[NetBehaviour] Barthes’ Space of Confinement...

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Fri Nov 10 10:01:35 CET 2006

Barthes’ Space of Confinement: Affect, Virtuality and the Photographic 
Roland Barthes (1981) wrote that cameras “were clocks for seeing” (15) 
which show us the passage of time. This has a certain affinity but is 
not precisely the same as Bergson’s conception ot duration or durée. 
“The Photograph is never anything but an antiphon of ‘Look’, ‘See’ and 
‘here it is’; it points a finger at certain vis-à-vis, and cannot escape 
this pure deictic language” (5).

However, gesturing with the camera must, like mannerisms, be social as 
well as cultural. Barthes structuralism picks up on the embeddedness of 
the photograph within interaction by identifying both a literal 
“studium” and also a more virtual “punctum” of photographs, “a kind of 
subtle beyond” (57), which a text by Tonya Davidson reminded me “refers 
to how the photograph becomes performed through the spectator”.

The mobile phone camera is a different performance and the digital 
images are complemented by a different spectatorship which looks for the 
punctum rather than the studium. The ‘question’ or problem of the mobile 
phone image is much more strongly not one of literal content but of what 
is/was passing through the moment captured in the time of the image. The 
time-image and movement-image do not coincide. Although the moment 
captured is past and, as one says, “gone” (where?), the movement or flow 
of time and events which passed through the moment continues into the 
present of the spectator. In this way, an understanding of mobile phone 
images seems to be less dominated by the questions of death and the 
irretrievability of the past which preoccupy Barthes (his central 
example is a photograph of his dead mother). The image blurs the 
distinction between a present spectator alive to the image, and the 
liveliness of the past moment captured by the image – its virtuality.


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