We experience photographs
both as intentional and as prone to the accidental. The photograph is both
capable of being an artwork with its own, constructed world and of drawing our
attention to the reality of the objects used in creating it. In this article I
employ the insights contained in the concepts of Barthes’ studium and punctum in
order to explore how the artist’s intentions and the realism of photography
interact aesthetically. I advance the idea that a unique aesthetics of
photography can be rooted in the tension between the intentional, culturally
coded message of a photograph and the emanation of a reality that escapes
intentional control. Our aesthetic experiences of the artist’s intentions and
the appearance of the real depend upon and enhance each other. I claim that the
photographer can intentionally allow the accidental, leaving room for the
audience to encounter a punctum, and
that the control manifested in the photographer's work can serve to heighten
the experience of the penetration of the studium
by the punctum when it occurs.
Roland Barthes, Henri Cartier-Bresson,
intention, photographic experiencee, photographic realism, photography, punctum, August Sander. studium, Jeff Wall
In the short history of the
aesthetics of photography, thinkers have persistently interrogated the nature
of its realism. André Bazin claims that “we are forced to accept as real the
existence of the object reproduced, actually re-presented, set before us, that is to say, in time and space.
Photography enjoys a certain advantage in virtue of this transference of
reality from the thing to its reproduction.”
In the work of Bazin, Stanley Cavell, and Roland Barthes there is a
preoccupation with the special status photographs have for us psychologically;
they allow us to feel in touch with the objects photographed.
The realism of photography is not a question of likeness or resemblance but of
an encounter with something that was. The photograph is “an emanation of past reality.”
The functions that photographic images serve are frequently linked to their
unique variant of realism, but at the same time photography is an art form.
Hence, the experience of our connection to the real objects photographed is
mediated by artistic intention.
Various philosophers have addressed
the tension in photography between its realism, the special connection between
the image and what is photographed, and the extent to which artists can express
their intentions through the photograph. This tension has been viewed as
threatening the possibility of our taking an aesthetic interest in photography.
The concern is that the realism of photography elides the expression of
intention, and with it the scope for the spectator to be interested in the
photograph as opposed to the object photographed.
Some defenders of the aesthetic value of photographs have turned to the
aesthetic possibilities of photography’s realism, thereby challenging the
assumption that this realism is necessarily opposed to aesthetic interest.
Other commentators have stressed how photographers can variously influence the
photographic image and assert their artistic style.
These writers thus defend the possibility of an aesthetic interest in
photography against a sceptical challenge by locating an aesthetic interest in
either the realism or the intentionality of photography.
Instead of focusing on one
aspect of photography at the cost of another, it is worthwhile to explore how
the presence of a tension between these two sites of aesthetic interest
provides a unique photographic aesthetics. We can take an aesthetic interest in
the relation between the intentional expression of the artist’s thoughts and
the interjection of the reality of what was photographed. I hope to demonstrate
how, in Barthes’ phrase, the “genius” of photography
is expressed when we experience this tension between the artist’s
intentionality and the realism of photography.
Barthes’ discussion of studium and punctum in Camera Lucida serves
as a useful starting point from which to develop an understanding of the unique
aesthetic experience that emerges from the tension between intention and
realism because he demonstrates how our experience of these two moments of the
photographic are interrelated. There can be no punctum, and thus no encounter with the real, without the
intentional and cultural realm of the studium.
I begin, therefore, by presenting the salient aspects of Barthes’ framework for
the purposes of this discussion.
2. Studium and Punctum
Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida is a deeply personal text,
which, after opening with Barthes’ professed desire “to learn at all costs what
photography was in itself,"
explores the nature of the photograph through his own experience of particular
photographs. Barthes focuses on photographs (and aspects of photographs) of
significance to him, and in doing so reveals as much about himself as about
However, even if Barthes’ aim was primarily to explore the loss he felt at his
mothers’ death and the layering of significations that could elucidate his pain
by attempting this through his reaction to certain photographs and the
significations they contained, the text remains illuminating for photographs in
general. Barthes’ prose allows us to share his experience of photographs. We
either come to recognize it as part of our own engagement with photography, or
at least to understand the reality of the experience for him. The possibility
of this experience rests on assumptions concerning the nature of the photograph
and is revealing of this nature, as Barthes hoped it would be.
