What’s the Point of an Index? or, Faking Photographs TOM GUNNING

What’s the Point of an Index? or, Faking Photographs

TOM GUNNING

Nordicom Review 1-2/2004

이 글은 사진에서 indexicality가 과연 무엇이며, 본질적으로 이 term 자체가 현 digital 시대에 유효한가 질문한가. 작가의 입장은, whether it’s analog or digital, the indexicality of photography has not been changed. 즉 digital 이후의 photography를 단절적으로 해석하면, 우리의 가능성들은 굉장히 좁아져 버리고 만다. 사진의 truth claim이나 accuracy (indexicality, iconocity와 긴밀히 연결되어 있는)는 없어지지 않았다. 여전히 유지되고 있는 중이다. 이게 없어진다면 사진은 그림이나 드로밍과 다를 바 없어진다.

I am excited, but also a bit dismayed by the current discussion of newly emerging media, especially when this discussion provides an account of the older media of cinema and photography. There is no question in my mind that the recent interest in early cinema and its technological antecedents springs partly from the excitement the appearance of such new media generates (and my friend and colleague Erkki Huhtamo has demonstrated this interrelation of old and new most wonderfully1 ).

I also fear it can produce the opposite: a sort of reification of our view of the older media, an ignoring of the true complexities that photography, cinema and other visual media capturing light and motion presented, simply displacing their promises and disappointments unto a yet-to-beachieved digital media utopia. Especially bothering to me is a tendency to cast the older media as bad objects, imbued with a series of (displaced) sins that the good objects of new media will absolve.

Let’s tackle one of the largest problem first, the truth claim of traditional photography (and to some extent cinematography) which has become identified with Charles Peirce’s term “indexicality.”

This whole issues becomes even more obscure when critics or theorists claim (I hope less frequently as time goes by) that the digital and the indexical are opposed terms. (39) 이 부분에 대해 중점적으로 tackle 한다. 왜 이게 대립적인 개념이냐고. 아니라고 이야기한다. 

I have some difficulty figuring out how this confusion arose, but I imagine it went something like this: the indexicality of the photograph depends on a physical relation between the object photographed and the image finally created. indexicality에 대해 보편적으로 갖고 있는 의견이다. The image on the photographic negative derives from the transformation of light sensitive emulsion caused by light reflecting off the object photographed filtered through the lens and diaphragm. In a digital image, however, instead of light sensitive emulsion affected by the luminous object, the image is formed through data about light that is encoded in a matrix of numbers.

But what problem does this change present and how does it challenge indexicality? Clearly a digital camera records through its numerical data the same intensities of light that a non-digital camera records: hence the similarity of their images. The difference between the digital and the film based camera has to do with the way the information is captured –  which does have strong implications for the way the images can be storedtransferred and indeed manipulated. But storage in terms of numerical data does not eliminate indexicality (which is why digital images can serves as passport photographs and the other sorts of legal evidence or documents, which ordinary photographs supply). Further, it would be foolish to closely identify the indexical with the photographic; most indexical information is not recorded by photography. Long before digital media were introduced, medical instruments and other instrument of measurement, indexical instruments par excellance –  such as devices for reading pulse rate, temperature, heart rate, etc, or speedometers, wind gauges, and barometers –  all converted their information into numbers. 즉, 여기서도 디지털을 otherness로 규정하고, 근본적으로 달라서 indexicality등 기존의 frame들이 적용될 수 없다고 보는 관점이 잘못되었다고 이야기한다. 다른 물질성을 지닌 것도 맞고, 현실적으로 modification등이 더 쉬워진 것도 맞지만, 그렇다고 기존의 성질들이 다 eliminate되는 것이 아니다!! 

Although a photograph combines both types of signs, the indexical quality of a photograph must not be confused with its iconicity. The fact that rows of numbers do not resemble a photograph, or what the photograph is supposed to represent, does not undermine any indexical claim. An index need not (and frequently does not) resemble the thing it represents. The indexicality of a traditional photograph inheres in the effect of light on chemicals, not in the picture it produces. 근본적인 level에서의 indexicality는 chemical level이다. conceptural 한 것이 아니라는 것을 잊지 말아야 한다.  The rows of numerical data produced by a digital camera and the image of traditional chemical photography are both indexically determined by objects outside the camera. Both photographic chemicals and the digital data must be subjected to elaborate procedures before a picture will result. Here we might grasp how the claim for digital uniqueness displaces a problematic issue within our conception of traditional photography, an especially pernicious one. The claim that the digital media alone transforms its data into an intermediary form fosters the myth that photography involves a transparent process, a direct transfer from the object to the photograph.이러한 입장은 그야말로 myth이다. digital과 analog photography모두 같은 과정을 거친다. 그저 형태가 다를 뿐. The mediation of lens, film stock, exposure rate, type of shutter, processes of developing and of printing become magically whisked away if one considers the photograph as a direct imprint of reality.

