On the epistemic value of photographs

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62 (2):197–210 (2004)
Many have held that photographs give us a firmer epistemic connection to the world than do other depictive representations. To take just one example, Bazin famously claimed that “The objective nature of photography confers on it a quality of credibility absent from all other picture-making” ([Bazin, 1967], 14). Unfortunately, while the intuition in question is widely shared, it has remained poorly understood. In this paper we propose to explain the special epistemic status of photographs. We take as our starting place (in §1) Kendall Walton’s startling proposal that photographs are special because they are “transparent” [Walton, 1984] — that is, that they are special because, unlike other depictive representations, they enable us literally to see their depicta.1 Walton’s proposal has not convinced many; however, it has proven surprisingly difficult to say just what is wrong about the transparency thesis. In §§2–4 we’ll rise to this challenge and show why photographs are not transparent in Walton’s sense. Finally, in §§5–7 we’ll propose and defend a novel diagnosis of what is epistemically special about photographs.
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DOI 10.1111/j.1540-594X.2004.00152.x
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References found in this work BETA
Kendall L. Walton (1970). Categories of Art. Philosophical Review 79 (3):334-367.
Gregory Currie (1991). Photography, Painting and Perception. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 49 (1):23-29.

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Jonathan Cohen (2008). Colour Constancy as Counterfactual. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86 (1):61 – 92.

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