What is a Photograph?

What is a photograph discussion

A photograph has certain characteristics that we all know of:

  • It has edges
  • Its flat so 2D
  • Its a still image
  • Its an artefact
  • It is a truth
  • Fixed in time
  • Can be colour or monochrome
  • Has denotations and connotations
  • It serves a purpose and is considered a work of art
  • Often we don’t understand the context of the photograph without more information
  • Has a relationship between viewers and/ or subjects in the photograph

A particular characteristic which interested me which i had never really thought about before is that the photograph is a truth. I have never thought about questioning it this way before.  The saying ‘the camera never lies’ is true… the camera will record what the photographer has put in front of it, but whether the photographer has put their own spin or angle on the image is another thing. So the photograph shows us A truth, even if its not THE truth.


A quote for the relationship between the photograph and others involved:

“The operator is the photographer. The spectator is ourselves, all of us who glance through collections of photographs – in magazines and newspapers, in books, albums, archives… And the person or thing is the target, the referent, a kind of little simulacrum…” ROLAND BARTHES, 1980.


Barthes here is stating that there are three involvement’s to an image, these being the operator, the spectator and the target. Really, these people are more than that, so we re-named them to something more appropriate and not de-meaning in the way Barthes had named them…

There are only 3 involvement’s in a photograph:

  1. The photographer
  2. The viewer
  3. The subject