Roland Barthes’ first three sentences entrapped me. Oh, how I know those little touches of solitude!
This book is one learned man’s subjective approach to understanding why certain photographs grab him and others don’t. He employs two Latin words: studium and punctum. The studium is a general, enthusiastic commitment. It is the part of the photograph that is as it should be, i.e. background, lighting, composition. The punctum is the detail that breaks the studium: a wound, a prick, a sting, a speck, a cut, a little hole. This is the “something” which grabs your eye, your mind or your emotion. He writes as a philosopher, which is to say, he writes about a photograph as a death, a madness, a myth, and a reality. He even writes “Photography has something to do with resurrection.” More quotes:
The Photograph sometimes makes appear what we never see in a real face (or in a face reflected in a mirror): a genetic feature, the fragment of oneself or of a relative which comes from some ancestor … the truth of lineage. (p.103)
What characterizes the so-called advanced societies is that they today consume images and no longer, like those of the past, beliefs…(p.119)
In a poignant and personal passage, Barthes writes about looking for
his mother’s essence in photographs after her death and finding her
(There she is!) in a photograph taken in 1898 when she was five years
old. He concludes that capturing the air of a face (we might call it the soulfulness of a person), although recognizable is unanalyzable. Barthes died shortly after he wrote this book in 1980.
If you are a word-bird like me, see if you are familiar with any of these additions to my vocabulary. Since the book is translated from French, I don’t know how if these words are from the author or the translator.
eidolon = unsubstantial image, phantom, ideal
hebetude = lethargy, dullness
oneiric = related to dreams, dreamy
phenomenology = study of the development of human consciousness and self-awareness as a preface to philosophy
metonymic = use of a name of one thing for that of another, i.e. the land belongs to the crown
fulguration = flash with lightning
praxis = exercise or practice, customary conduct
palinode = a formal retraction
anamnesis = a recalling to mind; reminiscence
For the one person I haven’t lost (those little touches of solitude!), if you are still interested awake, you can read a seven page excerpt of the book here.