Barthes, Roland, Image-Music-Text, London: Fontana, 1982. This book is a brilliant collection of essays concerning Barthes’s writings on photography, film and semiotic theory. Edited and translated by the British film theorist Stephen Heath, it is one of the most widely read theory books on photography. Although difficult in places, it shows Barthes working through a series of different models for thinking about types of photographic images, with each essay taking a different starting point and set of problems. Journalism, advertising and film stills photographs are all subject to theoretical discussion and critique.
Barthes, Roland, Camera Lucida, London: Fontana, 1984. Widely read as a personal account of photography, Barthes’s famous essay is actually based in phenomenology, a philosophy that uses the material of a subjective experience to examine ‘theoretical’ problems. In terms of a contribution to photography theory and criticism (it is certainly not a history), this book can be read as centred on what in psychoanalysis Jacques Lacan called ‘the gaze’. For Jacques Lacan, the gaze is an imaginary look from someone or something in the picture directed at the viewer. What Barthes calls the punctum, something in the picture that ‘punctures’ the subject in a way that the original photographer could not have predicted, is very close to Lacan’s conception of the gaze. A good complementary essay is ‘The Third Meaning’, whose categories of obvious and obtuse precede studium and punctum in Camera Lucida.
Belsey, Catherine, A Very Short Introduction to Poststructuralism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. This is a very good introduction to the thinking and impact of structuralism and poststructuralist arguments on the analysis of culture via images and the way we live in or ‘inhabit’ language.
Bolton, Richard, ed., The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography, London: MIT Press, 1992. This collection of varied critical essays deals with the avant-garde and modern ‘turns’ in different European traditions and in USA photography, from the 1920s through to the 1980s when the book was first published.