Reading photographs

Before you read any further, can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication? Blog about them.


Some definitions need to be established first so that the question can be answered in context, so I will define a photograph as a two dimensional surface image produced with the agency of electromagnetic radiation. That covers everything from infra-red imagery, x-rays to Kirlian photography.

Now the uses – a means of expression will be that process which a sentient being adopts in order to make thought visible. Chimps can draw, after all. Communication? – to deliver information.

That pretty much covers every form of photograph but there are some processes which result in an artefact which does none of that, such as the internegative needed to make the photoresist layer on a printed circuit board, like this:


It is certainly photographic but not expressive. I suppose you could stretch a point and say that it is communicating information but I don’t think so – at best it is transferring information.


This is a dosimeter badge, worn by technicians who work with equipment or materials which emit harmful ionising radiation. It’s a photographic process in that it uses a film which is sensitive to very short wavelengths; the badge is developed after a period of wearing (usually around a month) to see if the film has darkened. The information on the film isn’t discernible in any sense to a casual viewer. A calibrated reader is required to analyse the results.

So there are a couple of examples, rather odd but they do fit the bill. There are probably plenty more but they would likely be obscure industrial applications. For the most part, images made with visible light have an expressive or informative component. Even if they don’t convey the information or expression clearly, they can support the interpretation the viewer imposes.