Number as Punctum

French artist Pierre Alferi asks: How we might incorporate text and image on the same screen?

He offers three possibilities:

  1. the text becomes an object, composition-wise, in the video image
  2. the text is embedded or camouflaged as part of the image
  3. the text is subtitled or intertitled to the image

This got me thinking about administrative numeration as a text form in high performance running.

In the era of hand-timed races, the official timers would concentrate first on the corpus of the moving body as it crossed the finish line and then record the bib number of the runners (who remained locked in their lanes) thereafter. With the photo finish on the other hand, the number does not play such a subordinate role. In fact, Rule 143.9 of the IAAF rules manual states that "Where Photo Finish equipment is in operation, the Organising Committee may require athletes to wear additional number identification of an adhesive type on the side of their shorts."

In the photo finish, the camera is fixed at the point of the finish line and shifts the focus of the viewer (race official, audience member watching scoreboard) away from the aesthetic of the moving body to the inscription of the numerical text on that bodily object. To borrow the language of Barthes, it is the moving bodies themselves that become the studium of the image in a photo finish, while in serving its administrative purpose, the number (as text) inscribed on the athletic body acts in concert with the graduated clock-ruler at the bottom of the image to form its punctum.


One response to Number as Punctum

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  1. sportsBabel » Metamorphosus Interruptus says:

    [...] of villains: 007 was as well known in the spy network as Bond himself. Singular corporeal punctum and reductive technology to invisibly mark his body, the nexus between skin, gesture and inscribed [...]