Notes on Love and Photography


Cadava, Eduardo., Cortés-Rocca, Paola. ‘Notes on Love and Photography’ Photography Degree Zero ed. by Geoffrey Batchen. (London; Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009) 105-139


Undoing every contemplative act that would presume a difference between “itself” and the image on which it focuses, Camera Lucida puts the category of an observer – as the neutral subject of a process that presumably occurs outside him – into crisis.


The I who speaks in Camera Lucida contemplates a series of photographs that he holds in his hands without imagining that he is a neutral witness of a relation or bond that has excluded him: on the contrary, the singular adherence that binds the image to its referent also includes him.

This is why, far from reinforcing the assumption of an ontological difference between the subjectivity – the “humanity” – of the observer and the materiality of the chemical paper or metal plate that forms a photograph, Camera Lucida works to destabilize this frontier: the image becomes a subject and the subject becomes an image.

They are bound together in a relation that, acquiring a certain privacy or intimacy, reveals itself to be an amorous one: the encounter between the subject and the photograph he holds in his hands produces the spark that objectifies the image (that “animates” it) and that simultaneously illuminates his own photographic being.

Closer to pleasure than to science, the act  of looking at a photograph therefore does not differentiate  between a subject and an image, but rather brings together “two experiences: that of the observed subject and a subject observing” [CL 10]

To look at a photograph also is to recognize the photographic dimension of my “self,” to identify a particularity that seizes my gaze, to register or acknowledge that I already am, and in advance, a kind of photograph.


The relation between the object and its image, among the image-object, the object-image, and my gaze, links me to the adventure of experiencing the photographic fragment as a mirror that returns me to my own image.


If photography is the “cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity” [CL12] it is not only because photography signals a crisis in the identity of the subject but also because it introduces a mediation and break into the very interior of the concept of identity.

Within the photographic space, I “discover” that I am never self-identical to myself and there is no object, no act, no instant that ever coincides with “itself”.

Each time we hold an image in our hands, the magic of photography returns to repeat itself and the photographed  and the photographic apparatus encounter themselves again as if for the very first time, in part because the observer, haunted and constituted by this earlier encounter, is himself a photographic apparatus.

Photography prevents us from ever recognizing this or that identity – ours, but also that of someone or something else – because “photography” is the name of the destruction of any consciousness of identity.

[…] what makes Barthes’s meditation on love and photography so radically provocative: against a sense that photography’s signature lies in its capacity to fix and preserve – to arrest – what is before the camera, he mobilizes a network of associations that. practically and textually, seek to disorganize and destabilize the opposition or difference between opposing terms, such as stasis and movement, preservation and destruction, survival and death, and memory and mourning.


The entirety of Camera Lucida, in other words, proceeds by seeking a language  commensurate with the paradoxical character of the photograph – a language that is guided and interrupted by the desire for the very thing that, always lost, and never comprehended, remains to be mourned: photography itself.

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