Roland Barthes: Photography as Adventure

15 November 2019


I decided then to take as a guide for my new analysis the attraction I felt for certain photographs.
For of this attraction, at least, I was certain.

What to call it? Fascination? No, this photograph which I pick out and which I love has nothing in common with the shiny point which sways before your eyes and makes your head swim; what it produces in me is the very opposite of hebetude; something more like an internal agitation, an excitement, a certain labor too, the pressure of the unspeakable which wants to be spoken. Well, then? Interest?

Of brief duration; I have no need to question my feelings in order to list the various reasons to be interested in a photograph; one can either desire the object, the landscape,the body it represents; or love or have loved the being it permits us to recognize; or be astonished by what one sees; or else admire or dispute the photographer’s performance, etc.; but these interests are slight, heterogeneous; a certain photograph can satisfy one of them and interest me slight! y; and if another photograph interests me powerfully, I should like to know what there is in it that sets me off. So it seemed that the best word to designate (temporarily) the attraction certain photographs exerted upon me was advenience or even adventure. This picture advenes, that one doesn’t.

The principle of adventure allows me to make Photography exist.
Conversely, without adventure, no photograph.
I quote Sartre: “Newspaper photographs can very well ‘say nothing to me.’ In other words, I look at them without assuming a posture of existence. Though the persons whose photograph I see are certainly present in the photograph, they are so without existential posture, like the Knight and Death present in Durer’s engraving, but without my positing them. Moreover, cases occur where the photograph leaves me so indifferent that I do not even bother to see it ‘as an image.’ The photograph is vaguely constituted as an object, and the persons who figure there are certainly constituted as persons, but only because of their resemblance to human beings, without any special intentionality. They drift between the shores of perception, between sign and image, without ever approaching either.”

In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me; it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction which makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in no way animated (I do not believe in “lifelike” photographs), but it animates me this what creates every adventure.

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