For Henriette’s Tomb: Barthes, Mourning, Mallarmé
Neil Badmington, Thursday 12 Nov 2015, CEIR Seminar Series
Roland Barthes, who would have been one hundred years old last Thursday 12th November, once described the photograph as ‘a kind of primitive theatre, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead’. Today, a photograph has emerged of the moment before three gunmen burst into the Bataclan Theatre in Paris last Friday 13th, killing eighty-nine people who were enjoying a gig by the Californian band, Eagles of Death Metal.
Barthes’s ideas about photography stem directly from the death of his mother, Henriette, and are published in Camera Lucida, from 1980. In that remarkable text, Barthes outlines his concepts about the ‘studium’ of a photograph—that which is ‘always coded’, and the ‘punctum’—that which is not; it is that small detail in a photograph that speaks of its ‘truth’, it is what ‘pierces’. Looking at the photograph taken at the Bacalan last Friday evening we can see that the studium—the culturally coded content of the photograph—is apparent in the hair styles of the members of the audience, the clothes they are wearing, their hands aloft in the air making the ‘devil horns’ sign (signifying that they are watching a rock band) and even the way the angle the photograph is taken from. The punctum, for me (and, as Barthes tells us, the punctum is often a very personal reaction), is a man standing alone, to the right of the image—just in shot, near the edge of the photograph itself—who reminds me of one of my friends. I could go into more detail, here, regarding the punctum and my reaction to it, but I won’t out of respect for the people who were there. (more…)