In rest of the world. Barthes constantly compares photography

In Camera Lucida Roland Barthes
emerges himself on a trip full of discoveries, where he contradicts his words
after a few pages, where he starts to talk about death to ended up talking
about love and attachment, and he discovers that photographs are more than an
object, and photography more than an art.

 

At the beginning of the book,
Barthes is only interested in the technical and superficial facts of the
photography and photographs, for example he describes photographs as an object
of three parts: Operator, the
photographer, Spectator, the viewers,
and Spectrum, what is photographed.
He mentioned his interests as well in how the subject to be photographed
changes his/her behaviour when is posing in front of the camera, how the
subjects want to be represented and how they would like to be seen by the rest
of the world.

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Barthes constantly compares
photography with death because the moment that it is represented in the picture
won’t happen again, I could be the same subjects, same scenery, same clothes,
but once the picture is taken, it belongs to the past, it is dead.

At the same time as Barthes was
studying photography, photographs, and what was interesting for him when he
looks at a  photographs, he concluded
that photographs are divided in two element, the Studium and the Punctum.

 

 

 

 

Studium

 

 

Barthes describes the studium as
something that every photograph has and it depends on every person because the
studium is the “I like/I don’t”, but as well “It is what we might call the
theme or the subject of the picture, what the photographer is trying to say,
but it is also has to do with ideas and general culture” (Batchen, 2009, p.48).
In other words, the studium is what
the photographer wants to show us, what he/she wants to communicate, and the
viewer has to capture and understand that idea even if he/she doesnt agree with
it. We could say as well that the Spectator
or viewer is one of the mains parts of the studium, because depending of his/her cultural level, education,
country, knowledge, a person can like or don’t like a photograph, it is not the
same for us to see a picture of a little boat full of refugees in the middle of
the sea knowing the political and social situation, than if some african women
from a tribe see the same picture, because she wouldn’t know what it is about,
and probably she wouldnt understand anything about the picture, it has no
meaning for her. The studium, as I
mentioned before not only is a language between photographer and viewer, and
its not only about like or don’t like, the
studium also is about to inform, to represent, to provoke
surprise, to give meaning.

 

 

 

 

Punctum

 

During the Camera Lucida book, Barthes changes his mind about what the punctum is, and what it represents, at
first he recognizes the punctum as
something that takes his attention in a picture, but after the death of his
mum, he changed and describes the punctum as time.

 

 

           

            Punctum
as prick

 

Barthes describes the punctum as something that pricks you,
the visual detail that grabs our attention, but as well as something touching
and beyond the photographer’s control. Knowing this description that he gives
us about the punctum, I have mixed
feelings, in one hand, I understand that when you are looking at pictures,
there are details that grabs your attention to them, maybe because they create
certain feelings on you, or maybe because they look like it doesn’t belong to
the picture, so you can say the object, or the part that attracts you, it is
the punctum, but Barthes mention that
one of the main differences between studium
and punctum is that the punctum is not in all the images. We can
agree that the most of the images that we visualise don’t cause any interest on
us, they are just images, looking for example at a landscape photograph where
there is not a specific object taking our attention we just pass to the next
image without thinking about it, and we can notice this more especially
nowadays with the amount of images we can have access on our phones, it is
really rare that you stop for more than a second to look at an image, so even
if they have a theme, a studium,
there is not punctum, they don’t
prick you to spend more time looking at them, there is nothing that grabs your
attention to it.

In the other hand, he describes the
punctum as something that the
photographer can not control, and if it is set there by the photographer then
there is not punctum, and he gives us
some examples of punctum, in this
picture the child’s bad teeth is the punctum according to Barthes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Klein: Little Italy. New
York,1954

 

 

 

It makes me think about punctum
happening only in street photography or photographing events where the
photographer does not have any control in the situation, and only he/she
photographed what it is in front of him/her, something that is happening at
that moment, quick and in sort of way unorganized. But Barthes decided to find
a photograph taken in the studio which has punctum, for him the belt of the
woman on the right is the punctum in this picture, so it can be in any picture
independently of where it has been taken, if it is in a studio with everything
set up, or on the street, if the subjects are positioned or if they just stop
for a second.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Van Der Zee, Family
Portrait.1926

 

 

 

 

I think what Barthes didn’t mention
about the punctum is that the punctum is a personal choice, because
not everybody is attracted to the same details, and even if he is talking about
one punctum in a singular way, I
wonder if there is the possibility of finding two punctums in the same image.

