Photography Degree Zero by yaoyufang


Degree Zero
 Photography and Writing
• Photography, literally translated, means
  “writing with light.”

• The comparison between photography and
  writing can be quite productive.

• Scientific use of photography might be
  termed “photography degree zero”
            Degree Zero

•   Roland Barthes calls writing that merely
    indicates— points at something to call
    attention to it— “Writing Degree Zero.”
•   In photography, just as in writing, this is
    a myth.
•   All photography operates within limits—
    it is never completely neutral.
       Finding the Limits

•   If photography never strictly reproduces
    what is placed in front of the camera,
    what are the limits it operates under?
•   Try to follow these passages from
    Barthes substituting “photographer” for
[Language] enfolds the whole of literary
creation as much as the earth, the sky and the
line where they meet outline a familiar habitat
for mankind. It is not so much a stock of
materials as a horizon, which implies both a
boundary and a perspective; in short, it is the
comforting area of an ordered space.

       Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (9)
The Language of photography
  is space, time, and light.
The writer literally takes nothing from it; a
language is for him rather a frontier, to overstep
which alone might lead to the linguistically
supernatural; it is a field of action, the definition
of, and hope for, a possibility.

         Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (9)
The frontiers of photography
  are set by technologies.
It is not the locus of a social commitment, but
merely a reflexive response involving no choice,
the undivided property of men, not of writers; it
remains outside the ritual of Letters; it is a social
object by definition, not by option.

            Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (9)
Photography is not the sole property of
artists or journalists.

You owe nothing to anyone or any tradition,
but by choosing to photograph you have
entered into a social activity.
The choice of, and afterwards the responsibility for,
a mode of writing point to the presence of Freedom,
but this Freedom has not the same limits at different
moments of History. It is not granted to the writer to
choose his mode of writing from a kind of non-
temporal store of literary forms.

            Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (9)
The modes of photography you inherit are
set by the limits of what you have seen.
The more photographs you look at, the
broader your possibilities become.

There is no “timeless” right or wrong way
to do things.
It is under the pressure of History and Tradition that
the possible modes of writing for a given writer are
established; there is a History of Writing. But this
History is dual: at the very moment when general
history proposes—or imposes—new problematics of
the literary language, writing remains full of recollection
of previous usage, for language is never innocent:
words have a second-order memory which
mysteriously persists in the midst of new meanings.

              Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (10)
Understanding where you’re coming
from—what you’ve seen and what you like
to see is a major part of finding out the path
you will follow in trying to express yourself
through photography.
    Movies and TV are like
       Visual Speech

•   Much like writing, knowing how to talk
    doesn’t mean you know how to write.
•   Moving images are different and
•   While basic rules of composition and
    perspective apply to other forms of
    visual composition, still photography is
In speech, everything is held forth, meant for
immediate consumption, and words, silences and
their common mobility are launched towards a
meaning superseded: it is a transfer leaving no
trace and brooking no delay.

        Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (11)
Still photographs are always infused with
varying levels of style.

Style represents a vertical limit for
photography which is separate from
Style, on the other hand, has only a vertical
dimension, it plunges into the closed recollection
of the person and achieves its opacity from a
certain experience of matter; style is never
anything but metaphor, that is, the equivalence of
the author’s literary intention and carnal structure.

         Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (10)
Style, in other words, comes from you.

It is the sum of your intentions and experiences.

Unlike transparent speech that you see through
to get a message, to have style is to make
people stop at the opaque surface and see what
you have done.
    Metaphor is Seeing as

•   Barthes claims that style can only be
    spoken of in terms of metaphor.
•   Metaphor is the conjunction of two
    incompatible terms, such as love is a
•   To make a metaphor is to see one thing
    in terms of another.
    Metaphors can be
appropriate or inappropriate

•   For example, roses may be pretty but they
    don’t live long. Is love like that?
•   Most metaphors for style connect it with
    external arrangement, but the way that
    Barthes has described it, it is something
    deep inside a writer.
To speak of style is one way of speaking about the
totality of a work of art. Like all discourse about
totalities, talk of style must rely on metaphors. And
metaphors mislead.
Indeed, practically all metaphors for style amount to
placing matter on the inside, style on the outside. It
would be more to the point to reverse the metaphor.
The matter, the subject, is on the outside; the style is
on the inside. (17)
                          Susan Sontag, “On Style” (1965)
      Find your own style
•   Pick a photographic project that both fits
    within your horizon of technical
    expertise and your personal experience,
    or style.
•   But don’t be afraid to stretch yourself.
•   Your technical horizon should broaden
    quickly, but style takes time.
•   Style is never fixed; it changes with
    every new experience and skill we
      Changing your style

•   Pay more attention to still pictures.
•   A person doesn’t learn to write by
    eavesdropping on conversations, they
    learn mostly by reading other written
•   Most importantly, pay attention to your
    own pictures. Spend more time looking
    at them!
Nonstop imagery (television, streaming video,
movies) is our surround, but when it comes to
remembering the photograph has a deeper bite.
Memory freeze-frames; its basic unit is the single
image. In an era of information overload, the
photograph provides a quick way of apprehending
something and a compact form of memorizing it.

The photograph is a quotation, or a maxim or
proverb. Each of us mentally stocks hundreds of
photographs, subject to instant recall.

   Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (22)
    what photographs do you
•    If you don’t remember a photograph
     you’ve taken longer than a few days,
     you aren’t living up to your potential.
•    Not all photographs are memorable.
•    Think about the ones that you
     remember, and try to make more.
•    Try to separate the context from the
     image itself.

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