This week I’ve been reading Roland Barthe’s book, Camera Lucida and would like to touch upon some of his ideas on what makes a photograph stand out. Barthes cites two main factors in a photographic image, studium and punctum.
Barthes calls Studium ‘a kind of education (civility, politeness) that allows discovery of the operator’. Basically studium is the element that creates interest in a photographic image. It shows the intention of the photographer but we experience this intention in reverse as spectators; the photographer thinks of the idea (or intention) then present it photographically, the spectator then has to act in the opposite way, they see the photograph then have to interpretate it to see the ideas and intentions behind it.
Culture is an important connotation 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, two people from completely different cultures and got them to analyse the same photograph, chances are you will get two very different interpretations (obviously other factors affect it but I feel that culture is the one of the most significant).
Barthes cites journalistic photographs as good examples of studium, saying ‘I glance through them, I don’t recall them, no detail ever interrupts my reading; I am interested in them (as I am interested in the world) I do not love them.’
To summarise 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 element to an image that Barthe mentions in Camera Lucida.
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’ and unitentially fills the whole image. Punctum is the rare detail that attracts you to an image, Barthes says ‘its mere presense changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value.’
Clearly this second element is much more powerful and compelling to the spectator, 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, a sense of deja vu, an object of sentimental value, punctum is very personal and often different for everyone.
Whereas studium is ultimately coded, 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 sytom of disturbance and punctum.