It is common knowledge that the relationship analogue photography has with light is different from the relationship digital photography has with light. In the former case, the relationship with light is non-arbitrary; in the latter case, the relationship with light is arbitrary. Can we use this perceived relational difference these two types of photography have with light as the ground on which to base our claims of an inherent ontological divide between analogue photography and digital photography? The answer to that question is a resounding no!

The sun emits light, and so does a light bulb. The light bulb, though, finds itself at the end of a long causal process: briefly, starting with the power station, that transmits electricity to the light switch, and the light switch, happening to find itself in the on position, allowing electricity to reach the light bulb. And light ensues. The light emitted by the light bulb is contingent on the status of the light switch. This contingency, though, belies an arbitrary relationship between light bulb and light switch – ultimately someone must put the light switch in the on position for the light bulb to be able to emit light.

The sun, which we are presuming is in a non-arbitrary relationship with the light it emits, produces the same “thing” as a light bulb, namely: light. Arguments based on the arbitrariness or non-arbitrariness of a relationship cannot in the case of photography be used to support any ontological distinctions between those referred to by these two kind of relationships. As discussed elsewhere, the analogue photograph is as stupid as the digital photograph. The analogue photograph and the digital photograph are both stupid since their determinants, namely the silver halide crystal and the pixel, have already learnt and have already come to know – and can thus now both afford to be stupid. One cannot fake the light emitted by a light bulb, but one can foreseeably wholly fake a digital photograph. The bitmap, being a grid holding different tones, can be artificially created without one having to make any recourse to unmanipulable light. Ultimately, though, a “true” photograph and an “artificial” photograph both depend on light – you are not going to see a thing standing in a darkened room with a photograph of either kind in your hands. We can extend this banal argument further, encroaching on the holy of holies of all visual art, pure perception, and state that even though the relationship my eyes have with the percept might be non-arbitrary, this relationship is ultimately always dependent on light, which, notwithstanding any argumentative toing and froing, can always be logically reduced to an arbitrary phenomenon, this always thanks to the fact that we are linguistic creatures 🙂

Does the invention of digital photography elucidate anything? Yes!

The bitmap is based on a linguistic theorem that states that reality “is essentially a flat surface covered with colours, put together in a certain order” (Musée d’Orsay 2006; and apologies Monsieur Denis for intentionally and quite wilfully misquoting you). We see things and stuff, not atoms. But introduce a perturbation in reality, for example the human brain, and a device capable of detecting at whim deviations devised by that perturbation, namely an electron microscope, and, behold, you now see the atom. The atom, just like the pixel, is pure mythology.

In capturing a photograph, the photography apparatus has traversed space and has held on to objects lying therein, this due to its inbuilt linguistic programme. The photography apparatus does not see; the photography apparatus blindly names. The photographic act is beyond, outside of, perception, hence the reason why it is not an act of seeing but merely an act of blindly naming. The photograph is analogous to a piece of literature in that like written fiction it produces a (mental?) image.

Thoughts are produced in the mind, which is a dark chamber, and emitted through the mouth, not the eyes. Beheld, thoughts (and loving eyes) give rise to images. The photograph is pure fiction, just like the world. It is real, real as distinct from reality as discussed by Henri Van Lier, in that like other real “things” it moves in parallel. This movement only further confirms that reality, sandwiched as it sadly is between real “things”, being constantly in sync with its image, is wholly illusory, merely the real as it simultaneously faces and effaces itself. And reality is a domain, a city, bereft of Being.

But God is other than Other.

I could not enter into the system without the assumption of the concept of the thing-in-itself and, on the other hand, I could not remain in it with this concept.

F. H. Jacobi (ATLAS 2012: 21)

Featured Image:

Luis2492 / CC BY-SA


Atlas, S. 2012. From critical to speculative idealism: The philosophy of Solomon Maimon. Springer Science & Business Media.

Musée d’Orsay. 2006. ‘Maurice Denis’. Musée d’Orsay [online]. Available at: [accessed 15 August 2020].