 

           

Punctum as time

 

 

After his mother passed away, he
started to write the second part of Camera
Lucida, where he started to talk about photography with melancholy and
bitterness, constantly connecting photography with dead and how what it has
been photographed is a proof that a person, or a situation was there at that
moment, but as well a moment that is gone, and a person that might be dead by
the time you are looking at the photograph, this is why Barthes says that
photography doesn’t make us to remember the past, photography is the testimony
of what has been, what has existed at certain time, and it is so pessimistic
his vision at this stage that he called photographers “agents of death”.

 

One day looking at photographs
where his mother was in, he explored the two elements of a picture was made of,
the studium and the punctum and he realize that there was a
new punctum, the “that has been”, the Time, dividing this time into: the time
he is looking at the image, the time of Jesus and the time when the photographs
was taken.He left behind the idea of something that pricks you, something
visible in the picture to go more deep into time, into where the subject of the
image is, or what is going to happen to that subject after that picture was
taken. Barthes started to think about feelings in photographs, and reactions
belong like or not like, “the punctum may be it has a bodily and perceptive
affect (love,compassion, enthusiasm, desire) on the spectator. It not only has
the power to expand and contract time but the photograph has the ability to
think free of the spectator” (Emerling, 2012, p.188). This punctum is so
private that it doesn’t need to be in the photograph, it is what Barthes called
“the pleasure of the text”, that means how each of us read and experience a
photograph, you can be looking at an image of a landscape and reminds you of
when you were there on your childhood with your family, this would be the new
punctum, the punctum as time, the time you spend there, the time the picture
was taken at, it could be just an object similar to the one your mum had, it is
not anymore about a tiny part in an image, it is the feelings that image brings
into you, the memories, the time.

Elkins (2007) discuss that the new
punctum is a literary device to make us to understand how he could feel his
kind of pain, maybe that is why Barthes passed to treat photography like
something superficial, only interested in classify images into like/dont like,
punctum/not punctum to talk about feelings, time, and memories.

 

 

 

 

Studium and Punctum in the digital era

 

 

 

 A digital photograph  can fool some of the people all the time, and
all of the people some of the time, but it cannot fool all of the people of the
time (Elkins, 2007, p.209)

 

 

Barthes is working with analog
photography during all the Camera Lucida book
because it wasn’t until 1990 when the first digital camera was available for
general public, so we can argue if the studium and punctum is valid in the new
generation of photographs. The studium as theme, subject and cultural knowledge
is not as different in analog photography as in digital photography, It is a
classification, a language between the photographer and the viewer and as long
as there is a photograph it will be a studium.

 

The punctum as something that pricks you it is totally different, we
can not be sure if it exists anymore, because nowadays we have thousands of
post production programs like Photoshop or Lightroom where you can get rid of
every detail that distract the viewers from the main subject, also we can add
things, change colors, modified nearly every single detail, and we have to
remember that Barthes mentioned the punctum as something out of the control of
the photographer, this would be easier with analog photography, but with
digital photography. If we go back to the examples Barthes gave us, we could
change the little boy teeth and create a new dentition for him, or the woman’s
belt in the family portrait picture, we can erase it, or put a different one,
so this makes me doubt about the punctum, I’m not saying it doesn’t exists anymore,
but probably it is harder to find a punctum in the photographs since the
digital photography came to our lives.

 

As we mentioned before Barthes not
only talked about one punctum, he
discovered a second one more private and personal connected with time. As it
happened with the studium, this punctum related with feelings and time
has a clear presence in digital photography, and not only the personal
photography like pictures we take for family albums where the time is stopped
but we can come back there and think about the subject in the image, this
punctum is used a lot lately in marketing and advertisements. The new
advertising campaigns are not that interested in show the product in the
advertisement, like at the beginning of the marketing business where the image
was the product, now it is all about the new punctum, it is about the feeling that an image is causing on you,
it is about connecting the image of the product to you, bringing you to a
moment that you had lived or that you are living. For example we can see in the
christmas advertisements, it is all about family, happiness, being together,
lights, christmas tree, presents, santa, and everybody connects with it,
because it is all what christmas is about, but it is not a christmas thing, in
advertisements about alcoholic drinks, like guinness, we don’t see even any
drink around, we see sports, passion, irishness because it is what the people
connect with. So we could say that the new punctum
is more present than ever, and it has been used in our everyday life.