Skip to content


Congratulations to Ken Lum, whose work will be included in Punctum: Reflections on Photography at Salzburger Kunstverein, which will be on view July 25 - September 21, 2014.




I took this picture of the Roland Barthes boutique in Beijing in 2012. At the time, I was astounded by my discovery, which grippedme with hilarity. But I can now see that I should not have been so surprised. Over the years, I have taken many pictures that are akin in spirit. In Wuhan, China, there is an Amega watch store, the first A designed in sleight of hand fashion to resemble an O. Last year, several faux Apple stores shut down throughout China. I recall reading that several of the dismissed employees were convinced they were working in an actual Apple store! The devil is in the details but apparently the details were well attended to for the most part. During one of my first visits to China, I recall walking by a vendor selling signature Burberry scarves. On one table were Buberry scarves without the first “r.” On another table was a sample Burberry scarf of the same design that was not for sale. The vendor told me that all the Buberry scarves came from the same factory as the Burberry scarf and were in every way identical. The vendor added that he could sell me a Burberry if I wanted one but it would be a lot more expensive and that it would not make sense to him since the Buberry was the same scarf (except, of course, for the Buberry and not Burberry tag). This reminded me of when I was on the famous slave disembarkation site of Goree Island off the coast of Dakar in Senegal. A vendor was selling paintings that he had done based on the configuration of slaves as they lay in the holds of ships. The paintings were done on thin cloth and quite meticulously rendered. The vendor wanted 100 US dollars per painting. I mentioned that I thought they were scarves at first and not paintings. The vendor did not object and offered to sell me the same painting as a scarf for 10 dollars. I asked him why the large discount in price and he replied that awork of art is special and should always be worth more than a mere article of clothing. I have other fashion-related encounters from Peru and India, each encounter offering its own spin on the so-called developing world’s profound understanding of the fashion system (of which Barthes’ wrote of course a seminal book on fashion theory) and by extension the whole entangled world of signs and commodity exchange. I have no idea how it is that someone in China decided to name a clothing store after Roland Barthes. But it seems to me that someone in China (or India and elsewhere) understands in the deepest sense the nature of a punctum as not so much that which pierces the viewer but that which pierces the system.


Reflections on Photography

Opening: Fr, 25 July 2014, 8 p.m. 
Introduction by Séamus Kealy, Director of the Salzburger Kunstverein
I was overcome with an ‘ontological’ desire: I wanted to learn at all costs what Photography was ‘in itself’ …
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
Punctum is an exhibition about the nature of photography today. Consisting of fifty photographs and artworks chosen by artists, curators and writers, and including a series of lectures and a publication,Punctum takes its cue from the term “punctum” coined by Roland Barthes in his final book Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Barthes uses this term as a linguistic device to examine the meaning of photography. The term refers, for example, to a striking detail in the photograph that captivates or “wounds” the viewer, and completes the photograph as an object of reflection. Barthes goes much further than this, and ascribes a number of phenomenological considerations within the sphere of meaning that is “punctum.” 
This exhibition takes this concept and term of “punctum” as a starting point for invited participants to select photographs that, for each of them, are emblematic of “punctum,” given today’s context for photography and our constant grappling with aesthetics. Accompanying each chosen photograph is a short text to complement and elucidate their decision. The backdrop to this project are the ongoing ontological considerations for photography, especially now, long after its digitization and further universalization. Photography has always been a problematic medium, as a so-called indexical form, as a replacer of memory, as a manipulated device, as an instrument of surveillance, control and militarism, and even as an often-disputed art form. With photography’s evolution into the digital age, these problematics have arguably multiplied. Author Geoff Dyer, for example, argues that digital photography “seems devoid of any qualities of past time,” that it itself no longer holds the qualities that Barthes would have ascribed to it. According to Barthes, the photograph is the “living image of a dead thing” and thus has something of “resurrection” to it. Would that sentiment hold today, when the photograph has become engulfed within the constant, ever-changing and unfixed flow of images? Would we today agree to refer to Barthes’ terms such as the “profound madness,” “shared hallucination,” or “the Intractable” as the elemental forms of a photograph? Today, we might ask, what is its ontological status? 
Accompanying this exhibition is a lecture series on topical subjects of photography today. A publication co-produced with Fotohof edition is presented at the end of the exhibiton. Lastly, a collaborative public response to Punctum is mounted during the exhibition’s duration at the Salzburger Kunstverein. Visit
to participate.