Thus the very strong claim that digital images can be manipulated in ways photographic images could not, must also be qualified. Indeed the much-heralded malleability of the digital image does not contrast absolutely with photography. I would not deny that the ease, speed and quality of digital manipulation represent an important new stage in the technology of imagery. But we must carefully consider the situations in which such malleability becomes a value and the considerable debt such transformations owe to (although often displacing our attention from) the history of photography. Here especially, the intertwining of indexicality and iconicity must be observed.

(40)

No question digital processes can perform these alterations more quickly and more seamlessly, but the difference between digital and film based photography cannot be described as absolute. (41)

But a more complex and, I think, more interesting answer would point out that the power of the digital (or even the traditional photographic) to “ transform  an image depends on maintaining something  of the original image’ s visual accuracy and recognizability. I use this phrase (“ visual accuracy and recognizability” ) to indicate the manner in which indexicality intertwines with iconicity in our common assessment of photographs. Our evaluation of a photograph as accurate (i.e. visually reflecting its subject) depends not simply on its indexical basis (the chemical process), but on our recognition of it as looking like its subject. A host of psychological and perceptual processes intervene here which cannot be reduced to the indexical process. The recognition of a photograph by a viewer as an image of its subject would not simply result from indexically. Indeed, one could produce an indexical image of something or someone that remained unrecognizable. The image must also be legible in order to be likened to its subject. 우리가 사진을 어떤 대상을 담아냈다고 인식하는 것이 단지 indexicality에 의해서만 결정되는가? 실제로, 더 이상 인지할 수 없는 대상에 대한  indexical이미지들 또한 생산해 낼 수 있는데? 즉, 우리가 어떤 대상을 인지하고 닮았다고 판단하는데에는, 단지 indexical basis만 영향을 미치는 것이 아니라, 심리적, 인지적요소들이 중요하다.

Let me get at this via another route. If one of the great consequences of the digital revolution lies in the freedom it gives people to transform a photographic image, we could say that the digital aspires to the condition of painting, in which color, shape, texture, all the components of an image are completely up to the painter, rather than determined by the original subject through an indexical process. But do users of Photoshop want an absolute  freedom? Do they really want to create  an image or, rather, to transform one which can still be recognized as a photograph (and maybe even as a photograph of Uncle Harry?)

The interest in transforming Uncle Harry’ s photograph is not quite the same as that of drawing a caricature of him. Admittedly one could point out that few of us have the depictive talent to produce a caricature, and that digital manipulation programs give us that power (interestingly this recalls the argument Fox Talbot gave for his invention of photography). But it seems to me that the power of most digital manipulation of photographs depends on our recognizing them as manipulated photographs , being aware of the strata of the indexical (or perhaps better, the visually recognizable) beneath the manipulation.(41)

과연 digital 사진을 보는 사람들이 기대하는 것이, painting이나 drawing같은 완전한 창조인가?? 아니라고 생각한다. 즉 우리는 recoginizability를 digital photo에서도 기대한다. 우리는 그것이 완벽한 창조가 아니라 manipulated 되었음을 인식하는 것을 기대한다. 즉, 그 digital manipulation밑에 존재하는 index들의 층들을 인지하는 데서 의미를 찾는 것이다. 얼추 동의하기는 하는데- 그러면, 3D, computer generated image는 어떻게 생각해야 하나? 

We might add immediately that the apparatus, in itself, can neither lie, nor tell the truth.

in order to tell the truth, the photograph must be subjected to a series of discourses, become, in effect, the supporting evidence for a statement.

Scudder and say a photograph can only tell the truth if it is also capable of telling a lie. (42)

Therefore means will be taken to preserve this value, even in an era where it is easy and cheap to alter photographs and produce a believable image. 저자는 photography의 기존 value들은 digital화 되는 것과 관계없이 유지된다고 본다. 

Likewise the use of photographs as evidence, whether legal or scientific, has always entailed a considerable disciplining of the photographic image. (43)

Let us consider the other side of the equation: the celebration of the new digital utopia (as Rosen calls it)11 in which digital manipulation liberates photography from its stable and predictable identity and its seemingly mechanical reiteration of the facts. (44)

Thus digital manipulation can hardly be seen as transforming the nature of photography as an art form, although it offers both new exciting techniques and new processes of discovery in the exploration of those techniques.  이것이 저자의 주장. We must keep in mind that only a limited practice of photography ever made accuracy or truth claims an essential part of its practice and that many uses of photography intentionally flout such claims. Beyond the modernist practices of art photography, popular form of what we could call “ rhetorical” uses of photography, such as in advertising or political persuasion, do not depend exclusively, or often even primarily, on such truth claims.

