The Photographic Image: Truth or Sign?

  • Ira Torresi


This chapter explores the way in which mechanically or digitally acquired images (photographs and video recordings) are used in the legal, administrative and journalistic practices in the UK, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Malta and Italy. In the criminal procedure systems analysed here, mechanically or digitally acquired images tend to be accepted as evidence more uncritically than verbal ­testimony – as something that is harder to manipulate than words and is less prone to bias or distortion since, according to a commonly held misperception, it is generated by a machine rather than a human being. Following the same principle, in the norms and practices involved in issuing personal documents, such images tend to be uncritically taken for granted as proof of identity. A similar presupposition of truth implicitly establishes an identity relation between news reports and the accompanying images, which are shown to present verbal descriptions as incontrovertibly true and accurate. The value of absolute truth implicitly attached to photographic or filmic images, however, contrasts with both semiotic theory and practical considerations. Possible origins and traces left by the stereotype of photographic truth in semiotic theory are discussed, and an argument is made to start considering mechanically or digitally acquired images as signs rather than mere analogue representations of reality.


Video Recording Criminal Proceeding Photographic Image Criminal Procedure Identification Document 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DIT - Department of Interpreting and TranslationUniversity of BolognaForliItaly

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