Photography and Truth

Roland Gérard Barthes (French; 12 November 1915 – 26 March 1980)

roland-barthes-camera-lucidawas a French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, andsemiotician. Barthes’ ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism,semiotics, social theory, anthropology and post-structuralism.

In his book Camera Lucida Roland Barthes said;

“Photography never lies; or rather, it can lie as to the meaning of the thing, never to it’s existence”

This is a very interesting idea to consider. Photography and the idea of truth are very closely linked. We know that when we look at a photograph, that the photographer has most definately been there, at that moment to photograph the subject of the image. That the subject or ‘thing’ as Bathes calls it, was ‘there’, that it must have ‘existed’. This is distinctly different from a painting or a drawing which could be entirely made up from the artists mind and does not carry the same connection to ‘truth’.

The idea of truth and existence is something which Jeff Wall investigates in his work, both by creating staged images and by the exclusion of parts of his image.

Roland Barthes also stated that; ‘ In front of the lens, I am at the same time; the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art. In other words, a strange action. I do not stop imitating myself and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity, sometimes imposture.’

This is also an interesting idea to consider. Try reading it a few times to let it sink in. I am sure that we have all experienced this feeling of ‘inauthenticity’  (being not ‘authentic ‘or ‘genuine’) when having our photo taken.

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