Barthes’ Punctum

My research as taken me to an exhibition of photographs taken from ‘Incite Project’, and allowed me to explore ideas of photojournalism, compassion fatigue, and desensitization to images of violent conflict and human suffering. I looked at truth and representation of the truth, and how through the use of text and the photographic processes used, one can manipulate what is seen and how it is seen.

Since I began studying photography, I have always been drawn to ideas surrounding seeing, looking and how we use our bias to contextualize the photographs we look at.  Why do we like what we like? How do we come to decisions of preference of one image over another?  Barthes, in Camera Lucida (1980) explained his idea of studium and punctum, once your eye is caught, then into view comes the thing which pricks or bruises to make you feel something deeper. As he explains the ‘detail overwhelms the entirety of my reading [of the image]’ and ‘by the mark of something, the photograph is no longer “anything whatever”. This something has triggered me, has provoked a tiny shock, a satori‘.  This is not necessarily a case of personal taste, (it is often more about distaste), but nonetheless it gives you preference of one image over another.

The Falling Man by Richard Drew

If you take an image such as Falling Man, by AP photographer Richard Drew, the detail which strikes you is the man. Not just the fact it is a man falling, but in his simple, graceful shape. Taken out of context, without a title, it could almost be seen as an abstract piece of art. An upside down figure against vertical lines. The image in black and white – synonymous with masters of photography like Ansel Adams, remarks Hengki Koentjoro ‘that work with negative space to create minimal yet impactful compositions’. (Less Is More: Black and White Minimalism, LensCulture, 2017). Comparisons like these come with ethical questions which in any situation, need to be considered. As a practitioner, especially as press photographer, questions surrounding your responsibility to yourself but also to who your work is for, are considered in these terms. Truth. Representation. Should Drew have photographed the falling man? How are images like this used to manipulate?  Looking at the perfect composition of the vertical line, and the position of the body, as well as the notion of digital photography and possibility of lightroom editing – how are we sure it is real?


Featured image:

New Linear Perspectives. (2017). Barthes’ punctum vs studium. [Image] Available at: (Accessed 5 November 2017).


Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (1993). Camera lucida reflections on photography. London: Vintage.

Drew, R. (2001). The falling man. [Image] NY: Associated Press

Lens Culture. (2017). Less is more. [ONLINE] Available at: (Accessed 5 November 2017) 



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