From Presence to the Performative: rethinking photographic indexicality


Green, David., Lowry, Joanna., ‘From Presence to the Performative: rethinking photographic indexicality’ Where is the photograph? ed. by David Green (Maidstone: Photoworks; Brighton: Photoforum, 2003) 47-60


Beginning in the late 1980s and gathering momentum with the increasing availability of these new technologies, the force of critical opinion has lain largely with those who – believing that the medium’s privileged status as arbiter of truth and measure of reality had been fatally undermined by computerised imaging processes – have sought to reconcile us to the ‘death of photography’. Yet paradoxically, during this same period we have also witnessed a fascination amongst a younger generation of photographers with precisely those qualities and values associated with the medium that have been deemed most at risk […]

[The influence of Camera Lucida has had] a subtly distorting effect on our understanding of the nature of photographic indexicality.

[…] it has led, inevitably, to a preoccupation with the origins of the photographic image in a chemical trace, to its relationship with time and absence, and to the complexity of our affective response when we encounter this evidence of a moment has passed.

However, we want to argue here that the concept of the photograph as a trace of a past event does not exhaust our understanding of its indexical properties.


C.S. Peirce […] demonstated that the indexical sign was less to do with its causal origins and more to do with the way in which it pointed to the event of its own inscription.

Photographs [… are indexical because ] first and foremost, they were taken.

The very act of photography, as a kind of performative gesture which points to an event in the world, as a form of designation that draws reality into the image field, is thus itself a form of indexicality.

These two forms of indexicality, the one existing as a physical trace of an event, the other as performative gesture that points towards it, both invoke a relationship to the real that seems specific to the photographic image.

[Ed Ruscha parodied the photograph’s ability to point]


[Robert Barry Inert Gas Series ]


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