Philosopher Roland Barthes

Research on Barthes philosophy. Mostly Punctum ‘pierces the viewer

            Barthes had a special interest in photography through his career and the potential nature to express actual events. He spent most of his time showing how images in photography represent various meanings to give truths of nature (Barthes, 2016). . The aspect of stadium and punctum were clear after the death of his mother when he differentiated between the two. He explains that from the photographs he obtained a symbolic meaning (stadium) and a personal meaning that depends on the individual viewer that pierces them (punctum).

            Barthes philosophy argues that punctum are accidental details in the background of a photograph often offering no explanation but creating questions about the surroundings or people in the photographs. The unique nature of each photograph produces different meanings of scares, signs of time, and imperfections in people’s lives that pierces their emotions. Punctum as described by Barthes is the unique feature in a photo that brings a different meaning from the intended one (Fried, 2005). Often the meaning brings a piercing feeling to the viewer one that is independent of the photographer. Example a photo of scattered people but with a child in a lone background gazing at them. The viewers of the photograph concentrate on the gazing child and are little concerned with the scattered people. Each viewer becomes personal in his or her enquiry of the child’s condition.

            Barthes philosophy of Camera Lucida was published in 1980. It assumes that the automatic nature of a camera differentiates traditional media from photography. He adds that camera automaticity gives important effects on our experience with photographs. Barthes adopted camera Lucida in 1960s to advance his theory of photography meanings to differentiate stadium and punctum (Barthes, 2016). Studium demonstrates the social, cultural, and historical meanings derived from semiotic analysis. He uses an example of a photograph portraying a street torn by war in Nicaragua having three soldiers armed with gangs patrolling the street. In addition, there are two nuns crossing the street right behind the soldiers. Barthes interprets it as a demonstration of traditional oppositions between violence, war, religion, spirituality and violence (Barthes, 2016).

            Philosopher Roland Barthes explains that punctum in photography concentrates on special features in a photograph that convey meaning without summoning other symbolic systems that are recognizable. Punctum pierces the viewer by punctuating the stadium since it gives a unique response to each image viewer (Fried, 2005).

            Viewers denying all knowledge allow the punctum effect. Barthes comments in his philosophical works that punctum is not sum of projected desires in the photograph but comes from unintended and uncontrolled details by the photographer. Photography differs from paintings and drawings because its apparatus automatically views the world without gathering information on photographer interventions (Houlihan, 2004). Punctum theory explains the use of indexes in photographic medium and on emotion importance while relating with photographs.

            Punctum is a different feeling, imagination, and memories stirred by intangible objects in a photograph. In addition, Punctum captures the attention of the viewer personally causing shock, surprise, and discovery and moves the mind into the actual world. Punctum involves the viewer briefly, with what is in the photo and steals his imaginations of the special feature in the photo other than the main object.

            Barthes uses many examples in his illustrations on the definition of the punctum. Camera Lucida is one example that visualizes famous photographs describing the operation of various details on images to produce punctum (Houlihan, 2004). The second section in the book is a photograph of the author mourning for his deceased mother in her fifth year.

            The photograph was taken on a winter garden, brings the essence of time, and uses punctum strongly to show time. Camera Lucida concentrates on that –has-been of the present photograph directly relating it to death. It reveals brief nature of life and alerts people to realize the singular nature of existence (Houlihan, 2004). Camera Lucida example is used by Barthes to assist human beings recognize the specialty of photography to avoid missing on the personal meaning of the photograph. Moreover, if human beings ignore the specifics of photographs we fail to discover the truth about our uniqueness as single human beings. Barthes describes the punctum as life giving since it is rarely available in our everyday interactions.

            Barthes argues that it is almost impossible to give examples of punctum and that in most occasions it turns into stadium when language is used to express it. Barthes comments that in one way punctum uses the same logic as stadium (Fried, 2005). He gives examples of two photographs of retarded children taken in a New Jersey institution by photographer Lewis Hine. Barthes explains that he could not see monstrous heads and pathetic profiles that are in stadium but he sees the off details of huge Danton collar of the two boys and the finger bandage of the girl. The details he sees state a disproportion feature while Danton explains a decapitated person. However, Barthes in his theory explains that he cannot ignore knowledge and that punctum theory cannot be described using language, which is similar to his giving up fashion.


Fried, M. (2005). “Barthes’s Punctum.” Critical inquiry, 31 (3), 539-574. DOI: 10.1086/430984

Houlihan, K. (2004).Camera Lucida-reflections on photography. The University of Chicago.         Retrieved from

Rubinstein, D, & Fisher, A. (2010). Philosophy of photography. International peer reviewed journal, 1(1), 1-10.

Barthes, R. (2016). Roland Barthes. Biography, facts, and works. Retrieved from Famous

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