Roland Barthes: studium and punctum

Museum of Education

Barthes’ Camera Lucida , first published in 1980, assumes that the automaticity of the camera distinguishes photography from traditional media and has significant implications for how we experience photographs. To address the apparently uncoded level of photographs, which troubles the semiological approach Barthes himself adopted in the early 1960s, Camera Lucida advances a theory of photographic meaning that makes a distinction between the studium and the punctum and highlights the punctum as photography-specific.

The studium indicates historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis. For example, the photograph taken by Koen Wessing in 1979 (p. 22), portraying a war-torn street in Nicaragua with three armed soldiers patrolling the street and two nuns crossing the section of the street behind the soldiers, could be interpreted as a presence of the traditional oppositions between war and religion, violence and spirituality.


“I understood at once that this photograph’s ‘adventure’ derived from the…

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