152MC – The Studium & Punctum

On Friday Matt showed us two extracts from Roland Barthe’s book, Camera Lucida. Since then I’ve read the whole book itself as I was interested in what Barthe suggests what elements are in a photograph. In this blog post I would like to explain and express my view on what his ideas are on what makes a photograph stand out. He identifies two main factors in a photographic images, which are studium and the punctum.

‘A kind of education (civility, politeness) that allows discovery of the operator’, which Barthe suggests is a Studium. In my words, I believe that Barthe sees a Studium being an element that creates interest in a image. It shows what the intentions are from the photographers point of view but the observer may see it in a different view. The photographer thinks of the idea (or intention) then present it professionally in a photograph, the spectator then has to act in the opposite way, they see the photograph then have to interpret it to see the ideas and intentions behind it.

Culture is important within studium, as Barthes puts it ‘it is culturally that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions,’ Barthes says that culture ‘is a contact arrived at between creators and consumers.’ I think this cultural middle ground is extremely important in the way ideas are put across from photographer to spectator, if two people from completely different cultures are to analyse the same photograph, chances are you will get two very different interpretations. As they have different backgrounds and different views of the world.

To breakdown what Barthe’s statement is, a studium adds interest, but in the order of liking, not loving. I think it is punctum that is of real interest to photographers.

Punctum is the second factor to an image that Barthe mentions in Camera Lucida.

A Punctum is an object or image that jumps out at the viewer within a photograph – ‘that accident which pricks, bruises me.’ Punctum can exist alongside studium, but disturbs it, creating an ‘element which rises from the scene’. Punctum is the rare detail that attracts you to an image, Barthes says ‘its mere presence changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value.’ Everyones Punctum in an image is different. Each punctum can be an accident that the photographer didn’t intend.

The second factor is much more powerful and connected to the observer, changing the ‘like’ of studium to the love of an image. As a photographer an understanding of punctum could potentially allow me to make stronger images, although I feel that punctum needs that accidental quality about it to be most effective because it is so personal and could be different for everyone. Basically it could be anything, something that reminds you of your childhood, an object of sentimental value, punctum is very personal and often different for everyone. A photographer may not even notice its there as every observer has different experiences.

Whereas studium is ultimately set up, the punctum is not which I feel relates to how the interest in studium is often in the deconstruction of the image, whereas for punctum it is that point of impact, which in itself may have meaning but was not originally hidden within the images meaning. Punctum retains an ‘aberrant’ quality. Barthes himself says ‘what I can name cannot really prick me’, the inability to name is a good punctum is almost good for a photographer, as every photograph can have each. Someone may look at a photograph and have no studium or punctum but someone else may see otherwise.