Week 3 Activity: False Indexes

It won’t be a surprise to anyone who has read my earlier posts that I’m going to rule out the achievement of objectivity (though not, necessarily, the seemingly enduring, constantly thwarted, human desire for objectivity/truth). All our knowledge of and engagement with the world is mediated (we know the world through our somewhat idiosyncratic, unreliable and partial senses (and our culturally coded interpretation of those sensations), and we convey and explore that knowledge and understanding through words, sounds, actions, images and other means, each of which adds its own texture to what we are attempting to (re)present. So the issue for me isn’t whether an image, for instance, is subjective or not, but rather how it is subjective, and to what effect. And, of course, as artists we can, and many do, use images to explore our own subjectivity. Through these explorations, and through dialogue, interaction and engagement with others, we construct and reconstruct what we take collectively to be true. As research by Dan Kahan and colleagues indicates (for instance, Kahan et al, 2017), it is curiosity not certain knowledge that enables us to remain open to other perspectives and remain open and dynamic in our interaction with others.

‘individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected—do not turn this feature of their personality off when they engage political information but rather indulge it in that setting as well, exposing themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations about facts on contested issues. The result is that these citizens, unlike their less curious counterparts, react more open mindedly and respond more uniformly across the political spectrum to the best available evidence’ (Kahan et al, 2017: 198).

The point in relation to the topic of this discussion is that, even in disciplines in which expectations of certain knowledge are high (science), the ability to accommodate uncertainty, the unresolved, the inexplicable and the open-ended (all issues that have been raised in relation to constructed images in photographic art) has positive effects. In the interests of getting this post done, I’ll explore relevant images and post these in the version in my CRJ as soon as I get time.

I think it goes without saying that, from this and previous posts, the context in which an image is circulated and read will influence how an image is interpreted, and will shape the particular interest that the reader has in the image. In my own work I am moving to use a variety of modes of (re)presentation and engagement, and the settings/contexts in which this work is presented is paramount.

I’m just reading George Szirtes’s (2019) The Photographer at Sixteen, which recontextualises family photographs in a narrative which moves from his mother’s death back through her life, creating complexes of meaning in their relationship to his text.


Kahan, D, Landrum, A., Carpenter, K., Helft, L. & Jamieson, K.H. 2017. ‘Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing’, Advances in Political Psychology, 38(1), 179-199.

George Szirtes, G. 2019. The Photographer at Sixteen. London: MacLehose Press.