Usage de l’photo – Annie Erneaux

Is about fitting accepting and rejecting. Description of life through the period of illness. Photography is as evidence of me being alive –  reconfirmation to oneself and others. Reflection of someone’s life on a camera / video / film.

Much has been written about photography as proof, notably in discussions of Roland Barthes’s La Chambre  claire (Paris: Seuil, 1980). For a useful summary and analysis of the issues see, for instance, Ann Jefferson, ‘Roland Barthes: Photography and the Other of Writing’, Jour nal of the Institute of Romance Studies, 1 (1992), 293 – 307.

But whatever claims have been made or rejected on behalf of photography, writers usually agree that writing, in contrast, fails to function as proof.

In an article on the place of photography in Guibert, Proust, and Barthes, I have explored further the issue of writing’s failure to prove existence, which is the starting point for these authors’ meditations on photography; see Akane Kawakami, ‘Un coup de foudre photographique: Autobiography and Photography in Her ve´Guibert’, Romance Studies, 25 (2007), 211 – 25.

 Metamorphosis, the continuation of life in another for m, is a possible explanatory model for this thought; especially during this time of her battle with breast cancer, Ernaux may well have been attracted by notions of such alternative, if subordinate, means of sur vival.

Metaphor of staying alive through the captured memory – photo albums, writings, home video. The importance of leaving the legacy of one’s thoughts – empowerment.

Fascination with traces – footsteps, shoes, things left behind – hanging, impersonification of the bodies that used to wear them. Person’s belongings are descriptive of the person who has worn them. Traces of life – wounds, stamps, tattoos, wrinkles, grey hair…

Physical presence is indisputable. Importance of the witness. Although she never makes the link explicit, this frenzied desire to accumulate photographs — ‘proofs of life’ — mirrors uncannily the proliferation of images made of her ailing body during the active treatment of her cancer: ‘pendant des mois, mon corps a e´ te´ investigue´ etphotographie´ des quantite´ s de fois sous toutes les coutures et par toutes les techniques existantes’ ( p. 149). – photography as a proof and evidence and medical investigation.

Her cancer, of course, also had this effect: as numerous narratives of illness have shown, illness leads almost inevitably to the body being objectified. Both on the level of structure and content, L’Usage de la photo is a provocative and insistent ‘rendering material’ of the self. – Is it just the cancer or is it any other traces. What does it need to change to become objectified. Body.

Body being photographed. Absence of the bodies. Traces left the negative space of the image. Leave the most important out – proof of life. Perhaps visit the old psychiatric hospital outside Edinburgh – traces of illness and recovery and change. Reassurance and life.

Proust makes it clear that to see a loved one ‘photographically’ is to see her in the context of her impending death. ‘As a mechanical and chemical process, photography acts as the embalming of reflections past […] photographic images are effigies’, even when they  represent people who are still alive. Habitually, our love for the person superimposes a younger image onto the ageing face, and it is only when we are given — in spite of ourselves — a moment of photographic vision that we are forced to contemplate the person’s mortality.

Richard Paul on reflection – photographic essays and writings


Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry

Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

The interphototextual dimension of Annie Ernaux and

Marc Marie’s L’usage de la photo

Ari J. Blatt

Available online: 16 Dec 2008

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On: 20 June 2012, At: 13:23


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