"A comprehensive study on Barthes and photography . . . the most studious research on the topic."--Antoine Compagnon, Columbia University and the Sorbonne
"Interesting and significant. . . . Important for scholars, students, and general readers interested in literature, art, photography, critical theory, and media studies."--Scott Nygren, University of Florida
French theoretician Roland Barthes enjoyed a long and shifting relationship with photography, using it first as metaphor, moving on to explore its use in movies, film stills, political campaigns, and popular photographic essays, and finally confronting it anew with the death of his mother.
Although Barthes' last book, and his only book-length study of photography, Camera Lucida, has enormously influenced study of visual images in the arts and humanities, this is the first examination in English of Barthes's work on the visual arts. Nancy Shawcross brings together and analyzes for the first time--in any language--all of Barthes's writings, both direct and indirect, about visual media in its many forms.
Shawcross reads Camera Lucida against the whole of Barthes' work, an intertextual approach that reanimates his earlier writings in a way that a strictly chronological discussion would not. By focusing on the border between literature and photography, Shawcross combines theoretical and philosophical questions with the history and cultural contexts of photography.
This meticulously researched book places Barthes's thought on photography in the context of his own developing ideas about semiology, tracking origins, rejections, and departures. It shows Barthes's affinities with and distinction from other theorists of photography such as Baudelaire and Benjamin and, finally, examines his thought in the context of postmodern discussions of photography that followed it.
Nancy Shawcross teaches comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania and serves as curator of manuscripts in the Department of Special Collections there. She co-organized a 1994 international conference on Barthes at the university and has published articles and book chapters in the field of literary criticism.