Barthes: Punctum and Studium

Posted on January 28, 2013


2In Roland Barthes’ work “Camera Lucida”, he introduces two photographic concepts: punctum and studium. The way I understand it, punctum is the element that stands out in a photograph. It is that one golden element that makes us “love” a photograph and not just “like” it. Punctum is kind of subjective; people differ in their opinions on what makes a photograph “striking”.

Studium, on the other hand, is what makes a photograph striking as a whole.  It could be swirls in the sky, city lights, etc. People can like a photograph because of the colors, quality, filters, gradient, etc.

Both punctum and studium can be visible in one photograph, but here I will show two different photographs for punctum and studium.

This picture above is my example for punctum. These are two children who live in the Artex Compound in Malabon.

What strikes me the most here is the girl in pink’s hand gestures. It is playful and cute, and quite complementary with the girl in the foreground. It reminds me of my own childhood. Like the girl, I used the same hand gestures when people are taking a photograph of me. On a deeper level, this photograph shows playfulness, joy, and the innocence of childhood despite poverty.

A tattered turquoise couch on a garbage hill.

This picture above is my example for studium. This was taken in a dumpsite in Cavite.

I think what attracts people here is the style of the picture – the colors, composition, light, etc. It can also be a punctum example because of the chair. For me, this a studium example because the entire picture with all its elements is striking for me.