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  • 7/28/2019 Truth In Photography.pdf


    19912010 Gunnar Swanson. All rights reserved.

    This document is provided or the personal use o visitors to Distributing in any orm

    requires the permission o Gunnar Swanson. Permission will almost surely be granted but it is required

    nonetheless. Any copying or redistribution requires attribution and the retention o copyright notice.

    On Notions of Truth in Photography:

    Semiotics and the Stereograph

    by Gunnar Swanson

  • 7/28/2019 Truth In Photography.pdf


    Categorical statements about the nature o a medium wy

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    y v1 Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Stereoscope and the Stereograph 1859 Atlantic Monthly magazine as

    reprinted in Alan Trachtenberg (ed.) Classic Essays on Photography, Lectes Island, New Haven CT 732 Louis Daguerre in a notice circulated to attract investors, 1838, as quoted in Susan Sontag OnPhotography, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., New York, NY 188

    On Notions of Truth in Photography:

    Semiotics and the Stereograph

    by Gunnar Swanson

  • 7/28/2019 Truth In Photography.pdf


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    Te photographic reerent is not the same as the reerent o other systems o

    representation. I call the photographic reerent not the optionally real thing to which

    an image or sign reers but the necessarily real thing which has been placed beore the

    lens, without which there would be no photograph. Painting can eign reality without

    having seen it. Discourse combines signs which have reerents, o course, but these

    reerents can be and most oten are chimeras. Contrary to imitations, in Photography Ican never deny that the thing has been there.6

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    3 Holmes, The Stereoscope and the Stereograph, in Classic Essays on Photography, 81

    4 Charles Sanders Peirce, Selected Writings, 1966, 1958, Dover, New York, NY (Orignally published asValues in a Universe of Change)

    5 Authors class notes rom Visual Semiotics class, Caliornia Institute o the Arts, all 1991 (I you canconfrm or reute this, please email me at [email protected])6 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida 1980, translation 1981 Hill and Wang, New York, NY

  • 7/28/2019 Truth In Photography.pdf


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    I All Consuming Images Ew x H y :

    With remarkable, i unwitting clarity, Oliver Wendell Holmes had laid out the contours

    by which the phenomenon o style operates in the world today. Holmes was writing ophotography, yet his perception that people would soon navigate the world, skin it o visible

    images, and market those images inexpensively to people, reected a keen understanding

    o what, in the twentieth century, would stand as a palpable indicator o material

    progress. For people who, in another epoch, would have been unable to aord it, the

    acquisition o style represented a symbolic leap rom the constraints o mere subsistence.11

    7 Alan Sekula, The Body and the Archive October39, Winter 1986 (a revised version appears in The

    Contest of Meaninged. by Richard Bolton 1989, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA

    8 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, From Pigment to Light, Telehor 1,2, 1936 translated in Lyons, Photographerson Photography, 34

    9 Wilson Brian Key, Subliminal Seductions, 1973 Prentice Hall, New York, NY

    10 Stuart Ewen, Captains of Conciousness, 1976 McGraw-Hill, New York, NY and Stuart and ElizabethEwen Channels of Desire, 1982 McGraw-Hill, New York, NY

    11 Stuart Ewen, All Consuming Images, 1988, Basic Books, New York, NY pp. 2526

  • 7/28/2019 Truth In Photography.pdf


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    Tat the outer man is a picture o the inner, and the ace an expression o the whole

    character, is a presumption likely enough in itsel, and thereore a sae one to go on;

    borne out by the act that people are always anxious to see anyone who has made himsel

    amous . Photography oers the most complete satisaction o our curiosity.15

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    12 Consuming Images 1990 PBS television special

    13 Dr. Robt. U. Akeret Photoanalysis: How to Interpret the Hidden Psychological Meaning of Personal

    and Public Photographs1973, Peter H. Wyden, Inc., New York, NY14 Catherine Noren The Way We Looked; The Meaning and Magic of Family Photographs, 1983, Lode-

    star Books, New York, NY15 Arthur Schopenhauer as quoted in Sontag On Photography183184

    16 Roland Barthes, Mythologies1957, translation 1972 The Noonday Press, New York, NY

  • 7/28/2019 Truth In Photography.pdf


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    j x - -x, y :It is the ashion nowadays, among photographys commentators (sociologists andsemioticians), to seize upon a semantic relativity: no reality (great scorn or the

    realists who do not see that the photograph is always coded), nothing but artice: Tesis,not Physis; the photograph, they say, is not an analogon o the world; what it representsis abricated, because photographic optic is subject to Albertian perspective (entirelyhistorical) and because the inscription on the picture makes a three-dimensionalobject into a two-dimensional efgy. Tis argument is utile; nothing can prevent thePhotograph rom being analogical; but at the same time, Photographys noeme7has

    nothing to do with analogy (a eature it shares with all kinds o representations). Terealists, o whom I am one and o whom I was already one when I asserted that thePhotograph was an image without codeeven i, obviously, certain codes do inectour reading o itthe realists do not take the photograph or a copy o reality, butor an emanation o past reality: a magic, not an art. o ask whether a photographis analogical or coded is not a good means o analysis. Te important thing is that thephotograph possesses an evidential orce, and that its testimony bears not on the objectbut on time. From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power oauthentication exceeds the power o representation.

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    17 That-has-been18 Barthes, Camera Lucida88

  • 7/28/2019 Truth In Photography.pdf


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    1991 Gunnar Swanson. All rights reserved.


    19 Lecture by Arnold Rubin at UCLA, 1975