsonso states “Just as Barthes finds himself distracted by the accessories and dated objects within his personal picture of his mother, I find myself similarly distracted by considering the issues my family faced while living under these political conditions and analyzing their seriousness in this photo to the context of that time.” Alexlouisealsonso seems to be overwhelmed by the formality of the body and its implications, which is only transcended by the baby. She is interested in the photographs ability to show the “that has been” for her family. As an outsider, my relationship with the image is different. I am captivated by the “that has been made”, by the power of the image itself even to me, a stranger.

The engagement photography has with the body informs my readings of the two photographs shared by hhmorgan, visually rich images I would like to explore in terms of the Person and the Operator. Hhmorgan posted a stunning picture of her grandmother on her honeymoon, captured in a decisive moment of looking back at the operator. Grandmama has a magic that draws the eye into the photograph. It conveys details about her era, but also transcends time to reveal something about her person. The photograph entrances the eye, asking it to linger. Because I practiced analog photography in the past, careful inspection of the photograph drew my eye to the small pieces of dust on the image. When I zoomed in I realized there was quite a bit of debris on the negative. It allowed my mind to think about the operator in a different light than I did the operator of El bautismo de Juan Carlos. The image becomes more intimate for me, not a product of a talented professional but instead a brilliant amateur, who perhaps processed this image without much experience, or allowed dust to get into the film case before sending the film to be processed. Perhaps a more careful hand could have eradicated this dust before processing the image. If it was perfectly crisp, in some way it may have lost the beauty of its engagement with the amateur, with the untrained eye who managed to capture a moment so remarkable. This image is a perfect example of the “That has been made” because it transcends what Barthes describes as the banality of the “that has been”. Another image of Grandmama may have revealed more about the time and clothes of her person in context, but likely would have roused nothing in me. The intimacy of the subject and operator creates a world of depth.

Hhmorgan posted another photograph from her clearly rich family archives that engaged well with my musings on operator and Person, in an entirely different way. Her image Four Generations depicts four generations of her family together for one image. In her post hhmorgan emphasizes the social significance having such an image taken had for her family, as well as the images context in a newspaper. The photograph takes the context of El bautismo de Juan Carlos a step further. Four generations appears to have been not only taken by a professional photographer but also created in a photography studio, as alluded to by the false background of painted trees. The formality of the photograph indicates it is a photograph of Person in Barthes sense. The photograph indicates their social status, in terms of the clothes for the image, the formality of a photographic sitting, as well as the privilege of health — the luck of having four generations surviving simultaneously. The photograph again shows how an infant can transcend photographic awareness. The baby does not conform to the stiff formality of the occasion: he looks joyous and bubbly – his one leg kicking forward from his body. The image speaks to the family as a whole. I found hhmorgans response to it particularly interesting when she read the image she reads her family history but also into the Person that is conveyed through the stiffness of pose. She states “Similar to the girl’s strapped pumps, the deep brown eyes, the awkwardness of my great grandfathers hands as he holds the baby, and his lopsided bowtie relay a discomfort, an unnaturalness to the entire situation: nice clothes, posed smiles, and perhaps fatherhood.” The photograph conveys a great deal of information both about resemblance and the social mores of the era, even to a viewer with not personal context with which to interpret the image.

Historic images have a unique and noteworthy relationship with the family of the subject, who can supply information to read deeply into the context of the image. However, to an outsider a historic image directly depicts the social context and the body language of the subject, described by Barthes as the formality of the body or the Person. The historic image further reveals information to the spectator about the Operator, which gives the photographs shared by Randriaj, Alexlouisealsonso and hhmorgan new meaning as the “that has been made”.

A Punctum Transferred

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.”

The above paragraph is an excerpt from one of my previous blog posts. While this repetition seems curious, it is crucial to note my past commentary because, as I delve into a deeper relationship with Barthes, these old ideas require new clarification. In Chapter 36, Barthes highlights the discontinuity between language and photography. To Barthes, language and photography stand as individuals, with language being, “by nature, fictional” and photography representing “authentication in itself” (87). However, through further exploration of these two forms of communication (language as written communication and photography as visual communication) and in looking at posts from hhmorgan, manirek, and alexlouisealonso, I have come to discover that in order for a photograph to contain a punctum, it is necessary to consider the language that is linked to a particular photograph.

