The shared image. Can we still speak of journalism? / 7 November 2015 / 7 November 2015

Digital photography poses many problems, some of which Gunthert André attempts to answer in his book L’Image partagée. La photographie numérique (The Shared Image. Digital Photography) (Paris, Textuel, September 2015). In primis the problem of indicialité, or of the photograph being an imprint of reality. The major theorists of the history of photography tend more or less, and in much the same way, to indicate a close relationship between photography and reality that is guaranteed by the chemical and physical process behind imprinting on a medium by filtering light through a lens. For example, Rosalind Krauss wrote in 1977 that “every photograph is the result of a physical imprint transferred by light reflections onto a sensitive surface” and, as a result, “the photograph is thus a type of icon, or visual likeness, which bears an indexical relationship to its object”, or, in the words of Roland Barthes in 1980, “dans la photographie, je ne puis jamais nier que la chose a été là”.

Gunthert reconsiders these assertions – which would thus clearly rule out digital photography because of its fleeting nature devoid of any support, fluid, versatile, ubiquitous, universal, and definitely not chemical – and succeeds in disproving them. Neither the optical device – i.e. the lens – nor the recording medium, e.g. one type of film rather than another, even remotely guarantees impartial allegiance to reality, not even with an analog device. Any photographer knows very well that changing lens and film will result in very different photographs of the same subject in terms of geometry, colour and aspect. It is worth recalling that every photograph, analog or digital, is always the result of framing and focusing decisions that can only respond to the ethics and deontology of the person who has taken the photographs. Acknowledgement of documentary authenticity and reliability in photography presupposes accepting a process of mediation – the photographic practice – that is located within a broader cultural discourse from which the image either acquires credibility or does not. For example, world public opinion began to become aware of the revolution unleashed by the spread of digital images when confronted with the terrible photographs taken at the Abu Ghraib prison. In late April 2004, the international media began reporting on the humiliation and torture that Iraqi detainees were suffering at the hands of the U.S. coalition force soldiers. A U.S. TV newsmagazine programme, “60 Minutes”, initially broke the story of abuses against inmates. Media all over the world then began circulating raw images of the torture: for the first time, digital images taken by non-professionals and destined to remain in private circulation, took on the value of historical documents, which were then multiplied and consigned to eternity through their dissemination over the Internet. Despite their private and digital status, the veracity of these images was not called into question. According to Gunthert, they formed a part of a body of reports, investigations and testimony by both the press and U.S. military investigative agencies, published precisely at a time – the spring of 2004 – in which the majority of Americans were beginning to disapprove of the way the Bush Administration was running the war. Gunthert writes: “Mieux qu’aucun argument théorique, l’installation de la pratique numérique a démontré que la verité de l’image ne tient pas à son ontogènese […] l’appréciation de la véridicité des image s’élabore sur la base de l’expérience et de la culture visuelle contemporaine”.