Hunting the Punctum

As a designer, a student of design, and a teacher of it, I am always on the hunt for the next punctum. Numerous kinds of visual expression interest me, and I am constantly seeing new things that engage my attention. However, relatively few things I see really grab me—really puncture through my distant reaction of genial admiration to grab me and slap me across the face—this is the punctum. The punctum is what makes you get weak in the knees when you see a piece of work. The punctum makes you want to rip that piece of design off the wall and rub it all over yourself because it touches you so deeply.

In many ways the punctum is the x-factor in art and design: unknowable until it happens, unpredictable until it exists, unattainable by preconception. Maybe as I grow as a designer, learn more things, raise my level of awareness, the punctum will be easier to find. Right now the punctum is something I strive to find in every piece of work I make— often unsuccessfully.

Why? Because the punctum is the animal. It is the beast that does not always wish to be caught. It is the elusive fox to my hound. Sometimes I hunt for it for hours, days, even months and it does not show it’s face. Its unpredictably is what makes it so alluring; and is partially why I use so much photography in my work. Finding the punctum is much easier with a camera than it is with InDesign. My punctui do not live in grids and the rule of thirds. The translation a camera makes of what you shoot with it—especially when using film—can see the punctum hiding in the tall grass.

As a way of making visual work I embrace the unpredictable nature of the camera. I differ from many photographers in this way—when I click the shutter, I am more interested in what I don’t know will happen than what I think should happen. To me the perfect image is perfectly imperfect. And inside this imperfection is the lair of the punctum.

Written in response to the following readings:
Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes
On Photography: Plato’s Cave, Susan Sontang
Uses of Photography, John Berger
Remembering an Intellectual Heroine, Christopher Hitchens