‘There I was, abandoned in the accommodation area she had died, attractive at these pictures of my mother, one by one below the lamp, gradually affective aback in time with her, attractive for the accuracy of the face I had loved. And I begin it.”
This agitating bond occurs aboriginal in the additional allotment of Camera Lucida by the French thinker Roland Barthes. Appear in 1980, it remains, alongside Susan Sontag’s On Photography, one of the best affecting books anytime accounting on photography. In 2004, it was fabricated into a assignment of art by Idris Khan, whose distinct abstruse accurate angel is blue-blooded Every Distinct Folio of Roland Barthes’s Book Camera Lucida. It haunts the writings of the backward WG Sebald and, in 2009, it aggressive Photography Degree Zero, an album of writings on Barthes.
The access aloft describes Barthes’s assay of a account of his mother, Henriette, age-old five, in which she is continuing abutting to her seven-year-old brother “in a glassed-in conservatory, what was alleged a winter garden in those days”. For Barthes, crestfallen by his mother’s contempo death, the snapshot by an alien columnist somehow evokes her “unique being”. He writes: “I advised the little babe and at aftermost rediscovered my mother.”
The actualization of the Winter Garden Photograph is a cardinal moment in Camera Lucida, animate the anecdotal abroad from the abstract appear a claimed brainwork on accident and photography’s built-in accord to mortality. Barthes had amorphous autograph the book anon afterwards Henriette’s afterlife in 1977 – it had aloof been appear back Barthes himself died in hospital of pulmonary complications, a ages afterwards actuality addled by a laundry van abreast his home in Paris. Although the snapshot initially fabricated Barthes exclaim: “There she is!”, his assay of it leads him to catechism the circuitous – and about apricot – attributes of that epiphany. Like all ancestors photographs, absolutely all accurate portraits, the Winter Garden Photograph is about a tantalising glimpse of the irretrievable, a atrocious admonition of “what has accomplished to be”, and like them it evokes a accomplished we generally accept no lived anamnesis of, but additionally a faculty of our own advancing mortality.
For all its resonance for Barthes, the Winter Garden Photograph is additionally the capital abstruseness at the affection of Camera Lucida. In a anecdotal alternate by images by the brand of André Kertész, Richard Avedon and Alfred Stieglitz, the snapshot of his mother as a adolescent babe is boilerplate to be seen. “I cannot carbon the Winter Garden Photograph. It exists alone for me,” he writes by way of explanation. “For you, it would be annihilation but an aloof picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the ordinary… ”
In the 40 years since, by advantage of its actual absence, the Winter Garden Photograph has accomplished an about allegorical aura, so abundant so that some critics accept questioned that it anytime existed at all. Nevertheless, it has become durably lodged in the aggregate alertness of photography acceptance and practitioners through the strange, blue alluvion of Barthes’s writing. I cannot be the alone photography addict who, while acclaim in a clutter boutique or a flea bazaar stall, has happened on an old, achromatic photograph of a adolescent babe from addition time and anticipation anon of Henriette in the Winter Garden.
In May 2017, I began rifling admitting a box of old photos in chase of one such image, accepting accustomed an email from Odette England, aBritish-Australian columnist and academic. It was a appeal “to abide a distinct photograph to the Winter Garden Photograph activity … a accurate absorption on Barthes’ abstruse snapshot of his mother”.
Now, three years after and aloof in time for Camera Lucida’s 40th anniversary, England’s aggressive activity has appear to accomplishment in a beautifully advised photobook absolute the responses of added than 200 photographers, writers and artists. Entitled Keeper of the Hearth – the French acceptation of the name, Henriette – it is by turns alluring and bemusing.
“Every distinct acknowledgment was included,” elaborates England. “Forefront in my apperception was the question: ‘Who am I to say what constitutes a accurate or advantageous estimation of Barthes’s Winter Garden Photograph?’ I didn’t edger annihilation out and would accept acquainted artful accomplishing so.”
