Friday, June 15, 2012

Art Break (punctum)*


"...In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: She is going to die: I shudder… over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe."
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography 

Barthes embrace of the subjective—his definition of the wound or suture that a photograph can inflict on a viewer—was intensely liberating to me as a grad student steeped in the brittle game of 1980s post-modern thought.

Even before the mother above died, because of Barthes I understood the duality of the photograph—the banal: a portrait of a young girl from post WWll America—the personal: a portrait of my mother as a young girl before the anxiety of her adult life and early death.

The events of her life will always remain unchanged, but as I look at her, in a time that precedes my existence, there is a familiarity in her smile, a presence in her eyes—all of course, a creation of my memories and emotions in the present.

For Barthes, every photograph is a catastrophe at the moment of its capture—as long as it exists it can only represent the unbreakable barrier of time.

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 unintentionally 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.’

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