1st International Symposium: Representations – Struggles For Reality International Network for Alternative Academia

Susanne Ramsenthaler (Speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


A Question of Semblance: Icon versus Index We are all aware of photography's foothold in ‘reality’. The medium of photography is generally understood to be an ‘index of the real’, a representation as close to reality as possible. In this paper I conduct an inquiry into the semiotics behind the photographic image and the accepted common notion of photography as an ‘indexical’ medium. I investigate the well-known analogy of the ‘footprint’, commonly quoted as an example of photographic indexicality, and discuss how the ‘index’ becomes a close-fitting description for the photogram, but spectacularly breaks down when examined in connection with the photograph. When considering the difference between photographs and photograms, the term ‘depiction’ versus ‘manifestation’ surfaces inevitably, as does the issue of touch and authenticity. Georges Didi-Huberman’s writing on the Turin Shroud makes it clear that signification sometimes becomes clearer when obscured. Absence and presence in the case of the photogram also undergo a reversal of sorts, inviting speculations on the visible resulting in blindness, and vice versa. In this context, the concepts of Deleuze’s fossil and Benjamin’s fetish apply due to issues of contact and despite, or maybe because of, non-signification at first glance. Indexicality and the perception of space in photograms are explored by means of Floris Neusüss’ ‘Nachtbilder’ or Night Pictures. Neusüss, a life-long creator of photograms, leaves sizeable chunks of photographic paper in his garden at night to expose for hours. In the space of these prints, the visual and the haptic meet in unexpected and accidental ways, leaving the notions of Cartesian vision and perspective for dead. Writings on images and semiology are usually based on the theories of Charles Sanders Peirce, who, as opposed to the Saussurean school, does not insist on signs being rooted in language. I am concerned in particular with two semiotic terms; the Icon and the Index. Over the years, photographs have been increasingly classified as indices, based on an apparent notion of contiguity through light waves. Roland Barthes was one of the chief disseminators of this theory, closely followed by Rosalind Krauss. Examining the writings of Peirce and a variety of other sources of definitions of icon and index, I argue for the restoration of the status of icon to the photograph while indexicality remains the domain of the photogram, based on the fact that an index is an indicator, whereas the icon resembles. The paper will be illustrated with images and photograms from my recent series of works entitled ‘Transitaria’.
Period4 Nov 2012
Event typeConference
LocationMontreal, Canada