-Beth P.


“What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.”

— Barthes, Camera Lucida (Pg 4)


I chose the above quote from Camera Lucida because, out of the whole of the novel, this line, barely four pagesin, stuck out in my mind strongest. On a whole, I don’t particularly enjoy Barthes’ novel. He himself is not a photographer – a fact that he insists on repeating over and over, raising the question of why he’s writing about photography if he’s such a non-photographer – and so I find much of his reflection on the act of photography and the nature of a photographer empty and without experience to back it up. However, he makes many valid and poignant points about the observations associated with viewing photographs, as well as the nature of pictures in and of themselves. The above quote is one of these instances.


Many people don’t think about the fact that a photograph is preserving one moment for eternity. And yet, that moment can never be reproduced in the flesh once again. Looking at a vacation picture with your friends, you can never re-experience the cramp in your leg that occurred from crouching as all the cameras were passed to the ‘photographer,’ or the way your sun-burned nose stung under sunscreen. And so I find Barthes’ observation particularly insightful.


I believe the photograph I picked, in particular, represents this mindset. It was taken by a friend, Jason Melcher, on his trip to Italy last year. Jason could go back to that exact spot, hold his camera in the exact same angle, yet he could never re-capture that little boy and his accordion as perfectly as he did initially. Even other photos that he may have taken that same day of the same subject, perhaps within seconds of each other, would not have the same people in the background. The only possible way to reproduce the ‘moment’ would be to re-print this image. “It was as if I were seeking the nature of a verb witch had no infinitive, only tense and mode.”(Barthes, Camera Lucida [Pg 76])



But I think all of this raises another question: what makes a photographer amateur or professional? Is it only dictated by his “salary” or is it ranked in talent? Or notoriety? The above photo was taken by my friend, an amateur photographer, though very talent. Of the following two photographs, one was taken by the same person, and the other by Eolo Perfido, an Italian photographer dubbed ‘professional.’



Now which is which? Can you tell? Perhaps that is the trouble with photography. Not everyone can do it; I’m not suggesting that. But, unlike musicians or artist or writers, there isn’t a careful distinction in this art form. So where is the line drawn?


2 Responses to “”

  1. It seems like the main point of this post is that a photograph can never be re-created in exact fashion. To this point, I agree wholeheartedly. To give an example of my own, if guests at a wedding were asked to pose for two wedding photos, there would likely be some deviation in the way guests posed, perhaps with facial expression or body language. This difference wouldn’t be significant, but that’s not the point. The point is that there would be some deviation.

    However, I do have to differ with you about the author’s qualification. I think it could be beneficial to have a non-photographer writing about photography. After all, most photography is meant to be viewed by the majority of us who don’t engage, either professionally or in an amateur role, in photography. Therefore, this sort of writer could explain photography in a way the average person can better relate to. Barthes success in being down-to-earth is questionable, especially with the introduction of many esoteric terms, such as “punctum,” “studium,” “spectrum,” and “eidolon.” Also, a writer with little or no photographic experience offers independence. One boon of this is that the writer won’t be biased in favor of their particular style or method of photography. In otherwords, they will be more willing to look at multiple styles of photography in a circumspect manner.

    Finally, I would hazard that the photograph of the woman on the left, with fingers touching the lower lip, is the “professional” photograph, while the picture on the right is the “amateur photograph.” Am I right?

  2. 2 Wil

    I believed the image on the left is that of Eolo’s. For me (I am dubbed as professional too) the difference is stark between the two. There are elements in the image on the left that indicate to me that the photographer used his light with purpose, while with the image on the right I don’t see the same proficiency.

    Perhaps it is just me, but I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to educate myself with portrait lighting, posing etc over the years that I feel I can discern between the two images.

    A professional photographer is always going to be a debatable definition. Is it when you get paid for your work? Is it when you’re full time? Is it when you’ve won awards given to you by other professionals? I believe that qualifying as a professional means having your work qualified by not one, not two, but a number of established professionals in the industry. Anyone can take a photo of a dog and sell it for $2 to the owner. They only need be mediocre to achieve that – and that certainly doesn’t qualify you as professional. At the same time you could get lucky at a competition and have established photographers award your image once but that also doesn’t qualify you. I think if you produce consistent work, preferrably paid as that seems to add some credibility, that is regarded by your peers (other professionals) then you would qualify.

    Just my 2 cents,


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