That Old Black and White Magic

Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard
Hill & Wang, 120 pp., $10.95

Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography

by Peter Galassi
The Museum of Modern Art, distributed by the New York Graphic Society, 151, 82 plates pp., $12.50 (paper)

The Work of Atget, Vol. 1: Old France

edited by John Szarkowski, edited by Maria Morris Hambourg
The Museum of Modern Art, distributed by the New York Graphic Society, 180, 121 plates, 83 illus pp., $40.00

The Autochromes of J.H. Lartigue, 1912-1927

Viking, unpaged pp., $35.00

The Photography of Max Yavno

text by Ben Maddow
University of California Press, 122, 85 black and white photographs pp., $19.95 (paper)

Cole Weston: Eighteen Photographs

foreword by Ben Maddow, introduction by Charis Wilson
Peregrine Smith, 53 pp., $19.95

American Photographers and the National Parks

by Robert Cahn, by Robert Glenn Ketchum
Viking, 180 pp., $75.00

New England Reflections, 1882-1907

photographs by the Howes Brothers, edited by Alan B. Newman, foreword by Richard Wilbur, introduction by Gerald McFarland
Pantheon, 160 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Man as Art: New Guinea

photographs by Malcolm Kirk, text by Andrew Strathern
Viking, 144 pp., $45.00

Rajasthan: India’s Enchanted Land,

introduction and photographs by Raghubir Singh, foreword by Satyajit Ray
Thames and Hudson, distributed by Norton, 112 pp., $27.50

Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay

by Mary Ellen Mark
Knopf, unpaged pp., $12.95 (paper)

Nicaragua: June 1978-July 1979

by Susan Meiselas
Pantheon, 103 pp., $11.95 (paper)

The Russians

by Vladimir Sichov
Little, Brown, 200 pp., $17.50

William Klein: Photographs

profile by John Heilpern
Aperture, 191 pp., $50.00

Don McCullin: Hearts of Darkness

introduction by John Le Carré
Knopf, 156 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Herbert List: Photographs 1930-1970

by Günter Metken, introduction by Stephen Spender
Rizzoli, 175 pp., $32.50

Robert Rauschenberg Photographs

Pantheon, 144 pp., $30.00

Sam Haskins/Photographics

Roto Vision, distributed by Norton, unpaged pp., $30.00

Bill Brandt: Nudes 1945-1980

introduction by Michael Hiley
New York Graphic Society, 128 pp., $37.50

Hollywood Color Photographs

by John Kobal
Morrow, 156 pp., $15.95 until December 31, 1981, then $19.95

A Century of Japanese Photography

by the Japan Photographers Association, introduction by John W. Dower
Pantheon, 400 pp., $47.50

The flow of photographic images from the past suggests that what we are already experiencing as a deepening flood in the present will seem, in the near future, like a terminal inundation. Most of the theoretical works purporting to find some sort of pattern in the cataract of pictures only increase the likelihood that we will lose our grip. But occasionally a book makes sense of the uproar. Appearing in the author’s native language just before his death, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, now published posthumously in English, will make the reader sorrier than ever that this effervescent critic is no longer among the living. Barthes was the inspiration of many a giftless tract by his disciples but he himself was debarred by genuine critical talent from finding any lasting value in mechanized schemes. By the end of his life he seemed very keen to reestablish the personal, the playful, and even the quirky at the center of his intellectual effort, perhaps because he had seen, among some of those who took his earlier work as an example, how easily method can become madness.

Whatever the truth of that, here is a small but seductively argued book which the grateful reader can place on the short shelf of truly useful commentaries on photography, along with Walter Benjamin’s Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Susan Sontag’s On Photography, John Szarkowski’s promotional essays, and the critical articles of Janet Malcolm. Also asking for a home on the same shelf is the recently published Photography in Print, edited by Vicki Goldberg and including many of the best shorter writings about photography from its first days to now. As well as the expected, essential opinions of everyone from Fox Talbot to Sontag, there are such out-of-the-way but closely relevant pieces as a reminiscence by Nadar which suggests that Balzac preempted Benjamin’s idea about photographs robbing an object of its aura; a stunningly dull critique written by one Cuthbert Bode in 1855 which shows that photography has always generated, as well as a special enthusiasm, a special intensity of patronizing scorn; and a brilliantly turned Hiawatha-meter poem by that fervent shutterbug Lewis Carroll.

From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood
Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together.
In its case it lay compactly,
Folded into nearly nothing;
But he opened out the hinges,
Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
Like a complicated figure
In the second book of Euclid.

There is, of course, a much longer shelf, indeed a whole wall of long shelves, packed with commentaries which are not particularly wrong-headed. But they are platitudinous, and in the very short run it is the weight of unobjectionable but unremarkable accompanying prose which threatens to make a minor art boring. The major arts can stand the pressure.

Barthes at his best had a knack for timing the soufflé. The texture of Camera Lucida is light …

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