Edited by Pamela Perniss, Olga Fischer and Christina Ljungberg
[Iconicity in Language and Literature 17] 2020
In the kingdom of shadows
Towards a cognitive definition of photographic media
The essay identifies some of the cognitive processes underlying the appeal of photography and film. Unlike painting or drawing, the photographic media are primarily indexical, with the implied physical connection between object and image. Like painting however, photographic media are also iconic, in the sense of perceived resemblance between object and its representation. Also, the restricted angle of vision caused by the photographic/cinematic frame privileges the observer, creating composition and semantic tensions between objects within the frame. These properties of the photographic media are cognitively supported by human instinctive alertness to indexical signs and moving objects, by the assumption of identity between objects that happen to be similar, and by innate preferences for viewpoints that allow the observer the advantage of seeing without being seen. It is the evolutionary stability of these cognitive dispositions that gives photography and film their universal appeal.