PMG What is a photograph?

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Date initiated September 2020
Page Compiler Alejandra Mendoza
Contributors Alejandra Mendoza, Grant Romer, Fernanda Valverde

Photographs have never ceased to evolve both aesthetically and technologically, and this constant evolution has challenged the definition of the term itself many times.

In recent decades, the development of digital photography, contemporary systems of creation and display and the evolution of time-based media have defied previous broadly accepted definitions of a photograph.

It is in the interest of the field of Photograph Conservation to establish a definition of what constitutes a photograph (and what doesn't?).

To that end, we asked senior Photograph Conservators for their definitions, that we present next.

Grant Romer


Imaging Technology based upon different forms of radiant energy. It produces photographs.


A record of variant degrees of radiant energy made on a certain surface at a certain time.

True Photograph

A material image or object that was directly sensitive to radiant energy (most commonly visible light) at some stage of its creation, as opposed to images that have the visible characteristics of photographs, such as photomechanical prints.

Fernanda Valverde

What is a photograph?

Visual record from the outside world1 captured or produced by the interaction of different amounts of light or visible radiation on a light sensitive surface; the amount of reaction/transformation on each part of surface is proportional to the energy (light) received. The result is discernible to the human eye as tonal gradations forming a figure or image.

1 Material or tangible world vs. inner human mind.

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