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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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The subject and the indexicality of the photograph

Brian Winston1 / Hing Tsang2



Citation Information: Semiotica. Volume 2009, Issue 173, Pages 453–469, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/SEMI.2009.021, February 2009

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Taking as a case study the documentary Unknown White Male (UK, 2005) — a film whose theme and reception problematizes stable notions of what constitutes subjectivity — a corrective is offered to the dominant mode applying Peircean semiotics to the moving image. Cinema and media studies have tended to apply Peirce's triadic division of the sign in a limited, formalist way following the explications of his method offered by Wollen and others. However Wollen ignores Peirce's placement of photograph as indexical within the context of the iconic as well as the distinction Peirce draws between ‘instantaneous’ and ‘composite’ photographs. Moreover, Peirce's more general understanding of the importance of semiotic analysis to the overall mental well-being of the human subject, hitherto largely ignored by media scholars, is also addressed.

Keywords:: semiotics; semiology; indexicality; iconicity; documentary; Wollen

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