An attempt at Understanding punctum and it’s place in art

Oxford Companion to the Photograph:
Punctum, Latin term meaning puncture or wound, used by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida (1980), to describe how he feels touched by certain photographs, because of incidental details which trigger emotionally charged personal associations, unrelated to the meaning of photographs as culturally determined. In a portrait by James Van Der Zee, for example, he is moved by a woman’s necklace, which reminds him of one worn by his aunt, and since her death kept in a family box. It is questionable, however, how far these associations can be considered as uncoded. To be reminded of a family necklace by a historical photograph is consonant with an established language of jewellery as keepsakes and souvenirs. Influenced by phenomenology, Camera Lucida investigates the common factor (the essence) uniting not photographs but our encounters with them. The ‘noeme’ of photography, that which makes us experience photographs in a certain way, is their capacity to point to something ‘that has been’.

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