Photographic post-truth: from idealised perception to the priority of the image

Joost, Katrin ORCID logo ORCID: (2018) Photographic post-truth: from idealised perception to the priority of the image. In: Helsinki Photomedia 2018: Fourth International Photography Research Conference: Reconsidering the 'Post-Truth Condition': Epistemologies of the Photographic Image, 26-28 March 2018, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. (Unpublished)

[thumbnail of programme]
PDF (programme) - Supplemental Material
Available under License CC BY-NC

Download (88kB) | Preview
Official URL:


Arguably, the development of the photographic medium[1] follows only now the postmodern dismantling of truth. The recent outrage about post-truth society indicates that the force of postmodern thought left the realm of academic speculation and now designates the actuality of 21st century life. However, 20th century philosophy had already turned from the epistemological foundation of absolute truth to embrace the limits and complexity of truth as a facet of experience. Rather than putting our embodied, perceiving being with others at the root of understanding the world, photography[2] essentially clung to a singular, straightforward verifiable reality. Only now, photography prioritises the image and thereby questions the traditional status of truth.

I will illustrate how 20th century understandings of photography[3] function by idealising perception, maintaining a traditional truth concept: 
Idealised objectivity: The notion of the technical image supresses the subjective bias of photographic imagery and creates the illusion of a depersonalised perspective echoing ‘God’s point of view.’
Social perception: Even acknowledging the function of individual view points and visual selection, we understand photographs as invitations to view given scenes with the photographer. This still idealises the verification, prioritising a knowable, singular reality.
Idealised indexicality: 20th century photography was largely discussed in terms of content, effectively suppressing image consciousness. The photographic image invites us to look through ‘it’ at the world itself.
Subsequently, I argue that 21st century photography echoes 20th century thought pointing to three aspects that counteract traditional photographic functionalities and thereby allow for the primacy of the photographic image. Importantly, this is not fully accomplished, but instigates the perplexity of uncertainty as to how we see our world. Photographs are increasingly seen as distorting their subjects, not necessarily as intentional deceptions (as in photo manipulations), rather we see the ‘photographicness’ and ‘imageness’ of photographs. We are less surprised by the difference between seeing, for example, the pyramids in the flesh and viewing an aestheticised screensaver image of them. Moreover, we care less about this discrepancy. We focus on the image as image rather than its relation to the world. The images subject, or more to the point, the way the subject looks in real life is of less importance (see Baudrillard’s simulacra). Images constitute a vast portion of our environment, but moreover, we see the world primarily negotiated through photographic technology. So, the reference point of the unmediated world is losing importance. Technology is facilitating an understanding of the word independent from it.

[1] I deliberately avoid the distinction between analogue and digital photography technology. Rather, I focus on the photographic medium as seen (as well as practiced).
[2] I use ‘photography’ as short for the perspective of how the medium is understood and used.
[3] Photographers and thinkers already questioned these preconceptions. I describe a framework of presumptions underpinning every day usage of photography.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Departments: Academic Departments > Institute of Arts (IOA) > Graphics and Photography
Additional Information: Presented in the 'Photography and knowledge - formation of truths III' session at this conference.
Depositing User: Katrin Joost
Date Deposited: 02 May 2019 10:00
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2024 19:31


Downloads per month over past year

Downloads each year

Edit Item