Camera Lucida (La Chambre claire) written by French literary theorist Roland Barthes, is arguably one of the most influential books about photography. Published in 1980, shortly before his death, the book is also a tribute to Barthes’ late mother, Henriette.
In it, Barthes discusses a treasured snapshot taken in 1898, known as the Winter Garden photograph. It is an image of Henriette, aged five, not shown Camera Lucida. Barthes describes it as follows:
“With the Photograph, we enter into flat Death. The horror is this: nothing to say about the death of one whom I love most, nothing to say about her photograph, which I contemplate without ever being able to get to the heart of it, to transform it. The only “thought” I can have is that at the end of this first death, my own death is inscribed; between the two, nothing more than waiting…” (p92-93)
The Winter Garden photograph project marks the 40th anniversary of Camera Lucida in 2020.
It comprises two parts. The first is a 344-page edited volume of photographs and texts titled Keeper of the Hearth: Picturing Roland Barthes’ Unseen Photograph. The second involves an exhibition of these photographs.
Artist Odette England invited more than 200 photography-based artists, writers, critics, curators, and historians from around the world to contribute an image or text that reflects on Barthes’ unpublished snapshot of his mother.
Essayists include Douglas Nickel, Andrea V. Rosenthal Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Brown University; Lucy Gallun, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, the Museum of Modern Art; and Phillip Prodger, Senior Research Scholar, Yale Center for British Art. Foreword by Charlotte Cotton, independent curator and writer.