Referent & Signifier in Photography

I began re-reading Barthes’ Camera Lucida.  I forgot how good it is. It talks about photography not as a part of the art world or a technology, but rather what specific qualities make a photographic image unique to photography. I was surprised that in the first chapter was discussing a the unique relationship between a photograph and its referent, which had I remembered, I probably would have mentioned in my thesis when I was discussing the unique relationship between technology and the referent.

A specific photograph, in effect, is never distinguished from its referent, or at least it is not immediately or generally distinguished from its referent: it is not impossible to perceive the photographic signifier, but it requires a secondary action of knowledge or of reflection. By nature, the Photograph has something tautological about it: a pipe, here, is always intractably a pipe. It is as if the Photograph always carries its referent with itself, both affected by the same amorous or funereal immobility, at the very heart of the moving world: they are glued together limb by limb, like the condemned man and the corpse in certain tortures; or even like those pairs of fish which navigate in convoy, as though united in an eternal coitus. The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the windowpane and the landscape, and why not: Good and Evil, desire and its object: dualities we can conceive but not perceive… In short, the referent adheres. And this singular adherence makes it very difficult to focus on Photography.- Barthes

 I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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