Christian Smith in the ICI garden where he begins to build a portable darkroom that he’ll use for his contribution to the ICI’s current long-term project – With Everything But the Monkey Head: theorizing art’s untheorizable processes. Christian will be working behind the scenes for most of May, eventually cobbling together, in addition to the outdoor darkroom, a large format camera which he’ll use to create wet plate photographic images from century-old techniques. Watch for his ‘formal’ Monkey Head residency (as we affectionately call the project) where he’ll share his unique research with the public—this event to occur sometime in June of this year.
When I began this fellowship, I was more invested in interrogating why Barthes’ strange, middling work had endured than affirming its position as the pinnacle of photography theory. Not only is Camera Lucida subjective, but it is also dense, meandering, partial, and unfocused — the opposite of what theory is supposed to be.
I’ve been researching the broader implications of Camera Lucida; how it has been received over time both in and outside of strictly academic settings; what exactly went into writing the book, and whether or not any of the claims in the book at all can be confirmed or justified. I find, part of the value of the book is its shock value — how radical of a departure the book was from Barthes’ previous work, especially his early work in semiotics. Readers were expecting to find an exhaustive guide to reading the “language” of photography, but instead found an elegiac, and at times deeply personal, journal on photography, death, and the loss of Barthes’ own mother.
Much of my research so far suggests that Barthes’ approach to Camera Lucida probably wasn’t very well thought out. He references photographs that seemingly don’t exist, confuses dates, and seemingly pulls everything from memory rather than going about his writing methodically. Likewise, it seems like he pulls the vast majority of his photographs from shockingly few sources, which suggests that he references these particular photographs out of convenience rather than any substantive deliberation. At times, quite literally, it seems like he’s making it up as he goes along. For somebody in the process of trying to track down all of the loose ends that the book leaves, this is a baffling and frustrating combination.
In spite of all of this, the book has endured not only in the popular imagination but also in my own thoughts. Barthes set out with an impossible thesis to begin with, to affirm the subjectivity of photography. In thinking about why Barthes’ work has endured, the novelty of the work itself is important to consider. Barthes wrote something unclassifiable, at once a journal, an elegy, and an essay. Concepts like studium and punctum have had a curiously long half-life in part, probably, because the book itself is so unique.
In trying to classify exactly what Camera Lucida is, I revert back to the formal, antiquated use of the word essay, which more or less means an attempt: Camera Lucida seems like an attempt to make sense of why some photographs haunt us and some don’t, about why photographs have a hold on each of us in an entirely unique way. Like the photographs themselves, Camera Lucida seems to haunt. For better or for worse, it sticks around.
My name is Jeremy Klemin, today is my first in-office day as an Editorial Fellow at the ICI. I did my undergraduate degree in Sociology and Comparative World Literature, and just recently finished my Master’s degree in Comparative World Literature during the summer. In the Fall, I was an Editorial intern at PEN America in New York.
I’ll be working primarily on the ongoing project entitled Barthes’ Myopia, which will focus primarily on French semiotician, theorist, and philosopher Roland Barthes and his famous work Camera Lucida (La Chambre claire in the original French). I’ll be doing a myriad of both conventional and unconventional research, from photo-hunting to why Barthes’ strange and at times very personal essay has endured for so long. I have both a personal and academic interest in photography (my undergraduate thesis was on photography), so I’m really excited to devote some time and brainpower solely to Barthes.
This Summer I’ve been working on the AIDS Chronicles at the ICI; reading New York Times pages, scanning for articles and then obscuring them with layers of paint. This process has become less and less a mechanical action for me as I gain familiarity with the contents and form of the pages. The process begins by cutting a stack of plastic sheets to paint on throughout three painting stages. I comb through a month’s worth of the cover pages for articles on AIDS, HIV and Ebola, marking datelines and obituaries. Then I paint the backs and fronts of the pages with a protective gel coat, followed by black gesso (at first just outlining the key pieces of information on the front of the page), and finally cover the pages in red paint. These layers result in a skin-like texture and dark, blood-red coloring. I have never felt very politically conscious or invested in the news. Yet, while looking for articles on HIV and AIDS, a scrutiny of the other articles on each cover page has brought me closer to the current events of those times in a broader context.
My name is Alfredo Aguayo; I am the new intern here at ICI, and today is my first day. I am excited to be working with many of the different objectives within the facility.
A little about me: I graduated from CSULA with a BA in anthropology. I love studying cultures, languages and archaeology. My main focus at the moment, however, is art. I am drawn to abstract art and automatism. I usually create paintings and sculptures using many different materials such as acrylic paint, oil paint, photography, cardboard, wood, plants, cement, metal, glass and so on (there is no limit).
Currently I am working on incorporating anthropology into my own artwork. Which, is why I am excited to be working here this summer. I hope to learn a lot and to contribute even more! Stay tuned for further post.