The Labyrinthine Man: Roland Barthes, Photography, and the Subjective Experience

By Erin Schwartz.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Since Photography’s invention the photographic image itself has been a subject of debate, interest and controversy in regards to its true nature, and the relationship of that nature to the viewer. This paper looks at the writings on photography by Roland Barthes, specifically his work, Camera Lucida (1980), in an attempt to unravel and expand upon his evocative book. This paper will also look at the problematic nature of this exploration of the inherent “madness” of photography from a logical point of view. Barthes’ attempt to make the very personal a universal proclaims that such a journey is necessarily possible for everyone. In placing Barthes’ notion of studium and punctum in a contemporary context, and in the light of Jameson and Sontag, it becomes extremely difficult to understand the existence of punctum at all as a universal concept. The very nature of photography as being totally contingent (even the studium is contingent) seems to negate the possibility of perceiving a punctum and certainly of regarding the punctum as somehow a subjective response to an objective stimuli, being un-coded and non-contingent. In fact it is argued that punctum, if accepted at all, is totally contingent and culturally coded. The indefinable nature of punctum seems to belittle its existence objectively, and the suggestion of something that effects one only interiorly but its cause is extended from an exterior (photographic) source is a difficult one to acknowledge.

Keywords: Roland Barthes, Photography, Camera Lucida, Photographic Meaning, Subjective Experience

The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.7-12. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 515.049KB).

Erin Schwartz

Ohio University, USA


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