Born A Slave


Upon finishing Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, I was left unsatisfied. Barthes is not only wordy, but he is also giving “expert information” on a subject that he merely is opinionated about. He can never decide what photography actually is because he constantly has to polarize his answers. For example, Barthes states “Such are two ways of the Photograph. The choice is mine: to subject its spectacle to the civilized code of perfect illusions, or to confront in it the wakening of able reality” (119). When Barthes gives an opinion about the photograph he must also state the opposite of that opinion- which one is it?

On the other hand, I enjoyed viewing the photographs added into the text and their explanations. I did not agree with many of the photographic analyses, but my favorite picture can be seen below. Like Barthes says, it represents absolute purity.

Born A Slave



By: Chelsey R.

“One of the first instincts of parents, after they have brought a child into the world, is to photograph it.  Given the speed of growth, it becomes necessary to photograph the child often, because nothing is more fleeting and unmemorable than a six-month-old infant, soon deleted and replaced by one of eight months…”

-Italo Calvino in Adventures of a Photographer

If everyone was so concerned with taking photographs to capture a moment, the moments would never truly be had.  To say that a photograph must be taken in order to remember what a child looked like three months ago, says that the parents are spending too much time worrying about preserving memories, instead of entrusting their minds to remember the important moments.  Are we relying too much on pictures to do what our memories are supposed to do?  What good is our memory and imagination if we constantly feel the need to have photographic evidence of what happened in front of us?  Will we get to the point that we no longer believe something happened unless there is a picture of it in front of us?  That the moment that just passed should have been photographed because it is so fleeting that the next moment will delete the previous moment. 


-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?

Only Once



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

               –     Barthes Camera Lucida 4


Photo by: mere poppins

A seed blossoms into a flower only once. It flourishes while alive and withers away to nothingness once its time is up. Of course the following season, a flower that resembles it will blossom. However, this flower is different from the previous. This flower is a new flower, its identity is different from the older one. It can be compared to us people, with life and death occurring every day. Yet none of those who are born are those that have passed away. Each of us holds a separate identity, unique to only ourselves. A photograph can capture our essence, repeating as many times as it is reprinted. A flower that is captured blooming can bloom thousands of times in a reproduced photograph, but has only blossomed once in actuality. For Antonino Paraggi in “The Adventures of a Photographer” by Italo Calvino, he finds himself taking pictures of Bice in every manner possible. When she leaves him, he also takes pictures of her absence. He starts taking pictures of everything possible, from an unmade bed to other photographs. In the end, he ends up ripping these photographs. A possible speculation is that he rips it because feels that they have lost meaning. As he said himself, ” Photography has a meaning only if it exhausts all possible images.” Of course he took it a bit too far, but nonetheless has he proven his point. With his pictures of Bice that has lost their meanings, he decided to rip them and move on.

By: Madeline 

“Having exhausted every possibility, at the moment when he was coming full circle Antonino realized that photographing photographs was the only course that he had left-or, rather, the true course he had obscurely been seeking all the time.”


-Calvino “The Adventures of a Photographer” 186 

This photograph was taken by Ansel Adams. He is a photographer that takes picutres of mostly western landscapes. He also developed zone exposure to get maximum tonal range from black and white films. Adams was inspired by a childhood trip to Yosemite. This photograph inperticular is a picture of his taken and cut into different sections, at different angles and at different zooms. Then put together as one. This picture is taken of other pictures and put together as one. Taking pictures of pictures just like in the quote. Because Antonino had gotten to the point where he had already taken pictures of everything he could he had nothing left to photograph. He had taken pictures of Bice 24 hours a day and when she left he continued to take pictures of her absence. He can no longer take pictures of real things and be satisfied. He has to take picutres of things that have already been captured to be able to satisfy his urge of taking a picture. He no longer has anything to take pictures of except what he and others had already taken pictures of. This photograph is pictures of pictures. Adams took a picture and then took a picutre of that picture and pieced it together.  It wouldn’t work if it was just the original picture cut and put back together. There is no background to the picture if it is the original it is just the picture itself. But after you have taken a picture of the picture there is the posibility of a background wherever the picture is taken. Which makes it known that it is a picture of a picture and not the original photograph.

By: Laura
“The line between the reality that is photographed because it seems beautiful to us and the reality that seems beautiful because it has been photographed is very narrow.”

~Italo Calvino, Adventures of a Photographer.


Photo by Harold.
The line between photographing something because it is beautiful, and that particular object or memory becoming beautiful as a result of it being photographed is not only narrow, as Calvino says, but is almost nonexistent. How can we even define the difference? Once again I think it goes back to our perspectives, our personal definition of art. If you take a picture of a flower, is it because it really is pretty? Or does it become pretty when you look back on it later simply because you photographed it? Can it not be both? We could take a picture of the flower, or any object, because we enjoy it, because we want to remember it, because it is somehow special. And could it not then be beautiful later when we look back on it because we photographed it? I would suggest that we photograph something because it is beautiful and it later seems beautiful because we did photograph it. There is no line because, in essence, they are the same. The photograph of the houses above demonstrates this idea. If you were standing there in person, at that particular moment, its beauty might be doubtful. But looking at it now, there is no doubt that it is a beautiful photograph. So I wonder, was it beautiful when the photographer took the time to capture it? Or is it now beautiful because it was photographed? I think it must be both. The photographer was obviously drawn to the subject matter enough in the first place to take the time to photograph it. He saw something, perhaps an underlying beauty, that meant enough to him to capture. Its beauty, even if not obvious at first glance, was preserved through the photograph. And now it is beautiful because it was photographed. This is not to say that everything that we photograph is beautiful, or that it later becomes beautiful just because it was photographed. But I think this does show that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Double Exposure


“The minute you start saying something, ‘Ah how beautiful! We must photograph it!’ you are already close to the view of the person who thinks that everything that is not photographed is lost, as if it had never existed, and that therefore, in order really to live, you must photograph as much as you can, and to photograph as much as you can you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or else consider photographable every moment of your life.”

                          — Italo Calvino, “The Adventures of a Photographer” (p.179)

Photographed by: kk+

 While this picture may not seem to fit this quote at first, I think it proves to be a really great representation of the cycle that photographing can lead to, as described by Antonino. This picture symbolizes the ending of the cycle, from one of the first pictures taken of this woman, to (we can speculate) maybe one of the last. Her holding of her own picture is definitely interesting, especially since then it is so easy to compare not only the physical change in the woman over the years, but also the evolution of the camera. The big picture is light, detailed, and seems softer, while the smaller picture is devoid in color, vague, and more severe. We can plainly see the tiniest wrinkles present on the old woman’s face, the fuzziness of her hair, while the smaller picture seems to hold no texture at all. 
       This also reminds me a lot of our discussions during “The House of the Seven Gables,” when we were discussing the severity of the daguerreotypes compared to more modern pictures, and also the fact that pictures seem to bring out an essence of the person’s true character. After looking at this old woman (and her younger self), I feel like this woman has a “story,” so to speak, or has a particularly unusual past. Through studying the photograph, even though she is not making a specific expression in it, I feel as if this woman is a really strong person, someone who has weathered all kinds of problems, and has a tough durability that allows her to keep on living her life. Although it may be different for other people looking at this picture (such is the way of art!), I feel like this woman’s life would have been “photographable” the whole way through.
   -Amanda G.