Studium and Punctum in Camera Lucida.

Dirty Dancing. Copyright 2010: Knut Skjærven.

I needed to re-read Roland Barthes‘ Camera Lucida from 1980.  I use an English translation in a print from 2000. The numbers you find in brackets refer to pages in that version of the book.

There were certain things that I needed to check up on. What does that book actually say about studium and punctum in photography? What was Barthes’ original ideas?

In handling these issues this is the first regular post on phenomenology and photography, this blog. There will be more of such notes. I label (and tag) these posts “working notes” since that is exactly what they are. They are private notes, that I have chosen to make public so they might be of use to others as well. Very slightly adapted.

The notes will all be new, and presented here as I make them.

The specific issues I wanted to investigate were if studiums and punctums (as Barthes use these words) are general qualities that you will find in/with every photographs? Or are they, on the contrary, qualities that goes only with certain photographs.

Or maybe the terms should be understood in different ways all together?

On Images

Roland Barthes: “I see photographs everywhere, like everyone else, nowadays; they come from the world to me, without my asking; that are only “images,” their mode of appearance is heterogeneous.” (16)

And then Barthes continues:”Yet, among those which has seen selected, evaluated, approved, collected in albums or magazines and which had thereby passed through the filter of culture, I realized that some provoked tiny jubilations … and that others, on the contrary, were so indifferent to me that by dint of seeing them multiply, like some weed, I felt a kind of aversion towards them, even of irritation.” (16)

There is, it seems, a distinction between photographs that invoke tiny jubilations and those that are indifferent to Barthes or even invoke irritation.

Barthes says: “I decided then to take as a guide for my new analysis the attraction I felt for certain photographs.” (18)

In this task Barthes borrows “something from phenomenology’s project and something from it language.” (20). I will, however, leave that discussion to another time.

Related to the photograph above, at this level of discussion, it will be a question if it evokes a tiny jubilation, or simply is an indifferent image. That is for you, the observer, to decide.

On Studium

Barthes then enters into an analysis of couple of photographs from the Dutch photographer Koen Wessing:

“What I feel about these photographs derives from an average affect, almost from a certain training. I did not know a French word which might account for this kind of human interest, but I believe this word exists in Latin: it is studium, which does not mean, at least not immediately, “study”, but application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity. (26)

And: “It is by studium that I am interested in so many photographs, whether I receive them as political testimony or enjoy them as good historical scenes: for it is culturally (this connotation is present in studium) that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the setting, the actions.” (26)

Related to the photograph above studium would be issues to the where, the when and the what of the photograph. Among many other things that culturally do, and could, relate to it.

On Punctum

That much for studium. Now, what does Barthes has to say about punctum? Its comes here:

“The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time is it not I who seek it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness),  it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out f it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exist to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that is also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points; precisely these marks are so many points.” (26-27)

Further: “This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also the cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me). (26-27)

And he continues: “Many photographs are, alas, inert under my gaze. But even among those which have some existence in my eyes, most provoke only a general and, so to speak,polite interest: they have no punctum in them: they please or displease me without pricking me: they are invested with no more than studium.The studium is that very wide field of unconcerned desire, of various interest, of inconsequential taste: I like / I don’t like”. (27)

Related to the photograph above punctum could be almost anything. Punctum is a capacity that hits you, and not anything that could be read out of the image as part of the studium. Normally it would be a detail that speaks to you. And it would be very individual what/who is speaking and what is said.


I am not going to take this note any further.

I was interested in seeing if studium and punctum, by Barthes, were initiated as concepts of general qualities inherent in all photographs. It seems that they were not. They arespecial qualities that come with certain pictures and certain attitudes.

And what is more: Images that qualify as objects worthy of studium, will not necessarily “contain” punctums. Barthes is very clear about that.

There also seems to be images that fall completely outside the studium area: those “merely images” that the author simply is indifferent to. However, this does not mean that these images are without interest for everybody. Barthes may be indifferent to images that might have quite a different status for others. Even if Barthes would not have invested in those images, others might. This is a very important point.

We have, however, to be a bit cautious when reading Camera Lucida. Questions have to be asked. Is Barthes, for instance, talking about qualities in a) the object, in the b) subject or in c) the subjects reading of photographs? He is, in my opinion, talking about  c) the reading of the photographs. This is quite consistent with phenomenology, or should I say intentionality. That discussion will, however, be left to another time.

