Hole-Punch Punctum

I just stumbled across a post on Instagram highlighting a series of photos printed from negatives rejected by the US Farm Security Administration. These photos were “killed” by agency leadership, who punched a hole in the negative to avoid printing the image.

Roland Barthes argued that photographs possess two qualities: “studium” and “punctum.” Studium is an observational quality, the way a photo exists in social, cultural, and aesthetic context. Punctum is a quality which “wounds” the viewer, transcending context and piercing their spirit. These holes–literally puncta on the negatives–pierce the viewer’s spirit by subverting their expectations of the photographs, which were commissioned for strictly “studious” purposes.

These would not be nearly as effective if they did not include the entire film strip in addition to the photograph. This underlines the materiality of the film, the hole-punch, and, by extension, the subjects captured by the image–the flesh and blood existing at a moment in time.

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