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Petraitis - The Index: Illusion and Disillusionment
Paulius Petraitis, PhD student

"The Index": Illusion and Disillusionment of a Truthful Medium

‘The Index’: Illusion and Disillusionment of a Truthful Medium” discusses the role of the concept of the index within the discourse of photography. The notion of index, conceived and initially applied to photography by Charles Sanders Peirce at the end of the 19th century, played a key role in the understanding of the medium and theorizations of it; as a sign allied with causality, and presupposing a material, or existential, link, index implied certain qualities of photographs. These traits – objectivity, veracity, proximity to truth – were culturally supported and helped place the medium in a privileged position, establishing, not least in a popular understanding, a strong bond between reality and photography.


Through the notion of the index, the research aims to show and discuss how the myth of photography – as the medium advantaged with uncomplicated link to reality – was established and how it was affected by (as well as, affected the acceptance of) the digital shift. Tracing the concept from its outset to the developments made by subsequent theorists, the investigation aims to suggest where the (flexible and versatile in Peirce’s discussion) index began to mean rigid material connection to “the real”; and how such simplified interpretation affected, and was employed in, the recent claims that the digital is non-indexical. By showing how and where Peirce’s flexible understanding of the index became significantly distorted, the study proposes new knowledge in the conceptual understanding of indexicality.