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Schroon Lake, United States

Stadium and Punctum

Stadium, according to Roland Barthe’s book Camera Lucida, is summarized as ‘interest’- somethign that grabs the attention of a viewer, a ‘general interest’ that causes the viewer to perhaps see the intention of the photographer- A photographer has intention, then takes an intentional photo to depict that intention- the viewer is reverse, they see the result, and then discover the intention behind the photo. The viewer enters into harmony with hte phtoographer, seeing what the photographer intended. The photographer merely comunicates what it is that made him or her press gthe shutter button. The viewer sees the photo, and is compelled to figure out what it was that made the phtoographer push the hsutter. By decifering how the scene was captured, what nagle, what speed etc, the viewer is mildly engaged in discoverign what it was that motivated the photographer to carefulyl arrange the photo in the way thaT they did.

In regards to Stadium, Barthes says that stadium pretty much amounts to somethig like journalistic photography, ‘I glance through them, I don’t recall them, no detail ever interrupts my reading; I am interested in them (as I am interested in the world) I do not love them.’

Stadium causes you to like something, not love it- Punctum on the other hand causes the viewer to love the photo. Stadium can be said to be mere snapshots (even if skillfully composed and taken) that record events for the personal reasons of the photographer- Historical records.

Punctum leaps out of a photo, whenter intentionally created or accidentally, it grabs the attention of a viewer, it takes over the whole photo and infuses all the elements within the photo wityh it’s overwhelming presence. Henri Cartier Bresson’s photos are smothered in punctum- the African woman holding starving child with ribs sticking out- wagon wheel in background spokes mimic the child’s ribs, the woman’s bony fingers also mimic the child’s ribs- The punctum in the photo of course is the overwhelming sense of poverty and starvation that it stirs in the viewer- This punctum just overwhelms the whole photo and all it’s elements.

Barthes essentially says that the punctum immediately marks the photo as ‘somethign that rises above all the others in terms of importance’

Stadium basically is all the ‘technical’ elements that go into making a photo ie: Right light, right angle, right shutter speed, depth of field, iso etc, as well as some intention present in the photo such as say the photographer ‘saying’ something like ‘urban decay’ or ‘environmental destruction’ or whatever their cause may be- Their photos may cause a person to stop and take a longer look, but these photos don’t really rise above all the others. The photo may stick with you, but in a place that is reserved for the ‘above agerage photos’ but which don’t really rise to the ‘Oh wow- what a powerful photo’ place within the mind’s storage facilities.

Punctum grabs you by the nap of the neck and escorts you into the photo and won’t let you go. It burns the image deep into your mind. Punctum is hte ‘feeling’ that one gets that can’t quite be described- whether horror, joy, pleasure, fear etc, the photo stirs a memory, a feeling, an emotion, a hunch etc

Stadium Barthes says: “What I feel about these photographs derives from 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 doesn’t mean, at least not immediately, “study,” but application to a thing, taste for someone, i kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity. 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 settings, the actions”. (page 26)

Punctum Barthes says: “The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time it is 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 of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that it 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 point; precisely, these marks, these wounds are so many points. This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me”. (pages 26 and 27).

Photography contests the judges seek punctum- they sift through endless amounts of stadium until they arrive at those photos that leap out at them- that have a quality that rise above mere stadium and which move the judge-

Note: When people view photos, they do so in a ‘glancatory manner’- thsi is gestalt, weeding out the unimportant, because the mind is overhwelmed by ‘information overload’, and so seeks the easiest possible ‘recognition’ of objects that surround us. Our minds constantly look for shortcuts, and as photographers, our goal is to capitalize on that fact and present photos that speak immediately to the mind’s desire to create shortcuts. Qhen we view soemthing we tend to want to do so with as little effort as possible, (which is why it is so hard to actually SEE as a photographer- it’s why we miss so much and only really see them AFTER we have taken the photo- like hte branch growing out of the person’s head in the background, the soda can in the scene we didn’t see when takign hte shot etc- our minds simplify by takign in the ‘overall scene’ and excluding all the detailed information liek the gum wrapper on the sidewalk, or the frame cuttign off someone’s hands or feet etc). Gestalt causes a person to stop and dig deeper into a photo, realizing there is somethign lroe to the photo than just a mere historical snapshot record.

Next post will be on gestalt photography. The JOB of a photographer is to break free from seeing scenes in a generalized manner, and to discover gestalt and use it (or not use it) effectively and to recognize that there is more to seeing than we realize- For isntance, at first glance, we might see a photo of oranges, and htink ‘Hmm, nice oranges’ and walk away never realizing that the oranges were in groups of threes spread across the frame in a random pattern, or that the oranges were resting on a wooden table with patterns in the inlaid pices of wood, or that there was an equal number of bottles i nthe background that mimic the number of oranges (and that they were blue bottles to cotnrast the orange color). We don’t realize it because our mind quickly generalizes scenes to give us a very basic ‘view’ or synopsis of what the whole scene is about- That’s how our minds work in order to deal with hte constant barrage of information we deal with every day- Our jobs as photographers is to try to get the viewer to slow down and DISCOVER the fascinating world aroudn them

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