A dilemma (from the Greek, dis = two, lemma = topic or premise) is a problem whose solution allows for two possibilities, but none of them is completely satisfactory, so that a diﬃcult choice comes out, upon which ethical and moral issues oﬅen impact. When a dilemma appears it is not possible to choose from a correct or an incorrect issue, but between two options that may be correct at the same time, but contrary to each other in a certain sense; between two equally appreciated values which, however, come into a conﬂict. In the ﬁeld of visuality the dilemmas appear frequently, and seem to have multiplied themselves in the contemporary world, where images and their implications have acquired new strength in the inﬁnite web of global connectivity.
It is perhaps in the ﬁeld of photography –and particularly in press photography, traditionally linked to the greater eﬀects of reality– where the most dilemmatic situations arise today: to make visible –or not– the oﬅen terrifying image of the present conﬂictive scenario, with its wars, attacks, famine, forced migrations, that put us “regarding the pain of others”, as Susan Sontag pointed out, and that may elicit undecidable political dilemmas that involve power factors in a worldwide level. In this extreme visibility, which expands the limits of the knowable, where the many forms of art also are displayed, images seem to recover the symbolic power that worried the ancient people, putting them at the risk of new idolatries. Visibility is assumed as a condition of democracy, as an imaginary of transparency, but also as an erasure of the uncertain threshold between public and private domains, another of the dilemmatic zones.
The dilemmatic visual situations are not limited, however, to moral or cultural questions; they appear equally in the more primary context of visual perception. In this sense, visual ambiguities, paradoxes and antinomies have also a place in the theme we are concerned with. The identiﬁcation of the referents may suﬀer from the hesitations coming both from the perceptual organism and from the organization of the object. Even images that are generated and used in the context of scientiﬁc practices (diagnosis, experimentation, demonstration, explanation, etc.), which are oﬅen endorsed with a pretension of objectivity and unambiguity, do not escape from these situations.
Thus, visual contemporary dilemmas concern both ethics and aesthetics, politics, human and social sciences in general, as well as natural sciences, perhaps with special emphasis on biology. Since all knowledge relies on signs, the semiotic perspective allows precisely for an interdisciplinary and integrating view. Is in this vast territory that we want to pose the semiotic reﬂection on the dilemmas of visuality, calling to questioning, thinking and criticism.