Saturday, May 29, 2010

Friendly Inspiration... to Revisit Barthes


graphic tee (Out of Print, gift from Anne-Marie)
clear beaded necklace (Kohl's)
white bermuda shorts (Old Navy)
rose gold sandals (Old Navy)
book (Moby Dick by Herman Melville)

Anne-Marie gave me this Moby Dick Tee as a graduation gift to commemorate the end by remembering the beginning: our first grad school assignment was to read the entire book in one week.  Welcome to graduate school, ladies!  She found the tee at Out of Print, a t-shirt company that claims to "celebrate the world's greatest stories through fashion."  Or, at least, they celebrate the books which were originally published with cover designs that they consider "striking works of art."  Additionally, they work with Books For Africa to donate one book to "a community in need" for each tee that is purchased.

Earlier this week, I was talking to AM about how uncomfortable I am posing for these photos.  I was having trouble figuring it out.  I'm not uncomfortable with my body, I love my clothes, and I take the photos using a self-timer, so it shouldn't be a matter of being embarrassed about taking them.  She told me I need to think of posing for the photos as a performance, just as I think of dressing as a performance.  I gave this some thought.  What am I performing in the photos?  My identity?  I don't think so.  My personality?  Maybe.  So I tried to perform a little more personality in the photos for today's post.

I also decided to use Anne-Marie's gift to serve as the foundation for an AM-inspired casual outfit.  I think I struggle to style casual looks, but AM says she doesn't believe me.  I've been trying to embrace my natural hair texture and figure out how to feel comfortable with its unruliness, and AM says she prefers it wavy, so I didn't dry and straighten it.  She also claims that a nude shoe goes with everything.  When she showed us her white capris recently, I remember that I had these shorts in my closet.  To add a bit of theatricality to an otherwise standard outfit, I also added this recently acquired clear beaded bauble necklace (does it remind anyone else of Gaga's bubble "dress"?  Or a cluster of grapes?).  I think it came together well, and I enjoyed wearing this ensemble; thanks for the inspiration, Anne-Marie!

As I thought more about this photographic "performance" she suggested, I realized: wait, I've read this before.  In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes addresses this.  He recognizes that when he poses for a photo that he knows is going to be taken, "I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image" (10), and that as a result, "I feel that the Photograph creates my body or mortifies it" (11).  He also addresses the impossibility of the photograph representing what he wants it to represent,  writing, "What I want, in short, is that my (mobile) image, buffeted among a thousand shifting photographs, altering with situation and age, should always coincide with my (profound) 'self,'" but that this cannot happen because "'myself' never coincides with my image" (12).  As a result, he concludes-- and this seems to me central to my anxiety about the photographs-- "the Photograph is the advent of myself as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity" (12).

I hadn't noticed this kind of anxiety about being photographed before, I think, because I never really posed for photos by myself.  Even for these two photos, holding the book in my hands gave me a sense of comfort about the posing, like there was something there with me.  When I photograph myself by myself (and here we get into another issue that I might address another time: I'm technically the photographer and the object of the photograph) this anxiety is heightened because I know there will be nothing to look at in the photograph except me.  Why don't I think of it as a photograph of my clothes, since that is what this blog is about, rather than a photograph of me?  I don't know.  Maybe making that distinction will help.

All that to say, I think Barthes might help me think through these issues and, ultimately, to feel more comfortable with the photographic element of this blog.  But the google books preview of Camera Lucida stops at page 12, and my notes on the text in its entirety are fairly brief, so I'll have to wait until the copy I requested makes it to my library before I can return to this topic.  I do intend to return, though, because I have that exciting sense that we sometimes get as researchers-- the sense that I am heading in the right direction even though I can't put into words why I am sure of it.

Work Cited:
Barthes, Roland.  Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography.  Translated by Richard Howard.  Editions du Seuil, 1980.  Firrar, Straus, and Gireaux, 1981.  Hill and Wang, 1982. Via Google Books.


  • Thoughts on this outfit?  
  • Fellow style bloggers: I know I'm not alone in feeling anxiety about posing for the photos because I've read some of your posts on the subject.  Please feel free to throw your thoughts into conversation with mine, too!
  • If you've found ways to feel more comfortable posing for photos of just yourself, please share those, too!
  • What are your reactions to the section of Barthes I've tried to share here?  Do you sense this self-as-other feeling when you look at a photograph of yourself?


Nate C said...

I've got a feeling you could find some material for a discussion on the photographer as model/ author as character dynamic in Cervantes' Quixote.

Also, it's interesting that you've paired capri's with these flat-foot string sandals that are all the rage this summer. Both looks exist in a unique fashion category I refer to as "acceptable fringe". (actually, I don't have a name for the category yet, because it used to just contain capri's and stretch pants) The two ties binding these three items is that a)every woman owns them, b) very few should be wearing them.

I think you can work the capri's because of your frame and the length and shape of your legs. I'd feed the sandals to Oscar. Even just a little lift (see: decent pair of flip-flops) helps even you out.

Much improved on the energy in the photos...I'd guess these pictures didn't happen before 7 a.m., either.

Katie from Interrobangs Anonymous said...

1) LOVE the shirt. LOVE it. I've been on a huge kick watching PBS's "American Experience" on the whaleship The Essex, and Moby Dick plays strongly into the narrative.

2) Lovely hair. As a wavy/curly girl, I promise you that as soon as you just surrender control, it's all good (it also helps to stop washing it and use a silicon-free conditioner, but that's a discussion for another time).

3) When it comes to picture posing, it was (and often still is) awkward for me, too. What I found works is to just to take a heck-load of photos - dozens and dozens at a time, and just see what works. I've definitely discovered a "persona" for my photos, and you reach a point where you almost automatically go to that place and picture taking becomes easier.

4) The fact that you referenced Barthes made me laugh out loud. I miss my lit. theory work! Now see if you can work bell hooks into an outfit.

Scholar Style Guide said...

Ah, I love the shirt! You look great in casual wear! :) If only we had found the tee several months ago when we were thinking through national style - the fact that it's a T-shirt AND graphic printed AND explicitly referencing a seminal American text makes it oh so appropriate. (Even the word "seminal" in that sentence is exceptionally appropriate! I love Moby Dick!)

Katie, I'm with you on silicone-free conditioner, side note.

Barthes! Barthes! I had forgotten about this essay! Liz, I've mentioned a time or two that the only thing saving me from utter mortification in front of the camera is my dance background. Stage performance and photography/modeling performance seem analogous, and I wonder to what extent they share a Barthesian disassociation. WHICH! WHICH! makes me think we have a new trajectory of the theatricality/drama conversation. (Post to come, readerfriends.)

Nate, what's this about women needing a "lift"? Of course, I'm reading between the lines here and assuming that you wouldn't offer the same advice to men donning their summer flats. Would you? Liz wrote an interesting post on this topic: "Adrienne Rich and Heels"