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Monday, 19 April 2010

Unobtainium, Voom and the Punctum

I have mulled over the current posting for a few weeks and all I can come up with is some garbled nonsense about Avatar, Doctor Seuss and Roland Barthes.

The great conceit of Avatar ( Cecil B.DeMille eat your heart out in 3D on  IMAX) is that the evil American earthlings are after the valuable Pandoran mineral Unobtainium. Why Unobtainium is so valuable and what it is used for we don't know, but we can guess and anyway what does it really matters - Unobtainium is a mirror to our greed and venality.

Unobtanium is not a new idea. Doctor Seuss came up with his own equivalent in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. Seuss' magic ingredient was called Voom and and like Unobtainium it could do things we can barely imagine (including clear away pink spots in the snow) and is undoubtedly priceless.

All this got me thinking. What is the Voom in photography? What is the Unobtainium? And if such an idea exists, who came up with it, what is its price and what wondrous things can it do. The photographic equivalent of Voom is the punctum, and it was found under the hat of one Roland Barthes. The wondrous thing it can do is explain away why wondrous pictures are so wondrous. Which never really satisfactorily answers what the punctum is, where you can find it and what it can do. So what is the punctum?

Now don't ask me what the punctum is,
I never will know
But, boy! Let me tell you
It DOES make your pictures glow!

We all ramble on about what pictures we like and how great they are but really we haven't got a clue why the great ones are so great except that there is just something about them that makes them great. However much we theorize and postulate, we still end up with ideas like the punctum, a concept that is well beneath the level of Voom in its voodoo ability to transform the mundane into the magical. Can't we do any better than that?

Weeks of reflection and that's what my inner voice comes up with - thanks Jaron.


Stan B. said...

I know, I know- it's something to do with the sensor. Am I right? Something about pixels (I've been thinking about this all day)!

Sean said...

"Which never really satisfactorily answers what the punctum is, where you can find it and what it can do. So what is the punctum?2

That's the great thing about the punctum - you can't say what it is, where you can find it or what it can do. Punctum is purely subjective: it is there for one person and not another - and it changes.

Inter-subjective punctum is an interesting avenue to go down perhaps... do people like an image for the same reasons...

To find an overarching reason for the popularity of a specific image (not one that everyone recognises) is even more difficult. One could perhaps try: http://acquine.alipr.com/index.php ?

A very excellent post... lots of questions there so this is a mere one pence woth of thought!

colin pantall said...

Thanks Stan and Sean - I prefer Voom to the Punctum. It makes more sense.