For Barthes the majority of
photographs remain unremarkable. The interest we generally take in photography
is culturally mediated. We understand the field of information the photograph
refers to and interpret it accordingly, whether this is historical or
anthropological fact, political statement, journalistic shock, the pathos of an
image in a charity campaign, or the beauty of an artwork. All of these uses of
photography would be assigned by Barthes to the “cultural participation” we
undertake when we take a general interest in the “studium” of the photograph.
The studium is something we approach
a photograph in the light of. The photographer speaks to us through an
established code of images and stylistic practices. We understand how the
photograph was intended and take an interest in these intentions. “To recognize
the studium is inevitably to
encounter the photographer’s intentions, to enter into harmony with them, to
approve or disapprove them, but always to understand them, to argue them within
myself, for culture (from which studium derives)
is a contract arrived at between creators and consumers.”
The punctum is understood in contrast to the studium. It is not an interest with which we categorize and
approach a photograph, but an unexpected discovery of our encounter with it. It
pierces us. It is that which breaks through and fractures the studium. It is wild and “mad,” against
the tameness of established code.
It cannot be reduced to convention and the photographer’s intentional, general
In Part I of Camera Lucida Barthes attempts to
understand the punctum, and highlight its
contingency through the idea of a detail: “often the punctum is a 'detail,' i.e.,
a partial object,” one which is “offered by chance and for nothing.”
That it hits its mark with us, disrupting our polite interest, depends on the
contingency of its signification for us. That a given detail pierces us is
accidental. Its effect is not something that the photographer could have
intended because this effect is particular to the spectator. It is not
arbitrary, but it is individual to the viewer. Thus, you might discover a punctum in an image that is for me pure studium. What strikes Barthes about
James Van der Zee’s family photograph of African-Americans is first the dated
strapped pumps, and then, recollecting later, a necklace, which he remembers as
like his dead aunt’s.
This detail possesses “a
power of expansion” for Barthes, which allows him to “perceive the referent.”
Where our interest in a photograph remains an interest in the studium, “everything which happens
within the frame dies absolutely once this frame is passed beyond.”
The punctum allows us to perceive the
reality of the objects from which the light was reflected in making the image;
“once there is a punctum, a blind
field is created (is divined): on account of her necklace, the black woman in
her Sunday best has had, for me, a whole life external to her portrait.”
Thus, the realism of
photography is encountered when the punctum
breaks through the coded field of the studium.
The studium is disrupted because the
spectator happens to feel an emanation of the real that is not reducible to a
constituent of the message intended by the photographer. “Certain details may
‘prick’ me. If they do not it is doubtless because the photographer has put
them there intentionally […] the detail which interests me is not, or at least
is not strictly, intentional and probably must not be so.” It is because this detail is particular
to the individual spectator and strikes him accidentally, and not as part of a
general communication, that it asserts its autonomy from the photographer’s
intentions and testifies to the reality of what is photographed. This detail “says
only that the photographer was there, or else, still more simply that he could
not not photograph the partial object
at the same time as the total object.”
In Part II Barthes moves
his discussion of the punctum from
the detail to time. The photograph’s aura of time, like certain details, has
the power to wound us. The photograph offers us a tragic sense of a “reality
that one can no longer touch.”
It possesses “the lacerating emphasis of the noeme ('that-has-been' ).”
A past reality is felt that is irreducible to the intentional message of the
Studium and punctum are “two elements whose co-presence established” the
interest Barthes finds in certain photographs.
Though the two elements that Barthes attributes to the photograph are opposed,
they are also interrelated. As that which disturbs the studium, the punctum relies
on the former for its effect. Its madness is felt against the tameness we are
used to. The opening up of a blind field is achieved by breaking through the
field of information that the studium
stipulates. The punctum can only
disrupt the studium and thus produce
an encounter with the real, if the studium is there to disrupt. Hence,
while realism and intentionality in photography are in tension, the aesthetic
experience of a photograph’s realism requires the intentional construction of a
cultural image. At the same time, the possibility that the intentional artwork
can be penetrated by an emanation of reality shapes our experience of the
photograph even where this encounter is lacking.
