[Podcast]Roland Barthes, Studium and Punctum

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podcast

[audio https://www.theinspiredeye.net/podcast/Inspired-Eye-Episode-5.mp3 ]

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[R]oland Barthes is a french philosopher who wrote one of the two greatest philosophical works on photography: Camera Lucida. In this episode we explore what he means by Studium and Punctum and how you can look for it in your own photography.

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Notes: Here's Issue 2 of Inspired Eye

Below is the image Roland Barthes makes reference to:

roland-barthes-punctum
Copyright Koen Wessing Estate

 

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4 thoughts on “[Podcast]Roland Barthes, Studium and Punctum”

  1. Roland Barthes is not a photographer but instead observes the photograph and observes the observer and this book is based strictly on these sensory experiences. Roland is a student of phenomenology, the philosophical study of the structures of subjective experience and consciousness and its hugely important to know this when reading him, that this is not a conventional book about photography, instead one of the few philosophical texts. He reduces the photograph to its observable effect within himself and later in the book with emphasis on the open wound that is the photograph of his dead mother.
    His words are a fit to street photography like a spiffy well cut suit and at other times more beige and safari with short pants and its true that by the end of the book we’ve lost Roland’s shirt but there is something left in the underclothes that still captures the street photographer’s attention.
    Camera Lucida is not a how-to-photography book, the photograph only serves Roland as an object from which we observe his emotional reaction. Except for the photograph of his mother, his emotional attachment to a photograph is no more influence on him than if he had drawn a Jack of Spades from a deck of cards. Roland’s only criticism of a photograph is when the effects like the distortion of a wide angle lens influence an image and so we can assume that the photos are those that are taken within conservative expectations of composure and exposure.
    He examines a general population of photographs and from these observations resolves the photograph into two parts..

    The ‘Studium’ he explains is the participation of the viewer as directed by the photograph, that the obvious meanings of the photograph are discoverable by the viewer. There is nothing much to be said of the studium other than an interest enough to view and understand the photograph. It is as Roland says, not in the immediate sense a study but an enthusiastic commitment (as one might have to landscape or even street photography).
    To explain studium in terms of street photography, an urban scene causes us to be attracted to the photograph in the first place, that is the studium of the street photography genre. Think about a rural scene that might qualify as street photography and then consider your reaction (or lack thereof) to something like an expanse of green grass. A street photograph taken in a park within city limits or at the sandy beach of a coastal city might qualify as street but does not attract attention like a cobblestone paved lane might and especially one washed in rain and the reflections of a streetlamp.
    Punctum, is a small mark in a photograph, a small detail that creates an unconscious feeling in the viewer that causes the experience to be greater or different to the photographs context or intent. He refers to it as the accident that pricks him and why he might use the Latin word punctum. Understanding this word is important too, it’s a small point where a prick like that of a needle is made and as if it was applied to his own skin.

    In the photograph ‘Little Italy’ Roland reacts to the boy’s bad teeth rather than the gun and to be honest I had seen the photograph many times but never noticed the teeth. He experiences a feeling from this small point (punctum) and maybe he has an aversion to bad teeth because he refers to this interest as “stubborn”.
    The Andy Warhol example is another where Roland has no interest in the game of hide and seek and again you must remember that Roland is studying his reaction and not the image. For some reason he reacts to Warhol’s fingernails. The ‘punchline’ you can suppose is that Warhol has hidden his very well known face behind his hands and this is part of the studium but for Roland, Warhol’s fingernails caused him an experience that is above the purpose of the photograph. He regards this punctum highly as something organic in the photograph and he also gives credit to the skill of the photographer when it is made evident (particularly in portraiture).
    Punchline is a blunt reference that I don’t refer to here and neither does Roland. The punctum is certainly not a punchline and punchline is not any part of this comment.
    For the street photographer then, the punctum is not seen when taking the photograph and yet these punctums hold the greatest surprise for me and I class them as the magic or trophy in street photography. Not the purpose of the photograph and not a deliberate part of the context but most certainly a part of the image and placed there by the gods for our amusement and their mischief. This is a mild adaption of Roland’s concept but I am not all together sure that he has discovered anything more than a ‘relevant detail to the viewer’. Nostalgia is something that we often see in a street photograph and yet they are usually of a time that we were not even born to, this feeling then, Roland calls the punctum.

    Roland would also be a major critic of Street Photography. He would view most of the images as he regards news photography without the experience of the punctum and honestly this is not the objective of the street photographer anyway so I wouldn’t feel too bruised. Its also an explanation of why street photographers are more interested in the genre above any external audience.
    Sadly when a punctum might exist for someone its often evident in forum comments like …”I love her hair” and “I wonder where she got her shoes”, where the overwhelming experience of the viewer is to go shopping and I think on Roland’s own reaction to a pair of Mary Janes on the feet of an African American woman. I have never owned a pair of Mary Janes and I don’t have them as a part of my experience or street kit and seeing their little silver buckles excites little in me.

    There is an interesting twist in the use of the word punctum however, as a punctum is the name given to the small holes in a dice and I think there is much more to think and talk about but that I have already tested the limits of the comment (grin)

    Ant
    oneant.com.au

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