IN CAMERA LUCIDA, ROLAND BARTHES'S subject is the significance of photography's defining characteristic: the photograph's inseparable relation to its subject, that which ''must have been'' in front of the camera's lens. Or so it would seem. The present reading of Camera Lucida argues that Barthes's essay actually shows photography's nature as dependent not only on the intimate relation to its object, commonly termed ''indexical,'' but in accord with its relation to its user, its beholder. An examination of Barthes's encounters with photographs in Camera Lucida reveals the way in which identification and misidentification figure into the viewing of images, and suggests that contact between the beholder and the photograph actually eclipses the relation between the photograph and its subject. Barthes's focus on the emotional response of the viewer disguises the fact that he misidentified key details in Camera Lucida's photographs, most significantly in a 1927 portrait by James Van Der Zee and in the ''Winter Garden Photograph.'' This latter photograph of Barthes's recently deceased mother as a small child is famously not illustrated in the book. This essay argues that it is fictional. These ''mistakes'' suggest that Camera Lucida undermines its ostensible basis in indexicality. The subject did not have to be in front of the camera after all. The present rereading of the text from this point of view articulates a notion of performativity according to which the nature of the contact that exists between the image and the viewer informs the way an image is understood. Barthes's desire to find his mother again through her photograph to a large extent acts out his desire to re(per)form and make permanent his relation to her, a desire that he elucidates in the process of describing his search for her picture and his reaction to it when he finds it. This performative element is charged with identification; the person the narrator (Barthes) seeks, in his mother, is himself. A close analysis of the ''Winter Garden Photograph,'' as described by Barthes, shows how performances of identification are inscribed with gender and familial configurations.
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Margaret Olin; Touching Photographs: Roland Barthes's ''Mistaken'' Identification. Representations 1 November 2002; 80 (1): 99–118. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2002.80.1.99
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