3. The Photograph as
In Camera Lucida Barthes repeats a claim he makes in his essay, "The
Photographic Message," that the photograph is an uncoded message.
How then can the photograph become coded? How can photographers express their
intentions and produce an image that we encounter as studium? In this earlier
essay Barthes lists the various ways that codification can be imposed during
the production of the photograph. These were tricks, such as montage, that
alter the image; the pose of the subject; the arrangement of objects, or their
selection within the photographic frame; and what he calls “photogenia” which
covers “techniques of lighting, exposure and printing” that embellish the
The photographer has the
possibility to control the image through various photographic techniques which
Barthes does not discuss but might place under the heading of “photogenia.” Not
only can the mood and style of an image be influenced by global techniques,
but the appearance of many details and whether some details appear at all is
also under the photographer’s control, and thus offers a further means of
intentional expression. For instance, by altering depth of field, details in
the background may be rendered visible or left as a vague blur. Or by choosing
to use color film, details, such as flowers in a tree or a splash of wine or
blood on a cloth, can emerge that would be unidentifiable in a black and white
This control is of course
limited. If the photographer wants to bring a given detail into focus or show
it through the choice of color, then other details, present at the time the
photograph is taken, will be rendered visible too. More precise control depends
on manipulation later in the photographic process, and this still operates with
the raw material of the images photographed. Given, however, that our
perception of details is contextual, through altering some details the
photograph will control our perception of others. Framing, a core aspect of
photographic style and technique, can clearly operate in this way. The
photographer is limited in creating the image by the objects that are present
at the time the photograph is taken. However, by selecting which objects appear
in shot, the perception of other objects is affected. It is thus open to the
photographer to affect, both through global techniques and some control of
detail, how the audience perceives the objects used to make the image. Hence a
photographer can express his thoughts about these objects, even before the
possibilities offered by digital technologies.
Further, these objects from
which light is reflected to make the photographic image need not be equated
with the photograph’s subject. The photographer can use style and the cultural
context of photography to indicate subjects other than the objects
photographed. By using various photographic techniques to reference other
photographic images and genres, the photographer can distinguish the subject
from the objects that played a causal role in making the image. General types
(actual or born of romanticizing or demonizing cultural figures), the nature of
the gaze, even a fictional observer who never appears in the image and never
existed to reflect the light that made the image, can be communicated through
the photograph. For example, engaging with the cultural spheres of cinema,
advertising, fashion and pornography, the artist Cindy Sherman is able to take
photographs that can be understood as about, among other things, constructions
of gender roles and objectification. Some of her images convey palpably a
predatory, watching presence. She creates a world, and even fictional presence,
through photographic means.
Thus, the photographer can control the studium
of the photograph and use convention to communicate intention.
The possibilities of
photographic communication are rich with artistic potential. Not only can we
take an interest in the admirable skill exercised in order to control how a subject
is perceived, we can take an interest in the ideas and the vision of the world
thereby communicated. Photographs, as coded images, can serve to expand our
understanding and critically evaluate our cultural concepts.
4. Jeff Wall’s Constructed Images
Jeff Wall’s photographic
art works involve intelligent reflections on pictorial form, art history, the
nature of representation, and our culture and society. Wall claims of his
pictures, “since they are constructed, since they are what I call
‘cinematographic,’ you can get the feeling that the construction contains
everything, that there is no ‘outside’ to it the way there is with photography
His work seems to achieve pure studium.
The highly controlled
nature of Wall’s images works to preclude the possibility of the experience of
a punctum. So apparent is the
precision with which a myriad of details are arranged and presented to us that
we see every detail as intended, even while some may in fact be superfluous to
his message. Whether Wall is depicting fantastical and thus obviously fictional
tableaux, such as The Vampires Picnic,
or photographing the seemingly mundane life of suburbia, as in Eviction Struggle, his photographs are
felt as fully defined, perfectly coded fields of information.
