Pedro Levi Bismarck

In the beginning it wasn’t the verb, but the images, still without man
Bragança de Miranda, Corpo e Imagem

For Barthes, Photography is unclassifiable, is invisible and is mathesis singulares: no «corpus», just a few bodies [1]. But it will always and mostly be an adventure – the pressure of the unspoken that asks to be said [2]La Photographie commence dans la plaie, commence dans le punctum. 

The punctum is with the studium, according to Barthes, one of the essential elements that take part in the photographical image reading. If the studium is the cultural and distracted reading of the object (the field of the education, where one recognizes the main photography functions), the punctum is the element that disturbs the studium. It's the wound (la plaie), the sting, and the deep cut that opens the image interior space. It’s the casualty that escapes from the composition. It’s what I don’t seek but comes into sight, it’s the chance that disturbs me and opens me up to the image secret abyss. What I don't see, what I don't want to see, but what I can touch, that I know I will touch.
If the studium is what allow us to observe and understand the photography, the punctum is the wound without which the image cannot survive, the expansion force that opens the photography. It’s the point-sauvage that distinguishes the image, that opens up space in direction of the observed thing. But is, mostly, the point where I stop seeing through the others eye and I move myself; where I free myself from the image to build my own way of looking. As Barthes writes, doesn’t matter anymore the studium or its vulgar rhetoric (technique, report, art) just the absolute subjectivity – the silence where I can close my eyes and make speak the image [3]. And in this critical moment, as Barthes says: “I am just a savage, a child – or a maniac; I put aside all the knowledge, all the culture, I abstain myself of being someone’s eye heir” [4].

Moreover, the Barthes punctum is also the image irruption of time, or rather, it's the instant awareness of time in the image undifferentiated surface. That is, the absolutely precious and inalienable place where the image becomes mine (where I recognize it and inscribed in it a meaning). Where it finishes its universality and starts its own subjectivity. In short: where my image is at last free – free to be abolished, free to be annihilated. And free because it’s now mine. Let’s say that its end is its deconstruction as an image and its reconstruction as a power/potency (absolutely subjective). This is its mythical conditional, its reachable purpose, because it’s there that its power breeds – in its absence, in the irrevocable silence that stays after its passage. “Is the passage of the image that creates time and the human passes through in this sliding of the image over the «real»” [5]. The image universal nature is no more than an illusion, it only exists as mathesis singularis [6]. And I will only be free as I conquer its subjectivity destructing (deconstructing) its supposedly universal nature. The end of the image cannot be other than its (own) end.

This is also the meaning of the punctum in the architectural image: the casualty that escapes from the composition, the savage-point that annihilates the homogenous and universal image, and provokes the awareness of the real. The poetical device that turns the image into potency, that turns the image into space – open, traveled, experiencible. A space utterly subjective and utterly of the self (the free place of the self) [7]without mediation or a priori representations, but represented in the course of its spatial action. A space, as Ignasi de Solà-Morales writes, constantly produced by the instant and devoured by the action [8].
Let’s say that the architectonical punctum, it's the wound that opens up in the fix and immutable image, the detail that opens it and destroys it, and that give us the time in the experimentation of space. If architecture starts in the image, its end is the image destruction. And so the punctum is the key moment where architecture is no longer image (supposedly universal and alleged representation) and transforms itself in a poetical device of habits, movements, desires, of the (un)expected and of the (im)possible. A system of events, as writes Ignasi, that will work over changing and not strict categories, able to leverage the multiple experience and world awareness. And so, architecture is the spatial action invariable game annihilating the pure and flat representations, the continuous action over the space, the body and matter unpredictable instant. It will always be, as would say Jorge Luis Borges, the fruit and the mouth simultaneously.
If the punctum give us precisely the invisibility of the image, the singular beauty of architecture is in its most enigmatic nature, that is, its utterly non-representable quality. What distinguishes it from art, or any other art, and that makes its own intimate poiesis, that is, the poetical motion of the bodies and matter in the always ephemeral conquer for interiority, the lowermost place of the self in the arise of death, beyond death, in love. The moment where architecture becomes invisible, silently invisible – the silence where I can close my eyes and make my image speak, my own images.

For Barthes the punctum is, still, this mad point that allow us to touch the reality, that moves me savage and without culture inside it. Mad because gives the reality without mediation, because confirms shockingly that what I see really existed [9]. But mad, also, as Barthes writes, because the photography is beyond de representations codes, doesn't want to be restitution, nor catharsis, nor wants to transform the mourning in work. The photography is the terrible presence of the real before us, savage, uncodified, simple (and I say: beauty). And so, according to Barthes, the last effort of society has been precisely the attempt of making the photography serious, fighting its own (un)reality and smooth the mad savage that threat each and single image. And it did, in one hand, making of the photography an art (because no art is mad) and in other hand, generalizing it, “because generalized, it completely unrealizes the human world of conflicts, of desires, on the pretext of illustrating them” [10].

And so, the question posed in the final paragraph of La chambre claire: Mad or Serious? Photography can be both says Barthes: “serious, if its realism remains on, smooth by esthetical and empirical habits, or mad, if this realism is absolute and if, so to speak, original, making return to the loving and terrified conscience the imprint of Time” [11]. But isn’t that as well the question that we can dispose over architecture? That is, serious if doesn’t question the esthetical and empirical habits, if it is the imitation without thickness of the image; or mad, if it wants to go beyond the studium, if is utterly realistic (that is, seeks first of all to understand the reality), if it works in the matter of space and the in the body of time. Because the wound (and the drama) of the punctum architecturae is precisely this: the awareness that the studium rules and codes are not enough (they don't transform the white sheet in project, nor transform by itself desire into reality, image into potency and space). It will be always necessary the unclassifiable, invisible, singular and immediate (without mediation) openness of the punctum, where it’s us savages and without culture face to face to the mad map of reality. But the only one that still give us the (im)possible possibility, the unspoken adventure, of accessing and understanding the reality (and the studium itself), where we abstain to be others eye and where we conquer our irreparable interiority (and individuality) – our own vanishing point (our punctum fugitis). Because, if the madness of photography is to be the terrible presence of the real, the one of architecture is to be, itself, the production of the unnamed real. Beyond its own art and beyond the images trivialization, this is its own madness. And so, as Barthes concludes, in this world of increasingly seductive images, but smoothed and homogeneous, it is to us to choose: “submit its spectacle to the civilized code of the perfect illusions or [then] confront in it the inaccessible awake of the reality [12].

(Dziga vertov, 1929)
I see the endless images of Vertov, but I don't see them. I am now in the other side. I am the machine, I am the camera itself. I am placed inside it. I am myself inside it. And I forget. I forget of its time. I forget its limit. I forget that they are images. I am the camera itself. I am the lens itself.
I am now Vertov.

[1] Unclassifiable because that classification would be necessarily reductive. Invisible,  because it’s a presentation of the reality and not a representation. Singularis, because any discourse on this will never be able to start from «Photography» itself, but from a photography. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida.
[2] Idem.
[3] Idem.
[4] Ibidem
[5] Bragança de Miranda, José A., Corpo e Imagem.
[6] This is precisely the problem of the image contemporary spectacle: there are more images that the ones we can destroy. Consuming just some of them we left the others accumulating, diming the margins of the real. Cf: Susan Sontag, Sobre la fotografia e Bragança de Miranda, Corpo e Imagem.
[7] Agamben, Giorgio, Coming community
[8] Solá-Morales, Ignasi, Liquid Architecture
[9] Op.cit.
[10] Idem.
[11] Ibidem.
[12] Ibidem.
Pedro Levi Bismarck
Architect. Porto

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