The Trouble with Photography


The Trouble with Photography

by Anne McCauley

pp. 403-430 in Photography Theory, edited by James Elkins, published by Routledge, London, 2007.



[on the seminar discussion] Rather than trying to prove that “a photograph is x” or “a photograph reveals y” beacuse of the way it is made or its relationship to its referent, one might more productively consider the photograph as an idea as much as a thing, in which repressed human concerns about making, keeping and losing, resurface.


[Anne suggests that] we need to shift discussions of photography away from issues surrounding its mode of manufacture and toward its reception and circulation in the world, […] we would be well-advised to revisit Barthes technique of examining our personal responses to images.


[…] the knowledge of how an image is made, rather than anything inherent in the image, changes the way the viewer thinks of the image.

[McCauley thinks it] vital to return to the contingency of its truth claims and to displace them onto the viewer rather than onto the representation.


Digital photography only makes clear what was present in all photography, which was that what we see is to a large extent what we want to see and what we have been taught to see.

It is not that photographs necessarily are the “that which has been,” but that we have concentrated within them all the documentary weight that was formerly contained within an array of mimetic drawings, life casts, icon paintings, relics, and any sort of pictures that claimed to be in some way “authentic”.

Changes in the technologies of image-making and in our understanding of brain neurophysiology will eventually make apparent the constructedness of our use of the photograph as a paradigm for the memory of the real.