Books Made Me
by Jay Prosser

Source - Issue 67 - Summer - 2011 - Click for Contents

Issue 67 Summer 2011
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Jay Prosser

Writer, Light in the Dark Room: Photography and Loss (2004)

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Nan Goldin (1986) / Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes (1981) / On Photography, Susan Sontag (1977)

The quality of light stays with me most from Goldin’s photographs. Gentle, touching, affectionate – even when she’s showing pictures of herself battered, or the loved man who beat her. The warmth in which Goldin holds the real, raw lives of 1970s and 80s New York lovers, drag queens and her friends is moving and unsurpassed. A landmark in autobiography as well as colour photography.

More of a love letter to Barthes’s recently lost mother than a book about photography, what makes Camera Lucida exceptional and memorable is that it is not an essay or even reflections but a ‘note,’ as the French subtitle says; it avoids the customary ‘studium’ (that which is studied) approach to photography and gives us instead the ‘punctum’ (that which wounds us). Lyrical, compelling and again raw.

This should have been called ‘Against Photography,’ so condemning is Sontag of the form. Writing the essays that became this book during the tail end of the Vietnam War, she was righteously furious at the failure to act in the face of what photography was then showing. A brilliant indictment of the increasing voyeurism induced in us by what Sontag calls the ‘image world,’ and of the inadequacy of humanitarian compassion.

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