One of the classic books on critical theory in photography is Roland Barthes Camera Lucida. One of the last pieces written by Barthes, he writes as series of short essays and thoughts on photography. Specifically he tries to understand why some photographs resonate more with him than others. Why do some photographs, no matter their historical or artistic significance resonate and other do not? Why do some family photographs matter more than others? Is there is system or coding system that can allow him to understand why images work and don’t work. Camera Lucia is broken down into two parts. In the first part, he attempts to understand how to see and react to a photograph. The second part of the book is more of a look at specific images and reactions to parts of an image that can cause a photography to have significance. In part one of this podcast, we look at the first part of the book and focus on how studium and punctum can help us better understand photography.
From this work, he divides our understanding of photographs into two categories: stadium and punctum.
Means “to study.” From this analysis we can understand why photographs work. What was the intention of the operator (photographer). What understanding is applied by the spectator (viewer). Photographs that sit in this realm can inform, represent, surprise, signify and awaken desire within the spectator. However, most all photographs live in this realm and as a result are forgotten as soon as they are out of sight. They lack the something that makes a photography stay with the viewer.
This is the element of a photograph that has the viewer stay with the image. It makes the image have personal meaning to the spectator. Punctum is like being shot by an arrow. It is a pressure that is applied like a bruise. It leaves a mark. What Barthes realizes is that this is unique for everyone and that when this moment or pressure happens. The photograph become animated and alive. The characters and objects in the frame become real.
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