Camera Lucida and Beauty

I re-read this book for this course and was surprised that the two most important words (in my opinion) didn’t stick with me from reading it last time. Those words are stadium and punctum.  Stadium means the element that creates interest in a photographic image.

Punctum is the image that jumps out at the viewer for whatever reason.                             Punctum is where it is at if you ask me.

My photographer friend L. was here from Canada recently getting some prints made and we started talking about ‘beauty’ in photography (even art) and why it is sometimes seen as not good.  For example Salgado’s work…I remember my colleagues at the Summer Academy in Salzburg saying they didn’t like his work.  After researching who he was, I was shocked. I love his work. I see their point in that he is taking human suffering and making it aesthetically beautiful, but it seems maybe a better word would be Barthes’ ‘punctum’ as when I look at his images I don’t think ‘what a beautiful image’, though they are beautiful, I feel that I see the problem/issue he is trying to bring out more clearly.

Personally, I think good art is art that I take with me in some way. If I walk away from it and never think about it again, did it do its job? Maybe.  Because maybe it won’t resonate with me but it will with others so it isn’t something I can define myself as good art because I can only bring my perceptions to the work.

At the end of the book, he talks about ‘the air’ saying, ‘thus the air is a luminous shadow which accompanies the body; and if the photographer fails to show this air, then the body moves without a shadow, and once this shadow is severed , as in the myth of the Woman without a Shadow, there remains no more than a sterile body’ ( Barthes and Howard, 1993).


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


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