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Light in the Dark Room

Photography and Loss

2004
Author:

Jay Prosser

Light in the Dark Room

Explores photography not as a document of the past but rather as a realization of what we have lost

Engaging the photographic reflections of figures as different as Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gordon Parks and Elizabeth Bishop, Light in the Dark Room offers a vision of photography as realization of loss. The losses this book recalls are poignant yet universal, and among them Prosser weaves his own meditations on photography, on the interdependence of loss and enlightenment, and on our technologized society.

Theoretically astute and highly affective, Light in the Dark Room stops us in the tracks of our tears—getting lost in photographs and getting real in the process of looking back and beyond.

Louis Kaplan, author of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: Biographical Writings

When we look at a photograph we see a moment that is no more. Photographs place reality into the past tense, representing not memory but memory’s loss. They are not conduits for the return of memory, but memento mori: reminders of the fact of death itself. And it is in this, Jay Prosser tells us, that we find the gift of photography.

Engaging the photographic reflections of figures as different as Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gordon Parks and Elizabeth Bishop, Light in the Dark Room offers a vision of photography as realization of loss—and a revelation of how photographs can shed light on the dark rooms of our lives. Beginning with an analysis of Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, Prosser explores the relationship of autobiography and photography and then considers Lévi-Strauss’s last published book, his photographic memoir; he uncovers the collection of photography painstakingly assembled by poet Elizabeth Bishop but never published; and he recounts the story of a forgotten Brazilian boy from the 1960s who lost his home as a result of photographs. The losses this book recalls are poignant yet universal—a son loses his mother; an anthropologist, his culture; a photographer, his youth; a poet, her lover.

Among these personal and moving losses and the remarkable photographs that accompany them, Prosser weaves his own meditations on photography, on the interdependence of loss and enlightenment, on the emergence of our technologized society—and the world we have lost in the process.

Light in the Dark Room

Jay Prosser is lecturer in American literature at the University of Leeds. He is the author of Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality and coeditor of Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on “The Well of Loneliness.”

Light in the Dark Room

Theoretically astute and highly affective, Light in the Dark Room stops us in the tracks of our tears—getting lost in photographs and getting real in the process of looking back and beyond.

Louis Kaplan, author of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: Biographical Writings

Prosser eschews a more academic design for delight in the writing process itself. Light in the Dark Room is a book we need, turning fresh eyes to relatively old debates in photography theory.

Year’s Work in Critical & Cultural Theory

The writing has some of the unexpected brilliance of the photographs to which this book is a complex tribute.

Modernism/Modernity

Light in the Dark Room

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