Wall has obliterated any “interferences.”
We accept his photographs as complete; their entire content as necessary and
sufficient to the expression of his intentions. The tableaux that Wall
meticulously arranges, and sometimes digitally pieces together, occlude the
experience, normally associated with the photographic medium, that some details
are arbitrary in relation to the photographer’s intentions. In other
photographs our awareness of the presence of content not intended by the
photographer testifies to the reality of what was before the lens. In Wall’s
work, however, the construction is so complete, the coded message so
omnipresent, that there seems to be no possibility of discovering a blind
While it is not necessarily
the case that what operates as a punctum cannot
be an intentional part of the photograph, if the studium is experienced as complete and impervious, then it is less
likely to be the site of an experience of punctum. If we already experience every detail
as part of an intentional communication with a general meaning, we are unlikely
to be accidentally struck by the personal significance of a given detail that
Hence, when looking at his
photographs, no punctum pierces
through the image to assert the reality of what was photographed. Thus, our
imagination is not drawn beyond them to lives lived, objects faded or fruit
ripened and decayed. The lack of a punctum
is tangible not only in those works that reference famous paintings,
pointing clearly to the borders of the frame, and the field of information of
art history, but is something we can encounter in the staged artistry of his
whole corpus. For instance, in No (Figure
1) the figures are utterly static. There is no sense that the man has come from
somewhere and will momentarily lift his foot and move forward. Unlike Barthes’
woman in her Sunday best, there is here no sense that the woman in the fur coat
has a “whole life external to her portrait.”
The man and woman in No “do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.”
Jeff Wall, No, 1983, Transparency in
My claim here is not that
Wall’s control over the image logically rules out our thinking of the reality
of the objects photographed, or the possibility of a punctum breaking through for a given spectator. I do not even claim
that Wall’s photographs will turn out to be lacking a punctum for every viewer. My point is rather that through rendering
the image as so palpably controlled, he intentionally works against this
possibility. The conventional message is so dominant in our experience of his
work that it drowns out the emanation of the real. Spectators will, therefore,
experience Wall’s intentions as in part the deliberate closure of the space
through which a detail or sense of time might pierce us. If our aesthetic
experience of the image is as if it were entirely intentional, this creates the
effect that there is no space for the punctum
to break through.
Jeff Wall’s photographs
thus present the spectator with the sensation that the possibility of the
experience of a punctum, present to
us in other photography, is here shut out. Where our experience of other
photographs is simply that they happen not to possess an element that serves as
punctum for us, the aesthetic experience of a Jeff Wall photograph is that Wall
has intentionally denied this possibility.
That Wall’s works are
contained, their content specified in a way that seems to occlude the arbitrary
message of an emanation of reality, adds to their effect and our interest in
them. They work by defying our expectations and possess a magical, unreal
element by doing so. They bring to our attention that we have these
expectations and thus that a tension between the intentionality and realism of
photography exists. They also, however, possess a certain perversity. If we are
taken with Barthes’ moving account of what is for him essential in the
experience of photography, and we acknowledge that profound experiences and
meanings can arise from the photograph’s capacity to confront us with the real,
then we must also consider the aesthetic potential of the photograph’s realism.
It, therefore, seems
worthwhile to enquire if the status of artist must be limited to those who
fight against the pull towards the reality of the objects they photograph. Even
if an artist can express thoughts about his subject, and even if this subject
can be distinct from the objects photographed to make the image, there is often
a pull towards the reality of these objects in our engagement with the
photograph. If this pull contains something profound and unique, then it seems
unsatisfactory to reduce photography’s artistic potential to the defeat of this
aspect of its character. Jeff Wall himself recognizes this character as part of
what we find in the unconstructed photography that contrasts with his work,
part of what we normally take as essential to photography: “In the aesthetic
art of photography as it was inspired by photojournalism, the image is clearly
a fragment of a greater whole which itself can never be experienced directly.
