Photography Degree Zero

Photography Degree Zero

Reflections on Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida

Edited by Geoffrey Batchen

An essential guide to an essential book, this first anthology on Camera Lucida offers critical perspectives on Barthes's influential text.





An essential guide to an essential book, this first anthology on Camera Lucida offers critical perspectives on Barthes's influential text.

Roland Barthes's 1980 book Camera Lucida is perhaps the most influential book ever published on photography. The terms studium and punctum, coined by Barthes for two different ways of responding to photographs, are part of the standard lexicon for discussions of photography; Barthes's understanding of photographic time and the relationship he forges between photography and death have been invoked countless times in photographic discourse; and the current interest in vernacular photographs and the ubiquity of subjective, even novelistic, ways of writing about photography both owe something to Barthes. Photography Degree Zero, the first anthology of writings on Camera Lucida, goes beyond the usual critical orthodoxies to offer a range of perspectives on Barthes's important book.

Photography Degree Zero (the title links Barthes's first book, Writing Degree Zero, to his last, Camera Lucida) includes essays written soon after Barthes's book appeared as well as more recent rereadings of it, some previously unpublished. The contributors' approaches range from psychoanalytical (in an essay drawing on the work of Lacan) to Buddhist (in an essay that compares the photographic flash to the mystic's light of revelation); they include a history of Barthes's writings on photography and an account of Camera Lucida and its reception; two views of the book through the lens of race; and a provocative essay by Michael Fried and two responses to it. The variety of perspectives included in Photography Degree Zero, and the focus on Camera Lucida in the context of photography rather than literature or philosophy, serve to reopen a vital conversation on Barthes's influential work.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262013253 304 pp. | 7.5 in x 9 in 5 b&w illus.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262516662 304 pp. | 7.5 in x 9 in 5 b&w illus.


Geoffrey Batchen

Geoffrey Batchen is Professor of the History of Photography and Contemporary Art at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of Burning with Desire: The Conceptions of Photography (1999) and Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History (2002), both published by the MIT Press.


  • It will no doubt become a portable authority on Barthes and visual-arts scholarship.

    Erik Morse

    Modern Painters


  • As the lucid essays gathered in Photography Degree Zero amply demonstrate, over twenty-five years after its original publication, Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida remains one of the most significant books to have been written on the photographic experience. Tracking the book's reception history in the Anglophone world, this exciting volume ranges across the decades and presents the distinct and provocative points of view of leading scholars. A decisive contribution to our understanding of the influential ideas that Camera Lucida has bequeathed us, this collection promises to become an important touchstone in its own right.

    Andrea Noble

    School of Modern Languages and Cultures, and Member, Centre for Advanced Photography Studies, Durham University, UK

  • Photography Degree Zero brings together much of the best writing on Barthes' Camera Lucida and adds several stimulating new essays. It is a great boon for anyone deeply interested in photography, and I will be consulting my copy frequently for years to come.

    Robin Kelsey

    Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University

  • Like Camera Lucida, Photography Degree Zero is a story of love and loss. These fourteen astute close readings of Roland Barthes's last book, masterfully assembled and introduced by Geoffrey Batchen, grapple with Barthes's brilliant insights and quirks, and with his disappointing limitations and misreadings. An essential companion to Camera Lucida, this rewarding volume is less an attempt to get it 'out of our system' than a testament to its continued relevance as we think about photography's evolution and, in Barthes' terms, its 'death.'

    Marianne Hirsch

    William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Codirector, Center for the Critical Analysis of Social Difference, Columbia University