Picturing the Unimaginable. Trauma, Distance, Affect: Reception of Roland Barthes’ Сamera lucida and Contemporary Russian Photography
In 2020, the world will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roland Barthes’s «Camera Lucida». In spite of all the criticism that it has encountered since 1980, many ideas that he develops in the book are still popular among the researchers. In this article, I am going to look at the corpus of images that Barthes is analyzing in this text. His choice seems a paradoxical one: creating a revolutionary affective discourse of research in photography theory, he analyzes mostly conventional modernist documentary black and white photography «with a referent» made by male authors. Such choice gives an opportunity to Barthes, who is going through the process of grief, to control the affective: he can feel at the same time certain affective pricks (punctum) and the calming effects of containment. Later, postmodernism criticised and deconstructed photography theories and practices of the previous epoch for their sexism, racism, elitism etc. Part of this process was the creation of «pictures without punctums» and deadpan photography. However, if in Western and some post-Soviet societies the peak of interest in such photography happened in the 1990s and at the moment is superseded by the diversity and oscillations of metamodernism, in Russia, it only started around the 2010s. In this article, I am analyzing the reasons for this delay including those connected to the collective trauma, lack of reflection on the Soviet destruction of documentary photography and current Russian political propaganda. At the same time, I pose a question as to the ways in which we can use theoretical concepts for such reflection from the «Camera Lucida» reading it through postmodern criticism and metamodern optics.
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