The fragment then, somehow, makes that whole visible or comprehensible, maybe
through a complex typology of gestures, objects, moods and so on. But there is
an outside to the picture, and that outside weighs down on the picture,
demanding significance from it.”
Arguably the effect of Wall’s constructed images depends on their contrast with
our usual expectations for photography.
Must the event of a punctum breaking through for an
individual spectator necessarily oppose the intentions of an artist? I wish,
finally, to consider whether an artist, rather than deliberately excluding the
real can choose to leave room for it; deliberately allowing the possibility
that the field of their intentional communication could be disrupted.
5. Allowing the Accidental
In the work of August
Sander the subject of the photographs is unambiguously the figures
photographed. Further, he seems to allow them to speak for themselves. The
style of his photographs is not crude or irrelevant to this effect. Rather Sander’s
frequent use of depth of field to focus on the figures in the foreground,
leaving the background in obscurity, lets the arbitrary details of their faces
and clothing assert themselves.
It is possible to take a
cultural interest in Sander’s photographs. As spectators we can examine with
sociological and historical curiosity his typology of 1920s German castes. We
can understand Sander’s intentions to categorize his models; reading what each
represents through the context of how he photographs them with their spade,
cooking pot, or cigarette to hand. This studium
is not reductive of Sander’s photographs, however. Looking at the individuals
photographed, it does not feel to the spectator as if Sander intended his
staged typology to be reductive of his models. He left room for them to assert
their presence. His style, in which the human subjects take centre stage in the
constructed scene, does not allow the scene to subsume them. Rather he allows
them boldly to confront the future generations of spectators.
Figure 2: August Sander, Arbeiterkinder, 1932.
We see in Arbeiterkinder (Figure 2) the reality of
these children. There are details that for me operate as the punctum Barthes describes: on a first
viewing the tense grip of the middle girl’s hands, on revisiting the image the
oddity of her disjointed fringe. These details assert themselves as present
regardless of any general message communicated in the photograph. These
children existed, had lives. They have been and are no longer. One can claim Sander has allowed this effect
intentionally, leaving space for the accidental. He intended to let the real emanate.
Allowing the punctum need not, however, preclude the
artful expression of intentions through the control of detail and style. A
photographer may communicate to us through the studium and still allow the irruption of a punctum, which pierces it without fracturing it or breaking it
apart. These dual aspects exist in tension but this tension can enhance their
aesthetics of geometry seems the epitome of creating a framed image,
constructing a world of mathematical beauty. In some of his images, however,
the perfect composition, which we would associate with the photograph as
artwork and studium, heightens the
expectation and effect of any punctum which
cuts through it. Not only is the studium a
pre-condition of the punctum, but
Cartier-Bresson demonstrates how the skill with which a photographer expresses
his or her intentions in a photograph influences both the aesthetic experience
of a possible encounter with the real and the nature of any such encounter.
The flawlessness of
Cartier-Bresson’s composition increases our sensitivity to the studium as something which is vulnerable
to being penetrated, and necessary for this penetration to occur. The tension
between the intentionality and realism is felt more acutely where this
intentionality is beautifully realized. Even if we are not struck by a punctum, the fragility of perfection in
Cartier-Bresson’s photographs brings with it a tension that this perfection
might be fractured. Despite the skill with which he constructs his impeccably
proportioned images, Cartier-Bresson’s photograph’s, unlike Wall’s, do not
carry the sense of complete determination in which every detail is part of a
general message. Cartier-Bresson exhibits great skill in composition and a
distinctive personal style without attempting to exert a complete control that subsumes
reality with its weight. In Wall’s work, the perception of a totally determined
message leads to a sense of the uncanny and thus to an awareness of the tension
at the heart of photography’s character. The tension is felt by virtue of what
is shut out and experienced as absent. With Cartier-Bresson the awareness of
the tension between intention and realism derives instead from a feeling that
another element is poised to fracture a delicate construction.
