Distracted by Reality

“Hence the detail which interests me is not, or at least is not strictly, intentional, and probably must not be so; it occurs in the field of the photographed thing like a supplement that is at once inevitable and delightful; it does not necessarily attest to the photographer’s art; it says only that the photographer was there, or else, still more simply, that he could not not photograph the partial object at the same time as the total object.” (Barthes, 47)

Ninety percent of this photograph depicts exactly what I wanted it to depict. It captures the bright glow of three candles (which illuminate an exquisite walnut, potato, and green bean topped salad), the outer rim of an etched dinner plate purchased in Italy on a trip abroad, genuine pine cones nestled amidst tea candles safely concealed within antique canning jars, and small hints of lace, which cover a burlap table cloth laid over a table set for fifteen guests. It is nearly the image of a perfect dinner party. To me, however, the glaring artificial light of a cheap desk-table lamp filling the top left corner of the photograph ruins the entire effect that the rest of the image tries so hard to present. As Barthes would say, this lamp is the punctum. It is a small detail removed from the focus of the photograph, yet time and time again draws my eyes towards its presence. This lamp was never intended to be captured in this image, and yet it snags my attention away from anything else in the picture like a bad run in a beautiful pair of tights. By its mere inadvertent presence in this picture, the entire effect has been destroyed. It reminds me that this dinner party was not held on a long, elegant table outside on the deck of a beautiful house, but on three separate small wooden tables pushed together in the common room of a Towers suite. The small lamp seems so out of place, yet it grabs my focus far more than any other detail in the photograph and as Barthes indicates, reminds us of the true location of the photographer. By nature of being in this room, the lamp (or some other token college student purchase) was destined to be in this picture as it was a part of the total object. While it may not strike every other observer of this photograph as harshly as it does me, it certainly grounds this image in reality more than any other object it portrays.


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