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Writing & Research


In the 1880s photographers and sports enthusiasts confidently declared the end of dead heats in sporting competition. Reflecting a broader social belief in technology, proponents of the camera stressed that the device could provide definitive proof of who won and who lost. Yet despite this remedy for the inadequate human eye, competitive races between horses, boats, and bicycles ended too close to call a sole champion. More than a century later, when cameras can subdivide the second into ten-thousandths and beyond, athletes continue to cross the finish line in ties.

In this fascinating journey through the history of the photo-finish in sports, Jonathan Finn shows how innovation was animated by a drive for ever more precise tools and a quest for perfect measurement. As he traces the technological developments inspired by this crusade – from the evolution of the still camera to movie cameras, ultimately leading to complex contemporary photo-finish systems – Finn uncovers the social implications of adopting and contesting the photograph as evidence in sport. At every turn empirical obsession intersects with the unpredictability of sports, creating a paradox wherein the precision offered by photo-finish technology far exceeds the realities of human performance and its measurement. Separating athletes by the hundredth, thousandth, or ten-thousandth of a second is often a fiction that comes with significant material and cultural implications.

A lively biography of a critical technology, Beyond the Finish Line illuminates the cultural role of the photo-finish in win-at-all-costs culture and warn that in our pursuit for precision we may threaten the human element of sport that galvanizes mere spectators into fans.

McGill-Queens University Press, 2020

This innovative new reader brings together twenty-five articles – both previously published and original contributions – to critically examine the production and interpretation of images across a variety of disciplines. Readings have been organized into eight thematic parts that function as case studies, using concrete examples to stress the real-world implications of images and visual communication. An accessible introduction to each section helps students develop visual literacy skills and prepare for the readings that follow, while coverage of ‘images in action’ throughout offers analysis of visual communication in different fields, including anatomy, law, cartography, museology, and photojournalism. Engaging and accessible, Visual Communication and Culture: Images in Action is essential reading for students interested in learning about the impact of images on society.

Oxford University Press, 2012.

What do contemporary police procedures tell us about criminality?

Capturing the Criminal Image traces how the act of representing—and watching—is central to modern law enforcement. Jonathan Finn analyzes the development of police photography in the nineteenth century to foreground a critique of three identification practices that are fundamental to current police work: fingerprinting, DNA analysis, and surveillance programs and databases.

University of Minnesota Press, 2009.


Journal articles

“Timing and Imaging Evidence in Sport: Objectivity, Intervention, and the Limits of Technology,” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 40.6 (2016): 459-476. PDF.

“Anatomy of a Dead Heat: Visual Evidence at the 2012 US Olympic Trials,” The International Journal of the History of Sport, 31.9 (2014): 976-993.  PDF. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor and Francis in The International Journal of the History of Sport on 14/04/2014, available online:

“Surveillance Studies and Visual Art: An Examination of Jill Magid’s Evidence Locker,” Surveillance and Society 10.2 (2012): 134-149. PDF

“Powell’s Point: Denial and Deception at the U.N.” Visual Communication, 9.1 (2010): 25-49. PDF

“Photographing Fingerprints: Data Collection and State Surveillance,” Surveillance and Society 3.1 (2005): 21-44. PDF

Book chapters

“Seeing Surveillantly: Surveillance as Social Practice.” Eyes Everywhere: The Global Growth of Camera Surveillance. Eds. David Lyon, Randy Lippert and Aaron Doyle. New York: Routledge, 2012, 69-78. PDF

“Powell’s Point: Denial and Deception at the U.N.” Visual Communication and Culture: Images in Action. Ed. Jonathan Finn. Don Mills: Oxford, 2011, 200-217.

“Potential Threats and Potential Criminals: Data Collection in the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System.” Global Surveillance and Policing: Borders, Security, Identity. Eds. Mark Salter and Elia Zureik. Devon U.K: Willan, 2005, 139-156. PDF


Editor, “Amodern 3: Sport and Visual Culture.” Special Issue of the journal Amodern, 2014.

Book review. Zygmunt Bauman and David Lyon. Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation. Cambridge: Polity, 2013. Canadian Journal of Communication, 39.3 (2014): 497-499.

Book review. Ludmilla Jordanova. The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Visual Studies, 24/03/2014.

Book review. Neil Gerlach. The Genetic Imaginary: DNA in the Canadian Criminal Justice System. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Theoretical Criminology, 10.3 (2006): 390-392.

Book review. Penny Cousineau-Levine. Faking Death: Art Photography and the Canadian Imagination. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s, 2003. Canadian Journal of Communication, 29.3/4 (2004): 413-414.

“Nation, Culture and Identity in an Opium Den.” Exhibition catalogue for Karen Tam’s Pagoda Pads: Opium Den. Robert Langen Art Gallery, Wilfrid Laurier University, 2011.

Columnist,, 2010.

  1. “Should There be an Ethics of Looking?”
  2. “What do our Photo Albums say About us?”
  3. “CCTV on Campus: A Façade of Safety.”
  4. “The Affective Power of Photographs”
  5. “CCTV Doesn’t Work: So why do we use it?”
  6. “Seeing Surveillantly”