The studium that Cartier-Bresson creates also shapes the experience of
a punctum when it occurs. In Corpus Christi Procession (Figure 3),
the press of lips against gloved hands held in prayer, the beads of a pearl
necklace seen through a veil, defy containment in the field of aesthetic
composition. They exist, they were. The gazes of the women confronting the
photographer cut through the studium of
the image just as they cut through their white veils. The perfection of Cartier-Bresson’s
aesthetic studium in this image
allows the experience of punctum to
be all the more profound if it strikes us.
3: Cartier-Bresson, Corpus Christi Procession, 1952.
The tension between these
aspects serves to enhance our experience of the studium as well as the punctum.
Thus, in this image the punctum belongs
as much to the photograph’s artistic value as the studium. If we experience in a veiled glance a punctum, we are confronted with the realism of this photograph. We
appreciate that these are real people with real lives, sorrows and deaths. This
only strengthens the aesthetic appreciation of the beauty of the composition.
Cartier-Bresson’s perfect vision captures a moment, a frame, which as such
never existed. There is no distilled moment available to our perception outside
of photography. The beauty of this image has an ethereality, a pathos of
passing, that it could not have as pure studium.
The punctum which cuts through it
adds a tragic knowledge of the unreality of this geometric composition. We can
sense the stillness that will irrupt into movement and the flow of life. The
pull towards the reality of the objects increases our awareness of the skill
with which Cartier-Bresson has expressed his intentions and presented the image
as studium. It is in its dual
character of intentionality and realism that this photograph is of particular
What is essential to the
photograph is that it contains this dual character. It can be artfully
constructed, manipulated and controlled such that it can render beautiful,
communicate thoughts, and create fictional presences and narratives in a world
of its own. At the same time it contains the pull back to the reality of the
objects present at the moment the shutter clicked. If developing the former and
allowing the latter lie in tension, this itself is worthy of artistic
commentary and exploration. The existence of this tension is part of the
aesthetic interest we take in photographs and what renders photographs
continually intriguing. It is the “genius” of photography. The unique way in
which we experience photographs is part of the subject matter and possibilities
of photographic art.
Dr. Katrina Mitcheson
Katrina Mitcheson is currently lecturing in ethics at Bath Spa University
and has research interests in European philosophy and the philosophy of visual
Published on July 1, 2010.
André Bazin, What is Cinema? Vol. 1 (University of
California, 1971), pp. 13-14.
André Bazin, What is Cinema? Vol. 1 (University of
California, 1971), pp. 13-14; Stanley Cavell, World Viewed (Cambridge, Mass; London: Harvard UP, 1979); Roland
Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans.
Richard Howard (London: Vintage Books, 2000).
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p.88.
advocates the importance of recognising that photography is a technology,
developed and adapted with various purposes in mind, in which its depictive and
detective functions are distinct but interact.
The Engine of Visualisation;
Thinking Through Photography (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1997).
Scruton claims that photographs cannot represent because the photograph is
always of something. Scruton, who works from the notion of an ideal photograph,
takes the photographic relation to be causal as opposed to intentional (a dichotomy which I reject), and the
subject photographed to be equivalent to the subject of the photograph (which I
also take to be a questionable assumption). Scruton concludes that this implies
the photographer cannot express thoughts about the subject (photographically)
and this precludes the possibility of taking an aesthetic interest in the
photograph qua photograph. Roger
Scruton, “Photography and Representation,” Critical
Inquiry, 7, 3 (1981), 577-603.
Dominic Lopes has shown how, even on Kendall Walton’s claim for the photograph’s
transparency to the object, our interest in the object photographed can be
distinct from our interest in seeing it in real life. Dominic McIver Lopes, “Aesthetics
of Photographic Transparency,” Mind
112 (2005), 335-348; Kendall Walton, “Transparent Pictures: On the Nature
of Photographic Realism,” Critical
Inquiry, 11 (1984), 246-77.
“How Photographs 'Signify’: Cartier-Bresson’s ‘Reply’ to Scruton,” in Photography and Philosophy Essays on the
Pencil of Nature, ed. by Scott Walden (Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell
Publishing, 2008), pp. 167-186; Jonathan Friday, Aesthetics and Photography (Hants: Ashgate, 2002); William L. King,
“Scruton and Reasons for Looking at Photographs,” British Journal of Aesthetics, 32, 3 (1992), 258-265; Nigel
“Individual Style in Photographic Art,” British
Journal of Aesthetics, 36, 4 (1996), 389-97; Robert Wicks, “Photography as
a Representational Art,” British Journal
of Aesthetics, 29, 1 (1989),1-9.
