I’ve started reading ‘Photography’ by Juliet Hacking as suggested. Just a few pages in and there are a couple of things that have really made an impression.
One is Edward Weston and ‘pre-visualisation’. It reminds me that all too often I don’t take sufficient time to explore all the possibilities of a scene before moving on. I need to be taking more time over fewer photographs.
The other comes from Roland Barthes and his concepts of ‘punctum‘ and ‘studium‘. Personally I think I find the definitions of each a little too specific and hard-edged. The definition of studium as “denoting the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph” is too narrow for me, and I prefer it as less an interpretation through a particular lens and more an emotional response or gut reaction.
Punctum is said to denote “the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it”. Whilst many images may well have a personally touching detail I don’t believe you can limit punctum in this way. For me, punctum is the vital element (or elements) which draws you into an image, takes you beyond a cursory glance. It doesn’t have to be personally touching, it doesn’t have to be the same for every viewer.
My initial reaction to Andreas Gursky’s photograph of the Rine from 1999. At first glance it’s a bit dull, though peaceful because of the muted and limited colours, and the strong horizontals. That’s the initial studium – peace and quiet.
The punctum is very, very subtle – the faint brown track leading away from the river on the left. The colour is a contrast, it’s direction is a contrast. Once that detail is spotted you’re drawn in further. Where does it go? Why does it lead down to the bank at that point? Drawn in further – why’s it so quiet? The Rhine is a busy river, there should be boats, huge barges. Is that a cycle track or a small road? Where’s the traffic? Gradually the sense of peace fades a little and you’re left slightly on edge – it’s not a peaceful scene, it’s a peaceful scene about to be shattered. That initial studium has changed. All because of a subtle, easily overlooked little punctum.