Indexicality and the Concept of Medium Specificity


“Indexicality and the Concept of Medium Specificity”

Mary Ann Doane

in The Meaning of Photography. Edited by Robin Kelsey and Blake Stimson, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2008


The lure of the indexical is linked to its intimate collusion with what Didi-Huberman calls the “fantasy of referentiality,” with the inert stability of the real, most fully realized in death.


Despite its essentialist connotations, medium specificity is a resolutely historical notion, its definition incessantly mutating in various socio-historical contexts. Today, it is the indexicality associated with the analogical, chemical base of the image that emerges as the primary candidate, in contention with the rise of digital media.


It is ultimately impossible either to reduce the concept of medium to materiality or to disengage it from that notion.


An emphasis upon film’s chemical, photograph base now serves to differentiate the cinema from digital media and repeatedly invokes indexicality as the guarantee of a privileged relation to the real, to referentiality, and to materiality.


The pertinence of the photographic and cinematic frame, in contrast to the frame of a painting, is that it coordinates and necessitates the dialectic og Peirce’s two, seemingly incompatible, definitions of the index, as trace and deixis.


The dialectic of the trace (the “once” or pastness) and deixis (the now or presence) produces the conviction of the index.