Changing Lenses: Photography as Counterfactual Thinking

Hillman, John (2017) Changing Lenses: Photography as Counterfactual Thinking. In: Photomedia 2018, Helsinki. (Unpublished)

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In this paper, I consider how the inefficiency of photographic images, as seen in their inability to fully represent, opens up and situates a post-factual functioning of representation. Thus our conception of notions that maybe understood as post-truth or post-factual do not necessarily present a real or persistent problem, since they are at the very centre of the symbolic functioning of image.

Using examples from contemporary photography, this paper suggests that a post-truth condition is very much integral to photographic image making. It will develop the formulation that representation, always and necessarily, requires something additional that cannot easily be comprehended; something that is, ultimately, in excess of itself (such an excess can be understood in the structure of conspiracy theories or in the functioning of religions. In such cases, in order for a system of belief to work it is necessary that there is something more to believe, something beyond what we can understand). From this basis, a line of thought is developed that considers whether the expression of post-truth narratives is a manifestation of the apparent realisation that there never has been any age of truth; instead we experience a certain accord with what feels genuine.

Furthermore, rather than measuring truth by some form of external gauge, truth can really only be accounted for by understanding something of the formal inconsistency or contradiction inherent in its articulation and its context. Therefore, any possible truth of a photographic image lies in the multiple, unresolved contradictions that sustain its representational meaning. Of course, it is in this sense that we can easily and inevitably determine that there is no inner truth to photography. But such a conclusion is rarely developed beyond this deadlock. Since, to do so would have to confront that what exists are merely a series of contingent, representational, displacements.

Perhaps then, the truest test of our post-factual times is to consider what truth-effect is inevitably forced upon us. This paper will argue that one reading would reflect on a single, unifying consideration of truth with a post-truth, of fact with the post-factual. Under this consideration, photographic images are no longer suggestive of image in the sense that they were ever imagined to be. Instead, they become a series of looping combinations, a concatenated folding of image onto image, an incessant demand which exchanges image for image. But what if there can be no unification? A possible alternative reading is to see photographic images as revealing only gaps and inconsistencies in the world. The truth-effect we would then experience is one of a particular hierarchy: opposing the authentic with the inauthentic, the empirical with the hypothetical. This then serves to partially obfuscate the affective nature of experience in general.

Inevitably, since these endless cycles of image-qua-image, truth and post-truth have passed, and continue to pass interchangeably and almost unnoticed, this paper will ask whether, in its complicit relationship with both fact and fiction, photography is the ground zero of the post-truth epoch.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
1 September 2017Accepted
Subjects: ?? V500 ??
?? W600 ??
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts > School of Visual Communication
Depositing User: John Hillman
Date Deposited: 30 Jul 2019 13:36
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2019 13:36

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