The Index and the Icon

3 February 2020

Reading the title for coursework in week 2, “The Index and the Icon“, I note that I can’t parse meaning from the phrase because I do not have a firm grasp of what these terms actually mean within the context of the image. I found an article from University of Chicago School of Media where the author provides context and outlines definitions of symbol, index and icon.
Index and icon are utilized in semiotics, or the study of signs, and have specific connotations when used in this type of analysis. The index and icon relate signs to objects. The index is something that serves to guide or point out, or facilitate a reference. “The index focuses the attention”(Huening, 2004). Atkin (2010) states that if a sign is fact which connects an object to an interpretation, it is an index. He states that the connection between a murder and the victim is an index.
The icon, states Huening (2004), has properties in common with the object. He goes on to say that a photograph is “an icon, it is directly and physically influenced by its object, and is therefore an index; and lastly in requires a learned process of reading to understand it”. However, Atkin (2010) asserts that Pierce had indicated that portraits are an example of an index as, if in a realistic style, it would share qualities with the object from which the portrait was modeled.
So I wonder, what is the relationship between the index and the icon? True, they are both a form of sign according to this philosophical system. But how do leverage this system of typology in our work of creating images?
Bradley (2016) states “Signs can communicate by resembling what they represent, by implying what they represent, or through arbitrary representations that must be learned before we can understand their meaning.” I think that I have now connected this philosophical theory of signs to work which I am doing today.

This post is illustrated with a composite image that I created a few weeks ago which may be interesting to unpack using the terms index and icon. In this image, I think that the image of me with long flowing robes surrounded by a sparkly sky serves as an indication (index) that this is a constructed image. Clues include that the figure appears too large in proportion to the mountains and that the figure is scantily dressed for this mountain environment.
The icon is the mountain scene in that it visually represents the original object.

Icon
Index

I think that I have a better understanding of the lexicon of symbols, and why it might be important to appreciate the differences and uses of these terms. While I am aware that there are signs in my work, I wasn’t really sure how I would approach maximizing the use of signs as interpretive communication. As I am now exploring momento mori, or veniere, I can consider how I want to express signs in these images: Do I want to include an index in my work? Or an icon? And how might the viewer appreciate these additions?

Atkin, A. (2010). Peirce’s Theory of Signs. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed from:https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/peirce-semiotics/#SigEleSig

Bradley, S. (2016). Icon, Index and Symbol- Three Catagories of Signs. Vanseo Design. Accessed: https://vanseodesign.com/web-design/icon-index-symbol/

Heuning, D. (2004). The University of Chicago: Theories of Media: Keywords Glossary: symbol-index-icon. Accessed at: https://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/symbolindexicon.htm

Resources

Listed below are artists whom I have recently found that have relevance to my work.  I have created this page so that I can keep track of the photographers I would like to learn more about.

Gill, Stephen. https://www.stephengill.co.uk British photographer, author of The Pillar (birds); Outside In (abstracts).

Learoyd, Richard. https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/richard-learoyd . Very large format camera obscura.

Nix, Lori/Kathleen Gerber https://www.lorinix.net/ Miniature dioramas

Tress, Arthur. https://arthurtress.com

Slinkachu– tiny figures create scenes outdoors

Atomic photographer’s Guild  https://atomicphotographers.com/about/

Peace Signs- Anti nuclear protest: https://www.bjp-online.com/2016/04/peace-signs-photography-in-nucelar-protest/

Johnny Wu: @sgtbananas (Instagram). Toy figure photographer

The little world of Samsovy: https://www.samsofy.fr/

Tiny worlds of Tanaka Tatsuya https://www.designboom.com/art/tatsuya-tanaka-miniature-calendar-08-04-2015/