Loss and Found: Loss and Found: Barthes, Hidden Biography and Ethical Deficit in Alexander Gardner’s ‘Portrait of Lewis Payne’

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Abstract

The reconsideration of the symbolic landscape of the Civil War and Confederate iconography since events in Charleston, Charlottesville, and Minneapolis points toward a necessary reappraisal of Alexander Gardner’s 1865 portrait of Lincoln conspirator Lewis Payne (real name Lewis Powell), and its use by Roland Barthes as an illustration for his seminal 1980 book Camera Lucida. Barthes uses the photograph to illustrate a conceptual shift from the punctum, as an individual affect for the viewer, to the noeme, or ‘that-has-been’ appreciable in all photographs. As a result of an emblematic approach using a combination of motto, subscriptio, and illustration, key details of the photograph are misrepresented, and key features of Powell’s Confederate identity are erased. This study therefore explores the circumstances of the photograph’s production, its precarious existence as an unprinted cast-off, and its eventual appreciation as a distinctive example of portraiture’s power. Whereas in Civil War historiography Powell and this photograph are little more than footnotes, the debate around Confederate statues and symbols now begs the question of how the photograph should be contextualised in photography, media and cultural studies, where it has its greatest visibility by far.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
JournalPhotography and Culture
Volume(In-Press)
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 6 May 2024

Keywords

  • Photography
  • Civil War
  • Lost Cause
  • Barthes
  • punctum
  • noeme

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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