Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Communications and Arts


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Panizza Allmark

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Rod Giblett


The idea that photographs can be explained as traces made by the things they depict has been a recurring paradigm in theories about the nature of the photographic medium. Walter Benjamin, Charles Sanders Peirce, Susan Sontag, Andre Bazin and Roland Barthes are a few of the many theorists who have used the paradigm of the trace to explain the nature of photographs. The paradigm can also be argued to have been a significant influence in the work of prominent artists such as Gerhard Richter, Adam Fuss and Cornelia Parker whose work has explored the photographic medium. Through an exegesis and accompanying photobook this thesis addresses the question as to why the trace has proven to be such an enduring paradigm for explaining the nature of photographs, and how the paradigm can be perceived in art practice in recent decades. The subject of the photograph as a trace is investigated through conducting a review of the history of theoretical uses of the paradigm of the trace to explain the nature of photography. The work of visual artists whose practice can be seen as in agreement with or in opposition to these theoretical approaches was also reviewed. In conjunction with this research a series of photographic works was produced using alternative photographic techniques including pinhole photography, photographs and techniques combining digital film projection and phosphorescent plates. Seeing photographs as traces links these forms of image making to one of humanity’s earliest “discoveries”, the ability to interpret traces found in nature. Through such a connection photographs can be seen as a continuation of humanity’s ability to read traces and thereby understand and deal with the passage of time, to buttress processes of memory and belief. This thesis thereby explores a key means through which the photographic object is explained and understood, at a time when the use of photographs as a means of documenting and understanding the world is expanding at an exponential rate.


Exegesis and accompanying photobook

Included in

Photography Commons