La chambre Claire by Roland Barthes has been published in 1980, a shockwave in the world of photographers. For the first time the medium photography had its philosophical foundation, her own philosopher of illusion. In that period we all read it, but it still has fallen into oblivion, just like Roland Barthes himself, as it happens with past lives and books. Or will there be a ‘classic’ –, or ‘a vintage’ reissue published just in time.
Most of the photographers and certainly the just passer-by’s don’t know that thé photo bookshop in Paris, in rue St Sulpice 20 chose its name La Chambre Claire after this famous book. The ‘clear room’, the ‘light room’, the ‘camera lucida’, how to translate this, this counterpart of the dark room, that atypical metaphor but at the same time the birth clinic of the photographic print.
Barthes didn’t work out not just the ‘studium’, the cultural area of the photo, but also the ‘punctum’, the actual touched moment, that is where it’s all about in the picture. But also and especially the connection between viewer and image. He shows us that this process of giving meaning to an image is a matter of language. A language that is connected to someone’s existence, just as the image.
I always feel pity with the anonymous pictures on a flea market, lying there just for the grabs. Once this house was my birth place, that woman was the love of my live or the boy once a friend whose name has got lost in my memory. I want to save these pictures and to reconstruct them all, bringing them back to where they belong. Home? In this world?
Calvino wrote in his In Memoriam Roland Barthes: ‘One of the first things we’ve heard about the collision on the 25tth of February at the cross-roads of the rue des Écoles and the rue Saint-Jacques , has been the mutilation of Roland Barthes, and in that way that nobody could have identified him there, just a few steps away from the Collège de France: the ambulance which picked him up brought him to the Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, as a wounded one without a name (no identity paper on him) and there he layed for hours unidentified in a hospital room… One of the first thoughts that came to my mind when I feared for Barthes’ life, has been the memory of what I just read: the fragile and frightening bond with your self image, a bond just broken in one stroke, like you tear up a picture.
I did a retouch on one, to my eyes, ugly power point behind the head in a picture of my brother Herman, who has died recently. The scene is sparkling; a vivid conversation with somebody, gestures, glasses of wine, a clock, everything is in it. His spirited face. This portrait ended up on the table during the goodbye ceremony. I didn’t like this power point; it took too much away from his wonderful face. I retouched it away and the picture became an altarpiece and appears everywhere on the net. But I kept thinking about this power point and do understand now how strongly it’s part of this scene, the chaos of life, the still life of drinking together, wild gestures, a ticking clock, the intense stream through a lifeline. I want to shake his face until it starts moving again and need the energy. Can I put it back in retrospect, the power point and thread coming from his back, into the place where it belongs: there in the picture? A present in memory of his birthday, yesterday, 67 years ago.