I’ve just finished reading Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida in which he sets out to try to identify what it is that gives certain photographs the power to make you pause, to touch something in your heart. His quest is inspired by leafing through some photos of his recently-dead mother. There are many that are good likenesses, but only one – rather indistinct, taken as a child – that, for Barthes, captures her essential uniqueness.
Barthes suggests that a few photographs have this essential element ‘that rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me.’ He calls this the photograph’s punctum: ‘that accident that pricks me…is poignant to me’.
This reminded me of Fountain Of Sorrow, the second track on Jackson Browne’s 1974 album, Late For The Sky:
Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true
You were turning ’round to see who was behind you
And I took your childish laughter by surprise
And at the moment that my camera happened to find you
There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes