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Searching for traces of the indexical within synthetically rendered imagery

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In this article I discuss the attribution of photographic indexicality to synthetic photorealistically rendered images. For some traditionalists the idea of photographic indexicality being associated with a synthetically produced digital image is heresy, while others who are more comfortable with the attribution will look to the underlying computational methods that lie behind this insight. An examination of the underpinnings of the software algorithms that produce these synthetic images points to a class of statistical methods based on Monte Carlo simulation, which employs nondeterministic randomness as a strategy to overcome the overwhelming complexity of the simulations. Expanding on a practice that uses the instrumental nature of these probabilistic algorithms as a means to examine the aesthetic qualities of simulated light, I suggest that these mathematically incomplete simulations capture a referential linkage between subject and image – equivalent to a form of indexicality.
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Keywords: Monte Carlo; indeterminism; indexicality; path tracing; photorealism; rendering

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Chelsea College of Arts

Publication date: 01 October 2016

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  • Philosophy of Photography is a new peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of photography. It is not committed to any one notion of photography nor, indeed, to any particular philosophical approach. The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum for debate on theoretical issues arising from the historical, political, cultural, scientific and critical matrix of ideas, practices and techniques that may be said to constitute photography as a multifaceted form. In a contemporary context remarkable for its diversity and rate of change, the conjunction of the terms 'philosophy' and 'photography' in the journal's title is intended to act as a provocation to serious reflection on the ways in which existing and emergent photographic discourses might engage with and inform each other.
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