Lecture 10

In Lecture 10 we looked at the essay Death of the Author and the book Camera Lucida both authored by Roland Barthes.


Death of the author is a short essay which expands on what is meant in an image be it art or photography, and how it is communicated and perceived. Barthes argues that the producer of the image has only a certain amount of control on how the work is perceived by the viewer. This was known as the transmission process. What Barthes is getting to is that there is more to an image or text than first appears. The real meanings come out, when the audience contribute to the image, questioning what it is and whether they agree with what has been said.


Creator >Art work transmits its meaning> Audience

Creator meaning> Art work meaning is interpreted< meaning<Audience



The above diagram on the bottom represents what Barthes refers to as the Death of the Author. The producer no longer has the complete say, with each changing audience the meaning can be reinterpreted. The whole post modernism movement was influenced by this, uniqueness, originality and authorship being questioned.


Camera Lucida


This was Barthes only piece devoted completely to the realms of photography. It was an enquiry into the nature of photography as well as a eulogy to his Mother. It was a personal and subjective book, with Barthes aim to understand the mere essence of photography.

“I wanted to learn at all costs what photography was in itself”.


Key Terms:

  • The operator- the photographer
  • The spectator-the viewer
  • The spectrum-what is depicted in the photograph.

In the book what Barthes reveals is his way of defining a photograph via Studium and Punctum.


He was glancing through a magazine, when a photograph suddenly made him pause. He was interested in the discontinuous elements, which he describes as “adventure”.

He creates Studium as those elements in a photograph he understands, the composition, exposure etc.  Its curiosity in the photograph but it’s a curiosity you can put your finger on to why you like it, its explainable. It is unified and coded, but docile unremarkable, it doesn’t make the image a stand out image, it is merely the elements within the image itself.


Punctum shatters the stadium. It is an overpowering element that raises up from the scene and “shoots out like an arrow and pierces me”. Punctum is that part of the image you can’t quite put your finger on as to what attracts you about it, its unexplainable to others, a personal felling. Punctum isn’t the same detail in each image for everyone, that would be stadium. It is singular to the individual, and is undetectable to the photographer at the moment of capture. Having said this, it must be present in the image, it can’t be some made up fantasy, it is a certain detail that grabs the attention, for no reason what so ever, and this is different to everyone.


Barthes reveals that time is Punctum. He has touched on this time travel before in the Rhetoric of the image. Something about time captured appealed to Barthes, potential more than anything else. The ability to look back on something, that once was a split moment in time for ever recorded. Taking the modern back to the past.


It is this notion of time that leads him to write about the Winter Garden Photograph in part two of the book. It is a picture of his mother at the age of 5 standing next to her brother in an indoor garden. We know this because Barthes explains it, but he never revealed the photograph. He believed it wouldn’t hold the same meaning to the viewers as it did to him, so being a linguist he chose to write about his feelings and only his feelings without the distraction of the picture.


The photograph exposed the difference between him and his mother. He knew her so well, but here he was looking at an image of her at the age of 5, this was a person he never knew or met. He had been transported back into a time he had never known, this was huge for Barthes, a time That-Has-Been, there before him to reimagine and live for himself.




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