Finally, we could observe that if indeed a digital revolution ever did trigger a complete overthrow of the truth claim of photography –  if the association of photography in people’ s minds with truth claims and accuracy were entirely abolished through repeated encounters with photography images that could not be trusted(digital image내 해석)  then the possibility of deception, would also be abolished, and little motive for counterfeiting would remain. 즉 digital 이후의 photography를 단절적으로 해석하면, 우리의 가능성들은 굉장히 좁아져 버리고 만다. 사진의 truth claim이나 accuracy (indexicality, iconocity와 긴밀히 연결되어 있는)는 없어지지 않았다. 여전히 유지되고 있는 중이다. 이게 없어진다면 사진은 그림이나 드로밍과 다를 바 없어진다.   If the truth claim were utterly destroyed as a possibility, what would be the motivation for making photographs rather than drawings or paintings, other than Fox Talbot’ s embarrassing claim that photography could place visual representation in the hands of the artistically challenged?

Here I think we encounter a basic aporia  in our understanding of photography, one that I believe can only be approached phenomenologically, rather than semiotically. It is only by a phenomenological investigation of our investment in the photographic image (digital or otherwise obtained) that I think we can truly grasp the drive behind digitalization and why photography seems unlikely to disappear and why, even without a formulated truth claim, it offers us something that other forms of visual representation cannot. (44)

Let us consider modes of photography that seem designed to flout the truth or even the accuracy claim associated with photography. While I would not deny that forms of photography can exist in which this flouting triumphs to such a degree that any referential role seems to vanish, I think that in most instances such photographs actually strive to present a contradiction, an oxymoron, an impossible presence, invoking photographic accuracy or truth even while contradicting it. fake photography의 목적 또한, 완전 부정이 아니라, contradiction을 통해서 사진의 accuracy, truth claim을 invoke 하는 것이 아니던가. Thus surrealist superimpositions in the work of Man Ray, photomontages by John Heartfield, or defamiliarizing camera anglesby Rodchenko, to cite a few masters of modernist photography, all work with (and against) the recognizability and accuracy of the photograph. (45)

Thus I would maintain the particular artistic and entertaining delight of digitally manipulated photographs depends on a continued investment in the photograph as potentially an accurate representation. This sense of the photograph as accurate remains inherent even while contradicted in a manipulated photograph. 이게 저자의 근본적 주장.

I am positing a phenomenological fascination with photography that involves a continuing sense of the relation between the photograph and a pre-existing reality. While this is precisely what “ indexicality”  supposedly involves, I am less and less sure this semiotic term provides the proper term for the experience. It is often claimed that our belief in photographic images depends on our knowledge of how they are made, on being aware of the fact that light bounced from the object has a causal role in the creation of the image. Without denying this, since I believe that cultural knowledge shapes our perception of things, I wonder whether this putative knowledge really provides the source of our investment in the photographic image. If a friend shows me a pen and tells me it was the one Herman Melville used to write Moby Dick  my fascination with the pen is dependent on this fact. If I find out my friend is joking and bought the pen at a dime store, my fascination vanishes. But when I am told a photograph has been digitalized I may cease to believe its truth claim, but I think I am still intrigued by it. The same irrational appeal applies to the uncanny fascination that spirit photographs have for me. (45)

The fairly recent preoccupation with the index as a means of understanding photography derives not only from the rediscovery of Peirce that accompanied the shift to a semiotics of culture, but more directly from Peter Wollen’ s brilliant application of Peirce’ s category to Bazin’ s discussion of the ontology of the photographic image.15 But Wollen’ s translation of Bazin’ s ontology of photography into a semiotics involved a canny appropriation and transformation of Bazin (who never used the term “ index,”  although his terms of comparison with photography –  death masks, fingerprints, moulds–  certainly correspond to Peirce’ s examples of indices).16 If Wollen’ s semiotic gloss on Bazin rendered his argument more rational and understandable, it may have also cut us off from a different understanding of the power of the photograph implied in some of Bazin’ s less understandable passages.

For Bazin, the photograph is not a sign of something, but a presence of something, or perhaps we could say a means for putting us into the presence of something, since clearly Bazin realizes that a photograph differs from its subject. But is the indexical relation to a referent enough to truly explain what Bazin describes as photography’ s “ irrational power to bear away our faith” ?17 An indexical relation falls entirely into the rational realm. Likewise Barthes describes the power of photography as, “ A magic, not an art.”18 When Barthes describes a photograph as an emanation of a past reality rather than a copy of something, he underscores the way a photograph relates to a single individual object and a unique moment in the existence of that object.(46) 과연 Bazin과 Barthes의 사진에 대한 견해들이 indexical referent – which is rational realm-에 의해서만 이해될 수 있는가? 아니다. 

Barthes and Bazin are agreed that the photograph offers neither a copy (a simple iconic sign) nor a substitute (the function of all signs, including indices). “ Photography actually contributes something to the natural order of creation instead of providing a substitute for it,”  claims Bazin.19  (47)

Like these earlier transformations in photographic history, the digital revolution will change how photographs are made, who makes them, and how they are used –  but they will still be photographs. (48)

But finally I would claim that we still have only the beginnings of an account of the fascination photography exerts and although the use of the term “ index”  may have helped explain some aspects of this fascination, I am not at all sure it is either an adequate or accurate term. (48)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s