Rendering the Displaced Object

Hillman, John (2017) Rendering the Displaced Object. In: Pointed or Pointless, The Photographers Gallery, London. (Unpublished)

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Although indexicality has been connected to various claims about truth and resemblance, it is a term that often frustrates rather than elucidates our ideas about what photographs do. Pierce suggested the indexical properties of a photograph mean they have a point-by-point correspondence to nature. In other words, what was in front of the camera lens produces a trace that remains long after the object has gone. While an index implies a referent, I suggest indexicality is generally formulated as a counterfactual proposition, based on crude visual determinism. In this reading of the index it is possible to form the notion that a photograph exists simply because an object was at some point subjected to a photographic process. We then can understand the existence of a photograph as only being possible by virtue of the subject it captures. In this sense, indexicality becomes the means through which we retroactively justify photographic necessity. It is this concept of indexicality that has structured a particular understanding of what photography is and photographs are. And given this I suggest that indexicality relies on a false proposition: one rooted in a systematic photographic deceit. Therefore, in this paper, I will argue that a more appropriate analysis would discern that indexicality does not point to that which has been.

Photographs are not only representations of objects in the world, but they are also embedded into a relationship with the world, one derived through the processes of technology, production, distribution and storage. Photography is also the means through which both information and experience are structured. From these positions, I propose a more radical reading of the index can be arrived at by claiming that the photograph is an index of its opposite. Which means that indexicality does not express the relationship of a referent to a sign, rather it points to the limitation of photography itself to ever adequately represent what is in the world. From here it is then possible to deploy indexicality as being effectively an indicator of the empirical limitation of the symbolic order. Thus it signifies, not an absent object, but the presence of this particular absence.

The desire to render objects with more clarity, accuracy and precision represents a general shift toward reality being understood predominantly as image. This means if an object can be photographed, then photography is also implied in the object itself. In a similar fashion world events are reduced into ready-made images, image becomes the ultimate measure of reality. The task for re-thinking photographic indexicality is therefore to understand it as signifying and rendering the absence of an object rather than pointing back toward the object itself. A consequence of this recalibrating of the notion of indexicality means photography no longer needs to be determined by an implicit relationship of objects and their representations. Instead, photography can be understood as a figural account of thinking, perception and consciousness.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
1 March 2017Accepted
Subjects: CAH20 - historical, philosophical and religious studies > CAH20-02 - philosophy and religious studies > CAH20-02-01 - philosophy
CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-01 - creative arts and design > CAH25-01-04 - cinematics and photography
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts > School of Visual Communication
Depositing User: John Hillman
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2019 09:21
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 16:57

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