It has been a while since my last formal photography course. I registered for my next course way back in November and I’ve been anxious for February 6th to arrive as that’s when I return to SPAO (School of Photographic Art, Ottawa) for Cedric Pearson’s course The Creative Eye – Vision & the Frame, a six week workshop that will explore vision through the photographic frame.
I was excited to receive the course outline and suggested reading list by email last week, and like an kid at the start of a new school year, couldn’t wait to get my hands on the new text books (I love books by the way). Showing great restraint, I only ordered 5 of the books from Chapters; two of them arrived on Tuesday. Roland Barthes’ “Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography” is a short book so I started with it. I very quickly discovered this would not be an easy read.
I’m only 10 pages in so this is not a review of the book. My point here is to speculate why it was included on the reading list. It begins with the author asking What is Photography, and equipment and process aside, does it really exist as something unique onto itself? Later we read he’s not a photographer at all. So what has this to do with a photography course? Of course Photography exists as a unique craft. An entire industry has developed around it, through photography we create art, documentary records, aid research and diagnosis and investigation. Seems to me it exists, it is unique.
Barthes observes that a “Photograph reproduces something that has occurred only once, it mechanically reproduces something that could never be repeated existentially.” I imagine this concept is even more profound in the digital age where the event is captured in great detail by a sensor and recored as an electronic file only usable with more technology.
Further still, a photograph cannot exist without something or someone. Photography is the act of choosing to capture that thing or that event among the multitude of things and actions occurring around us at a particular moment. A photograph can be the object of 3 practices – taking the picture, looking at the picture, and being photographed. And, the resulting photograph will have unique meanings to each person. Now perhaps we’re getting closer to the reason for including this book. Why do we take a photograph? What makes one more appealing than another? What triggers that emotional impact, if there is one.
For me this is fascinating stuff, at the same time, because I’m late to the game, so to speak, I’m realizing just how much I’ve missed all these years. With each discovery of some aspect of the arts I feel a sense of running out of time and a twinge of regret that I didn’t take the risk all those years ago. Of course, I don’t dwell too long on this, it is much better to make the best use of the years ahead. I want to see where this takes me.