The polarized image: between visual fake news and “emblematic evidence”

Politics and Image (2019)
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In this paper, a particular case of deceptive use of images – namely, misattributions – will be taken in consideration. An explicitly wrong attribution (“This is a picture of the event X”, this not being the case) is obviously a lie or a mistaken description. But there are less straightforward and more insidious cases in which a false attribution is held to be acceptable, in particular when pictures are also used in their exemplary, general meaning, opposed to their indexical function in referring to a specific event. In fact, the boundary between referential use and symbolic-exemplificative use is not always clear-cut, and it often becomes the subject of ideological dispute. The main point that this paper would like to do is that in some circumstances there is a deep-seated belief that images that are clearly misattributed could still be legitimately used to refer to the fact, even if this is not the case. This twisted epistemological stance, that I will summarize under the oxymoronic concept of “emblematic evidence”, is both the product of political and tribal polarization in the ideological debate, and the result of a shift in our understanding of what photographic images should do.

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Emanuele Arielli
Istituto Universitario di Architettura (Venezia)


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