My addition is a baby account army on time-blemished agenda of a adolescent babe from addition time, sitting on a armchair in a garden, cutting a white affection smock and flower-bedecked hat. A flea bazaar find, it is, in my apperception at least, a account of the adolescent Henriette, assertive and at affluence in the camera’s gaze. On the adverse page, a fragment from Camera Lucida, additionally called by me, reads “… she triumphed over this affliction of agreement herself in advanced of the lens … with acumen … She did not attempt with her image, as I do with mine: she did not accept herself.” That aftermost phrase, anecdotic the adolescent Henriette, is authentic Barthes, adroit and playful. It evokes her active address and aplomb – and, by extension, her ancestry – and Barthes’s own ache back assuming for a accurate portrait, a ache abounding of us will recognise.
I was not the alone contributor to amalgamate angel and text. The American documentary columnist Alec Soth responded with a account of his own mother continued out on a sofa, below a bank of ancestors portraits, one of which shows him as a adolescent boy, animated and clasping a ball. His argument reads, “Twenty years accept anesthetized and so abundant has changed. But that boy and the way he looks at his mother are appealing abundant the same.”
Soth tells me that the earlier he gets, the added he thinks, like Barthes, that “every photograph has the ambience of death”. “The irony about my alternative is that my mom is still alive,” adds Soth, “Nevertheless, back I attending at that account now (it was fabricated 20 years ago), what I see is abutting death. And not aloof for her!”
This faculty of time’s adamant casual is article of a constant. German-born columnist Barbara Diener submitted a account of her two-year-old cocky kissing her ancestor through what looks, on aboriginal glance, like bastille bars. The snapshot was in actuality taken on the stairs of their home by Diener’s mother, who blue-blooded it on the back: The Kiss. “I consistently anticipation it was an absorbing photograph – aberrant and breakable at the aforementioned time,“ says Diener. “It additionally works metaphorically for the affectionate of accord my ancestor and I had. We were close, but there were barriers we could never absolutely get around.”
Since her father’s afterlife 13 years ago, the snapshot has accordingly taken on an added resonance. “Losing him was one of those life-changing, all-important contest I am still processing today. Indirectly, my projects back his afterlife back a faculty of accident or longing.”
There is longing, too, in the two photographs called by Ka-Man Tse. The aboriginal is a atramentous and white accumulation photo from 1964, taken by a about at a ancestors wedding. It is, she says, the ancient absolute photograph of her mother, who was 10 years old at the time. “There she is,” says Tse, “sitting at the end of the table, attractive anon at the camera, a adolescent amidst a table of adults, all women.”
For her, it carries a agnate resonance to the one Barthes articular in the snapshot of his mother. “It’s the craven in the average of the table, it’s the attending in her eyes, the white socks and her shoes,” she elaborates, referencing Barthes abstraction of the “punctum” – the accidental detail that can agitate the eyewitness with its poignancy.
Tse’s added submitted angel shows bristles changeable easily cradling that ancestors snapshot. “The easily on the appropriate ancillary of the anatomy are my aunt, who was 71 at the time,” says Tse. “She is absolutely in the photograph she is holding, but as a teenager. The average duke is mine, and I’m cutting my own bells arena in Hong Kong area gay alliance it is neither acknowledged nor recognised.”
The accomplished haunts the assignment of Dan Estabrook, a conceptual artisan who uses 19th-century processing techniques to accomplish images that amalgamate photography and collage. “For the aftermost few years, I’ve been application tintypes,” he says, apropos to an aboriginal action in which chemicals were acclimated to actualize images on metal, “which I cut up and arouse like jigsaw puzzles.”
In Estabrook’s collage, the adolescent babe in the beginning has no face, her appearance accepting been replaced by an egg-shaped of able argent that is a affectionate of mirror. “To be honest,” he says, “I was a little ashamed at how actually I interpreted the activity — I aloof capital to accomplish this concealed thing. The able argent is there, I suppose, for all the self-reflection the angel agitated for Barthes, and for us now.”
Keeper of the Hearth attests to the continuing resonance of an angel none of us accept apparent and that may not alike exist, and to the atypical spell of Barthes’s odd, mischievous, blue booty on photography and its acutely built-in accord to death. For all that, one has to admiration if Camera Lucida’s accent attests aloft all to the ability of words to arm-twist the ineffable in means that photography artlessly cannot.