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Taking Bazin Literally

Mario Slugan

Keywords: André Bazin; dual theory of light identity thesis; index; ontology of photography

This article argues against the standard readings of Bazin’s seminal essay “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” which are based on Charles S. Peirce’s account of indexicality but for reasons distinct from recent influential criticism of this approach in film studies. The article also moves beyond the accounts of Bazin in the analytic tradition, by building on a rare analysis that takes Bazin’s notion of identity between the photographic image and the model seriously. Whereas Jonathan Friday proposes identity to be construed as psychological, the article argues that, under the dual theory of light available to Bazin at the time, identity between the photographic images and object photographed literally holds for some photographs—namely, negatives of objects which emit light. The article concludes with an explanation of why Bazin thought the identity holds for all photographs.

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