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Against Imprinting: The Photographic Image as a Source of Evidence

Wilson, Dawn M



A photographic image is said to provide evidence of a photographed scene because it is a causal imprint of reflected light: an indexical trace of real objects and events. Though widely established in the history, theory and philosophy of photography, this traditional imprinting model must be rejected because it relies on a 'single-stage' misconception of the photographic process: the idea that a photographic image comes into existence at the time of exposure. In its place, a 'multi-stage' account properly articulates different production stages, such as registering and rendering, that are relevant to understanding the relation between a photographic image and the photographed scene. By denying that any photographic image is a causal imprint, the multi-stage approach proposes a more demanding evaluation of photographic evidence. This has implications for documentary film and photojournalism along with specialised applications such as forensics, surveillance and face-recognition technology.


Wilson, D. M. (in press). Against Imprinting: The Photographic Image as a Source of Evidence. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 89(4),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 10, 2022
Deposit Date Nov 4, 2022
Journal Social Research: An International Quarterly
Print ISSN 0037-783X
Electronic ISSN 1944-768X
Publisher Johns Hopkins University Press
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Volume 89
Issue 4
Keywords Photograph; evidence; index; trace; imprint; image
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