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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Authentication vs Representation

“Scruton gripes that “photography is democratic: it puts into the hand of everyman the means to be his own recorder. To defend its artistic pretensions is to make everyman an artist.” The purist’s challenge is this.  Surely not all interests around which a photographic practice may be built count as art.”

– Lopes (2016: 103)

Authentication is showing something to be genuine or true, whilst representation is a depiction or portrayal of something in a particular way. How and where we view images is important to the context in which they are interpreted. Images viewed in a gallery setting are more likely to be interpreted as a representation of the photographer’s intent and of the subject shown. There is less emphasis placed on the authenticity of the image in this context.

“A photograph presents itself not only as a visual representation, but as evidence, more convincing than a painting because of the unimpeachable mechanical means whereby it was made. We do not trust the artist’s flattering hand; but we do trust film, and shadows, and light.”

– John Updike

In contrast, photographs used for news are expected to be authentic and show what was actually occurring at the moment the image was taken. We do not expect to be shown manipulated images when being informed of occurrences around the world. Images sourced through the internet face issues of ambiguity. Very often, they are just viewed as an image with no associated text or explanation. This leaves the viewer to determine if the image is an authentic or representative image. Misunderstanding of the image can then lead to rumours and myths that can be hard to recover from.

In my own practice, the majority of my work is about representation of a created and staged reality. This can lead to some critics dismissing my images as trivial and inconsequential, especially those who share or sympathize with Barthes’s viewpoint. I need to be mindful of this potential reaction when planning and delivering exhibitions of my work.


Lopes, D.M. (2016) Four arts of photography: An essay in philosophy. United States: John Wiley & Sons.

Updike, J. From A-Z Quotes. 2017. John Updike quote: A photograph presents itself not only as a visual representation…. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 09 February 2017].

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