PRINT January 1975

On the Invention of Photographic Meaning


THE MEANING OF A PHOTOGRAPH, like that of any other entity, is inevitably subject to cultural definition. The task here is to define and engage critically something we might call the “photographic discourse.” A discourse can be defined as an arena of information exchange, that is, as a system of relations between parties engaged in communicative activity. In a very important sense, the notion of discourse is a notion of limits. That is, the overall discourse relation could be regarded as a limiting function, one that establishes a bounded arena of shared expectations as to meaning. It is this limiting function that determines the very possibility of meaning. To raise the issue of limits, of the closure effected from within any given discourse situation, is to situate oneself outside, in a fundamentally metacritical relation to the criticism sanctioned by the logic of the discourse.


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