Reading Question: Barthes (1/23)

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard, New York, Hill and Wang, 1980, p. 56.

Examining this photograph, Barthes argues that Queen Victoria sitting regally on the horse is the studium because it is the “historical interest” that draws in the viewer and leaves a general impression of liking or disliking the photograph (57). He also argues that the Scotsman holding the bridle is the punctum because this detail “‘brings out’ the Victorian nature,” though this nature is not named (57).

I’ve struggled with these two terms–studium and punctum–throughout Camera Lucida because I am unsure of their origins. The way Barthes identifies the elements of the photograph above seems to imply that studium and punctum simply exist, and have been captured by the photographer. Studium and punctum are supplied and/or created by the photograph itself. Other excerpts from the book seem to support this argument.

Yet, I can’t help but think that studium and punctum are much more subjective than Barthes is articulating and illustrating here. For instance, if someone could not place the woman on the horse in her historical context, he might not be drawn into the photograph, or if he focused on other detail than the holding of the horse’s bridle, the photograph’s punctum would be different. Earlier in Camera Lucida, Barthes even mentions that he interprets photographs with his studium (28), which suggests that viewers, or spectators, are the ones that bring studium and punctum to a given photo. These two concepts are created through an individual viewing and interpretation of a photograph.

With these two conflicting interpretations, I’m left with the following question (that I had throughout the entire first part of Camera Lucida): Where are studium and punctum located in the photo-viewing interaction? I.e. Who/what creates a photograph’s studium and punctum?