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Barthes’ Punctum and the Blind Field

On the nature of the studium:

  • In his subjective examination of multiple photographs, Barthes describes the duality created by the “co-presence” of the studium and the punctum.
  • The studium is coded, and can be understood as the rhetorical meaning of the photograph.

On the nature of the punctum

  • The punctum is a sudden ‘prick’ when recognizing something in a photograph that triggers a deeply personal meaning or memory. “The punctum, then, is a kind of subtle beyond—as if the image launches desire beyond what it permits us to see” (59).
  • The punctum is not coded. “Yet the punctum shows no preference for morality or good taste…” (43).
  • The punctum is expansive. “However lightning-like it may be, the punctum has….a power of expansion. This power is often metonymic” (45).
  • The punctum is not a result of the photographer’s artistic composition or intentions. “Certain details may ‘prick’ me. If they do not, it is doubtless because the photographer has put them there intentionally” (47).
  • The punctum is consuming of the viewer’s attention. While the studium is an “idle gesture,” reading the punctum “is at once brief and active” (49).
  • The punctum often reveals itself after viewing the photograph. “I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision oriented it language wrongly, engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss its point of effect, the punctum” (53).
  • The punctum escapes language (satori). “The photograph touches me if I withdraw it from its usual blah-blah…to say nothing, to shut my eyes, to allow the detail to rise of its own accord into affective consciousness” (55).
  • The punctum is an addition. “It is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there” (55).

On the nature of film:

  • The punctum cannot exist in film. The constant movement of still frames does not afford the pensiveness necessary for recognizing a punctum.
  • However, film is still expansive. Barthes states, “…the screen is not a frame but a hideout; the man or woman who emerges from it continues living: a “blind field” constantly doubles our partial vision” (57).
  • This “blind field” can be thought of as a de-framing of the photography, moving the material image into the spectator’s mental image.

On pornographic vs. erotic photographs:

  • The blind field is the difference between pornographic and erotic photographs. “The erotic photograph…takes the spectator outside its frame…” (59).


Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981. 42-60. Print.

About sophiapelka

MA Experiment Digital Media @uwaterloo. Sandwich eater. Into visual n audio semiotics n hard thinks.


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