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Possible in Photography

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Photography is a form of expression. It uses images to communicate. Previously called heliography, daguerreotype, or calotype, the process of capturing images in a permanent way was assigned the term photography by Sir John F. W. Herschel in 1839 (Newhall 2009, p. 21). The etymology of photography comes from the ancient Greek and it is composed by two words: photos and graphein. Photos literally means “of the light.” Grapheinmeans writing. Photography is the writing of the light. Every time we take a photograph, we are “writing” a message and it is important that we know how to ‘write’ this message to properly communicate. Photography uses a complex system of signs in the same way as written language does. The complexity of this system of communication arises from the way that the used signs can be misinterpreted and create different associations for each viewer/reader. This is one of the reasons why photography as a visual language has been studied by semiologists...


  • Photography
  • Visual semiotics
  • Portrait photography
  • Possible
  • Selfies
  • Web-sharing

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  1. 1.

    Description of the qualities of a daguerreotype by Sir John F. W. Herschel to William Henry Fox Talbot, May 9th 1839: ‘It is hardly too much to call them miraculous. Certainly, they surpass anything I could have conceived as within the bounds of reasonable expectation. The most elaborate engraving falls far short of the riches and delicateness of execution, every gradation of light and shade is given with a softness and fidelity which sets all painting at an immeasurable distance’ (Newhall 2009, p. 21).

  2. 2.

    These elements will return in contemporary photographers like Avedon, Hanzlova, Dijkstra (see Stallabrass 2007).

  3. 3.

    In 1999 Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210 was the first smartphone to incorporate a 110,000-pixel frontal camera (Yegulalp 2012).

  4. 4.

    ‘Selfie Sapiens’ (TedX Talks 2016) is a concept introduced by Hollywood producer Niels Juul. In his TedX Talk, Juul stresses the idea that, with the evolution of technology, humans increasingly depend on the use of social media. The young generation, he states, is not able to reflect on the consequences the uncontrolled production of selfies can imply.


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Correspondence to Francesco Arese Visconti .

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Arese Visconti, F. (2021). Possible in Photography. In: The Palgrave Encyclopedia of the Possible. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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