ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Roland Barthes and the Opposite of Photogenic: Photography’s Uncomfortable Intimacy

By January 2, 2018Current News

Screenshot of article on Roland Barthes posted at LensCultureCross-posted from LensCulture
[by J.H. Pearl]

Roland Barthes didn’t say “cheese” for the camera. The eminent theorist wrote brilliantly about the images of others but felt uneasy in front of the lens himself. On the back of my copy of Camera Lucida (1980), there’s a picture of Barthes, debonair, as always, but looking down, grimacing, apparently sighing in exasperation.

I can relate. A simple headshot turns me into: guy squinting in sunlight, guy who just drank lemon juice. Do you show your teeth, raise your eyebrows, look straight at the camera as if it were a person? And how do you hold that face, and keep holding it, like a man in a straightjacket pleased with his invisible friends?

Barthes, I assume, would have disliked selfies, at least taking them. He was embarrassed posing for pictures, explaining in Camera Lucida, “Once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes.”

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