In Camera Lucida, his mediation on the history and nature of photographs, Roland Barthes wonders about the medium’s “essential feature” that distinguishes it from “the community of images,” from paintings, drawings, or etchings, for example. Barthes writes:

To see oneself (differently from in a mirror): on the scale of History, this action is recent, the painted, drawn, or miniaturized portrait having been, until the spread of Photography, a limited possession, intended moreover to advertise a social and financial status — and in any case, a painted portrait, however close the resemblance. . . is not a photograph. Odd that no one has thought of the disturbance (to civilization) which this new action causes.

I’ve always been struck by this word “disturbance” Barthes uses to describe those early encounters with photographic portraits. The word evokes not only a cultural ripple in the history of image making, but also conjures a psychology of… More…