Barthes’ stand on these issues could be phrased like this: Studiums are investments, punctums are gifts. Investments do not grant gifts. But they don’t exclude them either.

Some people don’t invest and they don’t get gifts. Others do/get both.

That’s all :-). Thanks.

Roland Barthes: Cameras Lucida, Vintage Books, London 2000.
Library Thing.
Don’t forget to follow the other blogs in the barebones blog universe. Here are links to the picture blogs: Berlin Black and WhitePhotos of  The Danes.
Please be aware that this post was originally posted to Phenomenology and Photography.

Barthes on Studium and Punctum

Screen Shot from Phenomenology and Photography

You may have noticed that there is a new post on Phenomenology and Photography. Click the link, or click the picture above to go there.  The post is about what Barthes actually meant with the terms studium and punctum applied to photography. You will find the answers in that post.


Walk of Life

Walk of Life. Copyright 2010: Knut Skjærven.

Walk of Life. Copyright 2010: Knut Skjærven.

Shot at National Gallery of Denmark. A wonderful place to combine art and people. The sculpture and the painting are both done by Danish artist Kurt Trampedach. Clearly “the pose” of this image is what gives meaning. And then we are, once again, being reminded of the powers of connotations.

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Shameless Self Promotion

Danish Masters.

Danish Masters. Copyright: Knut Skjærven. CLICK IMAGE.

On this, the last Friday of November 2009, I shall engage in what you might call shameless self promotion. I got webwords this morning that this photograph has been shortlisted for a webguide on Copenhagen. It is shot at Statens Museum for Kunst (The Danish National Gallery) in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Hi Knut,

I am writing to let you know that one of your photos has
been short-listed for inclusion in the ninth edition of our
Schmap Copenhagen Guide, to be published mid-December 2009.

Best regards,

Emma Williams,
Managing Editor, Schmap Guides

The shot was picked up on flickr at bareboneslight photostream.

Do I enjoy this image? Yes I do.There are several reasons for this.

First of all it is shot with as small, compact camera and not with my usual gear. The small pocked sized camera is a Leica D-Lux 4 and the lens as absolutely fantastic. Not even a shed of doubt about that. Look at, what shall I call it, the brightness of this picture. It is fabulous corner to corner.

Secondly, and I had no control over this, are the positions of the three girls in the frame. You can control part of that, but not all of it: one front to camera, one back to camera and one profile to camera. This is accidental. No deliberate pose here.

Thirdly, and what in my opinion really make this photo (shortlist or not), and lifts it way beyond average random shooting, is the first girl from the right hand side; the way she holds her hands makes all the difference in the world. That pose is the punctum of this shot. For me, definitely. (This is much more distinct in a larger version of the photo).

Forth and final, is the way all components overall combine in this particular shot. You need tremendous luck to pocket a shot like this. If you don’t believe me, try doing it. Maybe I’ll see you around then :-).

If you for one moment thought that this was a snapshot, forget it. Hopefully it will now become a schmapshot, and that is a huge difference. Particularly if that shot works as a window to the Danish Masters of Visual Arts. Those represented at The Danish National Gallery. In my ears, that idea does not sound bad at all.

Thanks Emma, I am much obliged. Have a good weekend.

Go here for Schmap Copenhagen.

Barthes’ Connotation Procedures 6: Syntax.

British Museum

British Museum

Finally, the last of Barthes’ connotation procedures coming up. And maybe the most obvious one. I has to do with picture syntax. Barthes is simply  stating that when more than one image is involved, there emerges a new connotative level based on the series or cluster of images. Please read the quote below to get a better understanding of the matter.

Look at the picture above. It is perfectly possible to analyze each individual photograph on its own, but you can also analyze the combination of the series of pictures. Sometimes, but not all the time, you might end up with connotations that differ from one image to all of them taken as a cluster. There are individual pictures in there, that e.g. do not connote “liveliness” or “youth”, but if you look at the cluster as a whole you will find such connotations.

We all know that series, or clusters, of pictures are very common. Newspaper, or magazine, articles are obvious examples where more than one image often are used. An advertising campaign, most of the time, uses more than one picture. So, be aware that you can deliberately provoke connotations by using a multiple of images. But you need to know what you are doing.

Go here to get to the other connotation procedures.

