Aesthetics and communications theories are often applied to art, media and popular culture but not within legal empirical (audiovisual) material – despite the fact that a judicial and legal process comprises a palpable utilisation of the visual as evidence of an historical reality.
Based on four distinct Swedish cases, this study analyses the court’s reasoning, interpretation and use of (audio)visual evidence. Inspired by an embodied film theory, the article discusses how (audio)visual evidence cannot be disconnected from affective and aesthetic significances that ultimately can be taken to affect the perception of truth and (the crime’s) reality.
The gap between theory and practice is debated and argued as beginning to co-exist; instead of seeing (visual) theory and (judicial) practice as a dichotomy, an attempt should be made for a conversation between seemingly different but in practice related areas of knowledge. The author’s aim is to suggest that photographic and filmic evidence has a particular significance in itself, which means that the relation between (judicial) interpretation and outcome should be considered within an affective and aesthetic dimension, rather than being placed and/or theorized outside of it.
The legal image’s cinematic representation and scenography assign an extra narrative and affective value beyond its explicit evidentiary or identifying purpose. Technical-dramaturgical components and material forms like screen flickering, light, aspect ratio, focal length, point-of-view shots, colour, slow motion, time shift effects in sound and other conscious or unconscious cinematic techniques inherently influence judicial perception and the imagination of truth. This suggests that the specific representation techniques used in court are not only affecting the assumed understanding of the crime’s reality on a neutral, descriptive level but also that which
produces new aesthetic and affective experiences of the (threatening and insecure) real.
The understanding of a cinematic text – be it in the form of legal visible evidence or explicit fiction – is not a linear process for affective, embodied impacts (potential emotional shocks, intense sensations, for example) produce meaning and form perception in their own right. Corporal reactions such as repulsiveness, or bursts of adrenaline or stress can also lead to cognitive activity, just as mental interpretation may provoke bodily sensations. By extension, the legal evidentiary film’s production of, say, unpleasant affective involvements such as disgust, fear or (potentially pleasant) ones such as the sensation of revenge are, here, also affective components which can connect to the intensity of perception. Technical and dramaturgical components assign, thus, an extra narrative and affective value, and are all significant in (trans)forming legal meaning and decision-making beyond the image’s explicit evidentiary or identifying purpose.
Despite existing research on audio-visual perception as that which is created in relationship between mental ability, affect and the body, in the context of the judicial cases I analyse, there seems to be no profound knowledge or recognition about these concerns and/or their potential effects.
The legal image's forgotten aesthetics.
International Journal for the Semiotics of Law – Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique 26 (3): 555-577.
Rodrigo Ferrada Stoehrel.Read Article