BA Phot

Roland Barthes

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I haven't read Barthes' Camera Lucida for several decades, but I need to grasp his concepts of studium and punctum so I am hoping to come up with a management summary.

Barthes' text is a revered pronouncement within photographic criticism. It was prompted by the death of his mother and described by Brian Dillon in The Guardian as "an essay in 48 fragments" ([1] Dillon, 2011).

My sources here are orignally pieces in the Guardian and the Telegraph, then two sections from C&N
Part 1 - photograph = message = a source of emission, a channel of transmission and a point of reception
Part 4 - Objective (translation, signifier, denoted, studium)
and Subjective (interpretation, signified, connoted, punctum)
plus intertextuality

Guardian and the Telegraph

According to Dillon (ibid.), the studium, "is the manifest subject, meaning and context of the photograph" and the punctum is, " that aspect (often a detail) of a photograph that holds our gaze".

In the Telegraph's Photography theory: a beginner's guide ([2] Bush et al., 2014), Tim Clark covers Barthes and offers similar definitions, elaborating on punctum as, "something intensely private, unexpected and thus indelible".

This writer offers:
studium - those objective aspects of a photograph about which most might agree (the "W"s);
punctum - the individual's personal, subjective, reactive triggers.

Part 1 of C&N

[2Dec19] I have used Barthes in Part 1 of C&N.

Barthes (in The Photographic Message (1961), included in Sontag's reader [3] and neatly summarised in Modrak's Reframing Photogaphy [4, p.351]) refers to a news photograph as a message comprising three parts, "a source of emission, a channel of transmission and a point of reception" [3, p.194]:
the source is the photographer and the photo editor who selects the image and perhaps gives it a title;
the channel (in this example) is the newspaper itself, including any text associated accompanying the photograph, but also the nature of the newspaper (Barthes gives examples of "the very conservative L'Aurore [and] the Communist L'Humanité");
the point of reception is the public that read the paper.
And, as Modrak puts it, 'the "meaning" of the same photograph can vary widely depending on how and where it is seen and by whom' [4, p.355].


1. Dillon, B. (2011) Rereading: Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. The Guardian. 26 March. [online] Available from: [accessed 17 December 2018]

2. Bush, L., Clark, T., Hamilton, S., Smyth, D. (2014) Photography theory: a beginner's guide. The Telegraph 9 June. [online] Available from: [accessed 17 December 2018]

3. Sontag, S. (1983) Barthes: Selected Writings. London: Fontana.

4. Modrak, R. & Anthes, B (2011) Reframing photography: theory and practice. Oxford: Routledge.

Page created 17-Dec-2018 | Page updated 25-Apr-2021