Barthes: “We have already considered a discursive reading of the object-signs within a single photograph. Naturally, several photographs can come together to form a sequence (this is commonly the case in illustrated magazines); the signifier of connotations is then no longer to be found at the level of any one of the fragments of the sequence but at that – what the linguists would call the suprasegmental level – of the concatenation. Consider for example four snaps of a presidential shoot at Rambouillet: in each the illustrious sportsman (Vincent Auriol) is pointing his rifle in some unlikely direction, to the great peril of the keepers who run away or fling themselves to the ground. The sequence (and the sequence alone) offers an effect of comedy which emerges, according to a familiar procedure, from the repetition and variation of the attitudes”.

Library Thing. (Roland Barthes: Image, Music, Text, pages 15-31, Fontana Press 1977, UK. Essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath).

Barebones Pitstop Puzzle

Pitstop Puzzle. Copyright 2009: Knut Skjærven.

Pitstop Puzzle. Copyright 2009: Knut Skjærven.

I just did you a favour.

From time to time I have posts that simply consist of a quote. Often an image added. These posts are all tagged “pitstop”, but unless you go for that tag in the tag cloud, you will never find them in one go.

I have collected them all for you. Linked from the same blog post. This one.  If you visit the blog page pitstop puzzle you will find the same linked there. I will update that page whenever I publish a new pitstop  post.

The idea with the pistop posts is simply to give you a break. Read them, or leave them.

Each pistop is a breath of fresh air. They all stand on their own and can be read in isolation. However there is an intention with these pitstop posts. Not expressive written down, or instructed. They are pieces of the same puzzle. They are pieces of the same picture. The are pieces of barebones.

Take a closer look at the photograph above. It is one single shot. Not a compilation of many. By viewing them all together you get a picture that is different from viewing each “piece” in isolation. You get THE picture.

Your turn now. Here are the collected pistop posts. Collected for you. You must make the picture by piecing them together.

Here you go: The Barebones Pistop Puzzle.

Minkowski’s Measure.

What Persists Unseen.

Lost in Translation.

Gain and Loss.

The Pose.

And Nobody Can Do Anything About It.

The Language of Facts.

A Mode of Familiarity.

This Feeling of Gratitude.

Out of the Bits and Pieces.

The Unsurpassed Elegance of a Stork.

From Solid Ground.

The Principle of Relevance.

Open Possibilities.

For Me Simply There.

No Substitute For Original Thinking.

Pitstop 05.

Pitstop 04.

Pitstop 03.

Pitstop 02.

Pitstop 01.

Good luck with it. I never told you it would be easy.

The good news, however, is that these pitstop posts do not only fit into one particular picture. They fit many. Could even be yours. There are stuff in there that will last you a lifetime. You need to fill out the blanks.

For once, I have listed things in a chronological order. Bottom up.

Your Basic Travel Kit

Timid Tulips. Copyright 2009: Knut Skjærven.

Timid Tulips. Copyright 2009: Knut Skjærven.

I have been away for a couple of days, and have not been able to post. However, the beauty of barebones are that you can take them with you. By this, I do not only mean that you can access the internet from any foreign hotel lobby, and even have it as room service. This is rather obvious nowadays.

I have something else in mind as well

Do you remember the post on creatics? It was posted not than long ago as an introduction to a new barebones themes on creativity in communication. The process of getting ideas seems to go like this:

1) gather relevant material, both general and more specific

2) masticating the material

3) forget all about it (this is your basic travel kit)

4) wait for the ideas to turn up “out of nowhere”

5) be critical in reviewing the ideas

If you have done, or are in the process of 1) gather relevant material, it is pretty easy to take the rest of the process with you when you are on travel, and mostly see the inside of hotel rooms, and what is going on in the near vicinity of that room. And so I did. I took barebones with me.

And I was rewarded, by amongst many other things, this shot of timid tulips. I made a critical review of it, and guess what? It passed.

There is another important principle at stake here as well: you need to learn to use the experiences of your everyday live (Lebenswelt is the phenomenological term for it) as an important (re)source of information related to what you are doing in your more “professional life”. You need to use your mind’s capacity for combining elements actively by setting that little, but important, button in your mind to default. So that it is always there, always turned on.

What can timid tulips do for barebones? How can they be used to exemplify barebones themes? Here are a few examples: remember the first dot in the CET-Test for efficient advertising? The one demanding One Unified  Impression? The photograph above is an example of such a unified impression.