Context, that which “animates” a photograph, is inherently related to language (59). Words give us the title, description, setting, etc. of a photograph—all of which are considered context. In Chapter 15, Barthes includes an Avedon print entitled, William Casby, Born a Slave (35). Here is a wonderful example of words giving meaning to a photograph. Without the words included in the title, we would not be able to be sure of Casby’s former victimization. Granted, we would be confident in the reality of this man’s existence due to the photograph’s undeniable “certificat[ion] of presence,” and we could possibly assume that the man was once a slave due to his age and race, however, without the title and date, we could not be certain.

In Four Generation…, hhmorgan presents a remarkable news photograph showing four generations of her family. Here, not only does the title give way to meaning, but her commentary, her words, create the punctum of this photograph. In her essay, she identifies the figures, speaks of their history, and celebrates the “certain life that transcends time, age, and death through photography.” Lacking her words, we could only but assume these men’s relations, and thus, there would be no punctum. Or rather, without the language she attributes to the photograph, while she possibly would be able to feel the effects of the punctum (due to an innate ability to recognize her family members), outsiders, such as myself, would not be able to—the punctum would not be universal.

I think this is another area where I differ from Barthes. It seems that Barthes considers the punctum as something solely personal. While there is truth in the subjectivity of a punctum (in the fact that everyone experiences it differently), I think that language can allow outside viewers to understand, and possible even feel, the punctum of an individual. I call this transference the “universal punctum.” It is this discovery that forces me to alter the last sentence of the first paragraph of this essay—in order to create a “universal” (not individual) punctum, it is necessary to consider the language that is linked to a particular photograph.

In Producing Death Through Preserving Life, manirek presents another example of language (context) bestowing significance (the transcending punctum) to a photograph. At first glance, the photo manirek included appears to be a mere snapshot, possessing no “prick” beyond the ordinary (27). However, it is only after reading her essay and knowing through her words that Mike, the boy who has his back towards us, is now gone forever, that this seemingly simple photograph becomes a “laceration so intense” (94). Through her words, I am able to understand her pain in viewing this image—I comprehend the wound. In Camera Lucida, Barthes does seem to realize that outside context allows individuals to feel the effects of a punctum. However, as we see in Producing Death Through Preserving Life, it is through language that others, people who maybe are not associated with the photograph (like myself in regards to manirek’s photo), are able to feel the same effects of the punctum. What Barthes ultimately fails to attest to is the fact that individual punctums can be transferred and shared through the use of language.

In her essay, Mystery to me, alexlouisealonso discusses not only Barthes’ idea of the “punctum”, but also his idea of the “studium,” the “figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions” (26). Here, due to the importance of the historical, political, and cultural context of her family photograph, alexlouisealonso suggests that the “punctum and studium pair [is] a necessity for all those who view photography.” I could not agree with her more. Because the studium is so closely linked to context, it is thus related to language. Therefore, I feel obliged to further my claim (that we must pair language with photographs in order to create a more universal punctum) by adding that we also should not demean the studium of the photograph because it is crucial in creating the punctum.

As an English student, I cannot allow Barthes to belittle language. By condemning it as fictional by nature, Barthes reveals a great distrust in humanity. While it is true that we cannot be certain of language—there is always the possibility that it is a fabrication—at a certain point, we must give ourselves up to these words and trust them. While I still find beauty in the reality that, as the “[literal] emanation of the referent,” a photograph simply cannot lie, I find a new sense of beauty in the idea that individual, photographic punctums can be transferred and shared through language (80).

