Part 7 of The Genre of Silence, an essay.

Roland Barthes wrote one of the essential books on the significance of photographs: The Camera Lucida, which provides some simple and yet useful concepts for understanding not just how a photograph talks to us, but how we hear this communication, and finally the trickier relationship of the “us” as an observer from a point in time and space to the point of time and space in which the camera caught the subject. His book is, as much a way of understanding the language of photos as it is how photos provide a simultaneous access and separation from the subject – in this case his dead mother.

“Stadium” is a Latin word that means “study” that Barthes lifts to refer to this particular field of meaning in an image. It is essentially the bed in which the photograph exists. For instance, it is the way a piece of music may be 4:4 time, or a short story may be naturalistic (for the most part). It is the fabric of the image itself. The stadium depends on the genre of the photograph itself. The stadium has been learned through repetition. This is an image of the seaside, this is a portrait, etc. It is a field of meaning.

The “punctum” exists in contrast to the stadium. There is the field of meaning, and then there is a variation that rises from the image and disturbs the field of the image. The punctum is a novel element. The viewer perceives the punctum though the punctum, which is already a part of the image itself.

“Satori” is the something in the image that provokes a jolt in the viewer. Satori is that element that forces the image into tensions between time and timeless. A photograph always exists in time, and yet a photograph is still.

Barthes also says of the photograph that it must be silent. He does not like “blustery” photographs. I take, by this, that he means the photograph contains its elements like a good plate of wholesome food, instead of a plate that a nursemaid is shoving into your mouth. A photograph in the genre of silence is an entirely different manner.

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Written by mattbriggs

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