I read this book following tutor feedback for Assignment 1 where he suggested that some of my photos would have been enhanced by ‘punctum’. On initial reading I thought he meant by the addition of people but Barthes definition is both wider and narrower than this definition. A punctum could be anything and is very much dependent on what ‘pricks’ the Spectator so in this sense is wider but in fact it may be a very small detail that is the punctum and he gives examples of these (p.29) – for e.g. the big cloth cap, pump shoes in another instance or early on the book he shows an example of soliders with nuns walking behind (p.22) – all of these pricked Barthes as a spectator and made the photos special for him. He also refers to studium where he is interested in many photos and will study them and maybe acknowledge them as good photos but it is those for him that have punctum that will stand out for him and he will continue to reflect on them after the physical looking at the photo. He discusses studium as ‘liking’ a photo whereas one with punctum will lead him to ‘love’ the photo.
He also talks about how culture and the unconscious will play a part in this. Houlihan (2004) discusses how he looks at the consciousness and unconsciousness as a way of attributing Photography a new meaning as opposed to art or technical excellence. As I have been reading about photography I have become to realize how much in tune it is to psychology which I studied for my first degree. Barthes talks about the Operator or the photographer – how does the photographer decide on what he is going to photograph and then there is the Spectator and how he views the photo and the decisions he makes about what the Operator was trying to achieve or is wanting the Spectator to see in the photo and how the Spectator actually does interpret the photo and the influence of culture on this interpretation. Powell (accessed on 2/10/2016) discusses the cultural aspects as well as studium and punctum in more depth. As he points out punctum will be very personal to the viewer and what excites one person may seem mundane to the next – the prime example of the pump shoes was for me something that I doubt I would’ve noticed had they not been pointed out by Barthes yet the photo with the nuns in the background did ‘prick’ my interest. Barthes talked about how sometimes he would find himself thinking about a particular aspect of a photo considerably later and then realizing this was the punctum in a photo.
I think from reading this book I got my understanding of what my tutor was trying to say – that in order for a photo to have that extra special something I need to think about what could be added or what might spark someone’s interest from skimming over what on the surface may be technically well composed and delivered to a photo that has someone stopping and it giving the WOW factor. The first photo he suggested this for was a picture of a tram entering my town at a level crossing and that perhaps an engagement with someone waiting at the crossing would’ve added something extra – to date I haven’t been able to try and do this and there is only one more weekend where I might have a possibility of this as the trams don’t run over the winter and there will only be about ½ dozen trams each day that weekend having checked the timetable. The other place where I might have more opportunity was the door to my ‘Secret Garden’ so I will try and do something around this in the near future.
Powell, G. (2008). Studium and Punctum. https://georgepowell.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/studium-and-punctum/. Accessed on 2 October 2016.
Haoulihan, K. (2004). Roland Barthes’camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981) annotation by Kasia Houlihan (Theories of Media, Winter 2004). http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthesescamera.htm. Accessed on 2/10/2016.