Are there more barebones stuff to be had out of this photograph? Much more. What about gestalt factors similarity, and proximity? What about Roland Barthes’ connotation procedures?

I’ll leave it to you to answers the questions. You could use the gestalt factor closure when you look for answers. Now that I have pointed the way you simply close it.

You know what? These timid tulips are not timid at all. They are just big pretenders. Doing their work for barebones.

Roland Barthes on Text and Image

I am going to continue a bit with Roland Barthes.

Not because his name is Roland Barthes, and since he already has made a name for himself within the broader field of communication. But for two other reasons. The first one being that the posts tagged “Barthes” seems to work pretty good on this blog, and secondly because he is central for the barebones themes in that he works with both verbal and visual communication.

A section in his famous article The Photographic Message is about Text and Image. Barebones want to make the points Barthes addresses, in that section, operational, and  show how they can be used both proactively when constructing a message e.g trying to communicate a thought, and reactively when deconstucting a message for e.g. analysis.

Barthes addresses three points in the combination of text and image. There are probably many more, but we will start with blog posts on these three:

1) Text as parasite to an image (post coming up)

2) Text as innocent to an image (post coming up)

3) Text as contradiction to an image (post coming up)

Even if the wording here is esoteric the content of what Barthes is saying is not that hard to grasp.

I will treat these three points/procedures in separate posts. Now you are warned. The separate posts on text and image will be linked to this introductory post.

And remember: reading blogs are not a substitute for reading books. And reading books are not a substitute for reading life. If you want to know more about Barthes, go get the book. If you want to know more about life, buy a camera.

You could start with the link below.

Library Thing. (Roland Barthes: Image, Music, Text, Fontana Press 1977, UK. Essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath).

For more posts on Roland Barthes go here.

What Barthes Never Knew About Carl Zeiss


A Portrait

A Portrait, Copenhagen 2009 (c)

This portrait was never intended for this site, but I’ll bring it anyway.

Remember Roland Barthes and his connotation procedures in photopraphy? One of his procedures is trick effects, and that procedure is probably that which comes closest to my point here. The mere quality of the equipment is yet another parameter for handling connotations.

This shot has been made with a Carl Zeiss lens (Zeiss Planar 1,4/85 mm ZE), and, in my opinion, is has connotation qualities that goes far beyond what I have seen with other lenses. What these lenses are famous for, are the ability to render 3D like effects. I am amazed, particularly since this is the first portrait, ever, I have shot with this lens. This person comes to life way beyond my expectations. Because of the Zeiss glass in the lens.

What has this to do with connotations? Well, this equipment based qualities certainly contain connotations. Thinks like “strong personality”, “stern”, “in control of things”, “highly skilled”, “professional”, et cetera. You can add to the list yourself.

Barthes himself was not a photographer. He did not think he had the talent for it. He had to contribute to the art of photography by writing about it. That is probably why he never knew about Carl Zeiss and his glass.

And talking about quality: this picture is best viewed on a Mac. The bigger the better. And I am not joking.

And no, this is not a picture of Carl Zeiss.  Have a good day :-).


If you want to read more barebones’ posts related to Roland Barthes, you should hit “Roland Barthes” in the tag cloud.

Brief Tribute To A Red Car


Tribute To Red Car. Copyright 2008. Knut Skjærven.
Brief Tribute To A Red Car. Copyright 2008: Knut Skjærven.


Brief tribute to a red car.

Just  to remind you of  Roland Barthes’ connotation procedures.   His article from 1961 The Photographic Message tells the story. All but one, of his 6 procedures, have so far been treated on barebones. It you want to read the posts, you can start right at this page. Just follow the links.

1. Trick effects 

2. Pose 

3. Objects 

4. Photogenia 

5. Aestheticism 

6. Syntax 

Which reminds me that I have to write a post on his  “syntax”, as well. Not forgotten. 

And while you are here: Don’t forget to listen to U2‘s No Line On The Horizon. The reviews haven’t been all that good, but listen to it a couple of times and I am sure you’ll get over it. Let you cruise over the horizon, indeed. In a red car. In a masterpiece.

Best cruiser from the album is Moment of Surrender.

Good luck with it. 

Library Thing. (Roland Barthes: Image, Music, Text, pages 15-31, Fontana Press 1977, UK. Essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath)