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Odette England : Keeper of the Hearth – Picturing Roland Barthes’ Unseen Photograph

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Mired in Memory by Sean Sheehan  T.S. Eliot’s words in The Waste Land about the mixing of memory and desire could serve as an epigraph both for Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and, recently published to mark the 40th anniversary of that seminal work, the photobook Keeper of the Hearth. Given its notably restricted zone of concern, there is an enigma about Camera Lucida’s enormous influence. It is a short work but suffused – the French title, La Chambre Claire, means ‘the light or bright room’ – with one ghostly affect: a preoccupation with the way presence and absence make themselves felt through photography. At one level, such an observation is trite but Barthes invests it with Lacan’s notion of the Real so that it becomes something uncanny, touching on the unconscious and the profound experience of loss that haunts the desiring subject. The death of Barthes’ mother in 1977 and his finding of a photo of her as a five-year-old child in front of a winter garden provoke Camera Lucida’s meditations and its author’s Zen-like conviction that nothing can be...

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