In this article I
am not setting out to directly address a sceptical argument concerning the
possibility that photography is something we can take an aesthetic interest in.
Rather, the purpose is to offer a positive account of the aesthetic
possibilities present in the apparent tension between the reality of what is
photographed and the expression of the photographer’s intentions in how it is
photographed. I thus build on work that considers the aesthetics of either the
realism or the intentionality of photography and make a new contribution by
developing the aesthetics of the interaction of these two aspects.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 3.
I am not setting
out to explore all the significances of studium
and punctum, I do not, for
example, address how punctum connects
with the mad and the primitive. Rather I am interested specifically in how
understanding the dependency of punctum on
studium has implications for the
aesthetic experience both of artistic intentionality and realism.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 3.
The text can be seen as autobiography or as an illustration of a
method of self-understanding, unravelling the personal significances that we
attribute to a photograph, rather than as a theory of photography. Margaret
Iversen suggests that Camera Lucida can
be understood as comment on Lacan, and that the way the location of the punctum shifts in stages, changing on
further reflection, is “like an analysand working through screen memories
towards the orginal trauma.” Margaret Iversen, “What is a Photograph?,” Art History, 17, 3 (1994), 450-463; ref. on 455.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 26.
points out the reproduced Van der Zee photograph includes a pearl necklace, not
the gold strands Barthes’ describes. Margaret Olin, “Touching Photographs:
Roland Barthes’s ‘Mistaken’ Identification,” Representations 80 (2002), 99-118.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 45.
Ibid., p. 96. Michael Fried suggests that this
allows any photograph to come to have a punctum
with time, as we encounter photographs of that which no longer is. (Michael
Fried, “Barthes’s Punctum,” Critical Inquiry 31 (2005), 560.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 88; “The Photographic
Message,” in Image, Music, Text, ed.
and trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Paperbacks, 1977), pp. 15-31; ref. on
Ibid., ref. on p. 21.
details various techniques through which photographers can affect the portrayal
of their subject in defense of the artistic status of photography. “Photography
as a Representational Art,” British
Journal of Aesthetics, 29/1 (1989), 1-9; ref. on p. 6.
The use of digital technology is something which Barbara Savedoff
argues will change the aesthetic experience of photographs generally, reducing
our faith in their realism. While Savedoff exaggerates the rupture between the
ease of altering images in analogue and in digital photography, the possibility
that digital photography will affect the aesthetic experience of analogue
photography points to the way in which our assumptions about the realism of
photography inform how we experience it. Barbara Savedoff, “Escaping Reality:
Digital Imagery and the Resources of Photography,” Journal
of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 55 (1997), 201-14.
The effect could
not be achieved with a live tableau. In Sherman’s work it matters that the
final artwork is a photograph because our awareness of the subject matter
depends on the references her photographs make to particular genres of
photography. Further, the menace of a predatory gaze, or even an implied
narrative of a hidden photographer, would be lost if we were present witnessing
the staged scene.
Jeff Wall, Jeff Wall, eds. Thierry de Duve, Boris
Groys, and Arielle Pelenc (London:
Phaidon), p. 9.
Struggle,” transparency in lightbox, 1988, in Jeff Wall, op. cit., pp. 18-19; “The Vampires Picnic,” transparency
in lightbox, in Jeff Wall op. cit., pp. 62-63.
“The Photographic Message,” in Image,
Music, Text, ed. and trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Paperbacks,
1977), p. 23.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida,
Even if Wall
cannot absolutely exclude its possibility, he can still create an image which
feels to most spectators, who do not encounter a punctum, that this possibility is excluded.
Jeff Wall, Jeff Wall, op. cit., p. 9.
I would like to
thank the reviewers of Contemporary
Aesthetics for their helpful suggestions.