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  • Writer's pictureDarien Smith

Visual Methods

Studium and Punctum

The definition of Studium and Punctum as I understand it is as follows:

Studium represents the image factor that immediately draws the viewer to a photograph. It corresponds with intention of the photographer, although that intention is reinterpreted by the viewer through a cultural, linguistic, or political lens (Werh, 2020). The observer can determine the studium of a photograph using logic. The studium indicates historical, social, or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis (Strawberry, 2013)

An example of a studium can be observed in the image below (figure 1). The studium for this image could be interpreted as the contrast between war and religion, violence, and spirituality. (Strawberry, 2013)

Figure 1: Photo depicting soldiers and nuns in a war-torn street in Nicaragua - Koen Wessing, 1979

Conversely, the punctum of a photograph is often striking and elicits a more emotional response. “The elements of punctum penetrate the studium” (Barthes, 1993). The punctum cannot easily be explained as it is said that the punctum turns into the stadium when expressed in language. “to give examples of punctum is, in a certain fashion, to give myself up” (Barthes, 1993, p 43)

An example of punctum from the concept’s creator is displayed below (Figure 2)

The punctum of this image, to Barthes, is “He is dead and he is going to die ... ” (Barthes, 1993, pp 94-96) Though it is impossible to know this from the image alone, Barthes punctum, in this case comes more so from the photograph’s context (Rancière, 2011)

Figure 2: Image depicting Lewis Payne condemned to death in 1865 for trying to assassinate the US secretary of state - Alexander Gardner, 1895

My Studium Punctum Analysis

Figure 3: Chinese mission staff facing off with Police in London - Peter Johns, 1967

Above (Figure 3) is an image that immediately caught my eye and held my attention. This is a photograph by the late Peter Johns, a once photographer for the Guardian newspaper. The photograph depicts Chinese mission staff in London facing off with Police (1967).


For me the studium of this image is the conflict. Immediately I can see this is a fight between 2 groups: minority vs authority. This is a striking image both figuratively and literally. The photographer managed to capture this conflict mid-action as displayed by the most prominent Asian man clearly winding up for an attack on the left. Conversely, the much larger police officer on the right looks at ease, perhaps because of his protective body armour and comparatively big stature. The police officer’s stature is further exaggerated by the fact he is closer to the photographer creating a foreshortening effect.


The punctum for me is the most prominent Asian man towards the middle left wearing glasses. His stance and intent to attack conjure up a primal instinct within me. His stance displays energy and intent; It is a statement that screams violence, further exemplified by the fact he is holding a weapon of some description. This is a desperate man doing anything he can to defend something of great importance to him. I can sympathise with this man, though violent, it is fear that drives a man to fight like this, especially in the face of authority on foreign land. It is this I have for the man that punctures the stadium for me.


Wehr, D. (2020). What is a Punctum in Street Photography?.

Strawberry. (2013, March 12). Roland Barthes: studium and punctum. Museum of Education.

Barthes, R., & Howard, R. (1993). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Vintage. pp 43-96

Rancière, J., & Elliott, G. (2011). The Emancipated Spectator. Verso. p 112

Gardner, A. (1895). Lewis Payne condemned to death. [Photograph]

Wessing, K. (1979). Photo depicting soldiers and nuns in a war-torn street in Nicaragua. [Photograph].

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