Memory is in the Eye of the Beholder

After analyzing Barthes’s presented relationship between photograph and memory in my previous post, I came to two conclusions. I agreed with Barthes’s claim that a photograph is not a memory because for me, memories are composed of not simply images (photographs), but also sounds and smells. However, I disagreed with his belief that a photograph acts as a “counter-memory” which blocks real memories. Barthes explains that a photograph “fills the sight by force” with static images that are “full” and “crammed” so that “nothing can be added to it” (Barthes, 89). It seems that once he looks at his “old photographs,” these photographs latch onto where Barthes’s real memories may have resided and shroud his precious memories with one image, refusing to leave or be “transformed” (91). Previously, I contradicted this idea of a photograph acting as a memory block because I saw my photographs as “doorways to the larger stream of memories in my mind” which “meld[ed] seamlessly into the memories they trigger[ed].” It was not until I considered both sloankatherine’s ‘The Real and the Reel‘ and hannahfiasco’s ‘My Winter Garden Photograph‘ that I realized how Barthes’s relationship between photographs and memories is further complicated by the relationship between the photograph and its beholder.

The beholder of the photograph is the person who looks at the photograph. This is the primary relationship between beholder and photograph. The secondary relationship is how the beholder relates to the photograph. The beholder could be the photographer of the photograph. The beholder could be present in the photograph (a subject), but have no memory of taking the photo or the photo being taken. The beholder could also be a complete stranger to the photograph (neither the photographer nor the subject). There are other secondary relationships between beholder and photograph, but in this post, I will be addressing the three previously mentioned.

In my previous post, I was both the beholder and photographer of the photograph. It was easy to declare that the image served as a doorway to my memories because I took the photograph. I was the one who framed the image and decided to immortalize the moment in film. As hannahfiasco points out in her post, “The memory may not always exist for the subject, but it must always have existed for the photographer or the operator, who deemed some facet of the moment appropriate for capturing.” It is not difficult for the photograph to trigger my memory because as I mentioned in my previous post, “it is as if that day was a movie, playing in my mind, and each [photograph] was a freeze frame.” As the photographer, I am sure this moment happened. I was there. The negative of the image, the print on my wall, the image on the screen — they are all proof that I was there. The photograph has in a way become a visual aid to my memory, it does not confuse, but reinforces.

In her post, ‘The Real and the Reel,’ sloankatherine shares the second relationship mentioned between beholder and photograph. She is present in the photograph, but she does not remember the photograph being taken. Sloankatherine brings up an interesting point when she states that she “remember[s] having memories of [her] brother’s birth” but soon realizes that the “memories [come] from photographs that [her] mother showed [her] as a child.” I can relate to this realization because as a young child, my parents and grandparents would tell me stories about myself. They often substantiated their stories with photographs, creating in my mind the “fabricated memories” that sloankatherine mentions. This brings into question of whether or not the photograph is acting as a “counter-memory” to the beholder. If the memory is not real, and in fact comes from the photograph itself, then the photograph cannot block the memory. In truth, the photograph seems to be generating a memory. Although, this memory generation in the beholder (who is a subject) is not quite the same as the memory trigger in the beholder (who is a photographer), there does not appear to be the block that Barthes highlights in his photograph-memory relationship.

To me, the most interesting case is the one in which the beholder is a complete stranger to the photograph. Being neither photographer nor subject, the beholder becomes completely detached from the photograph. As hannahfiasco points out in ‘My Winter Garden Photograph,’ “to an outsider the image above is nothing.” At first, I am somewhat inclined to agree with this statement because before I read her post, the photograph was simply an image of “two people sitting on a couch with dogs.” If I pushed myself to read a little more into it, I would say that they both look happy. But, that’s it. Obviously, I have no memory of it, because I was not present as either photographer or subject. Therefore, the photograph blocks nothing. Once again, I must disagree with Barthes’s argument. As I thought more about this type of secondary relationship though, I wondered what a photograph does, if there is a blank piece of estate in my mind. It creates a memory. Unlike like the fabricated memory of childhood though, in which someone else might create the memory for me, I am in control. If I were to ever see this image again, a memory would be triggered — one in which I am scrolling through the posts of this blog and stopping at hannahfiasco’s because the content caught my eye. This is obviously very different from the memory that the photograph triggers for her, but then again, we are not the same beholder.


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.