Musings on Photography

Locard’s Exchange Principle

Posted in landscape, process by Paul Butzi on February 7, 2007

Last year, my son took a class in forensics.  Yes, forensics like you see on CSI.  One day, at the beginning of the semester, he came home and explained to me about Locard’s Exchange Principle.  This principle states that whenever someone visits a place, they take something away with them, and leave something behind.

So we visit a place to photograph, and we take something away with us.  There are the burrs that hitchhike away on our shoelaces, the dust on our shoes, the pollen on our sleeve from where we brushed against a plant.  And we leave something behind, too – the mud on that was on our shoes before we arrived mixes with the mud at the site, hairs from our balding head blow into the scene,  a slip of paper falls from our pocket.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the non-physical analogue to Locard’s principle.  Every place we visit, we leave changed subtly by what we found there.  Each image we make changes who we are.  And, of course, we’ve altered the place, too.  Our making a photograph somewhere changes the liklihood that more people will visit the spot; our photographs alter other people’s perception of what’s around them and how they should interact with it.  There is, if you will, a sort of Locard’s Principle of the soul, which is why we humans find it so rewarding to travel to different places.

The parallelism between physical world rules and those of our spiritual lives remind me of Plato’s cave – the idea that the reality we perceive is a mere projection of a reality that’s deeper and richer than just what we perceive.  The parallels between the physical world rules (e.g. “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not getting close enough,” or Locard’s Exchange Principle) and the apparent rules of the emotional/spiritual world we live in make me wonder if that’s part of what Art is all about – getting past the projection and coming to grips with the reality behind it.

4 Responses

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  1. tim atherton said, on February 8, 2007 at 8:24 am

    I was originally trained – many years ago – as a SOCO (Scenes of Crime Officer) – in fact it’s the only “professional” photographic training I’ve ever really had – that and surveillance photography.

    I think Locard’s Principle has often played a role in how I chose to photograph even though it’s 25 years since I’ve actually done any forensics

  2. Mark Hobson said, on February 8, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Hey Paul,

    Let me indulge in a bit of self-referentialism regarding …getting past the projection and coming to grips with the reality behind it.

    I have always thought that the unthought known is what photography (and the other arts) is all about. While the projection, aka, the referent, can be entertaining, the reality behind it, aka the punctum, is the real heart of the issue.

    IMO, and to my eye and sensibiliities, the Art is Art that illustrates and illuminates.

  3. Mark Hobson said, on February 8, 2007 at 9:21 am

    oops – sometimes my brain gets way ahead of my fingers. That should read –

    IMO, and to my eye and sensibilities, the Art that is the best Art is Art that both ilustrates and illuminates.

  4. john lovesey said, on July 25, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Locard’s principle becomes even more interesting in relation to notions of identity; the latter, of course, frequently documented in the photographs we take and the one’s we keep.


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