Experiencing photographs qua photographs: what's so special about them?

Contemporary Aesthetics (2013)
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Merely rhetorically, and answering in the negative, Kendall Walton has asked: "Isn't photography just another method people have of making pictures, one that merely uses different tools and materials – cameras, photosensitive paper, darkroom equipment, rather than canvas, paint, and brushes? And don't the results differ only contingently and in degree, not fundamentally, from pictures of other kinds?" Contra Walton and others, I wish to defend in this article a resounding "Yes" as being the correct answer to these questions. It is a widely shared view that photographs are somehow special and that they fundamentally differ from hand-made pictures like paintings, both from a phenomenological point of view (in the way we experience them), and an epistemic point of view (since they are supposed to have a different – greater – epistemic value than paintings, giving us a privileged access to the world). In what follows, I shall reject almost the totality of these claims, and as a consequence there will remain little difference left between photographs and paintings. As we shall see, 'photographs are always partly paintings' – a claim that is true not only of retouched digital photographs but of all photographs, including traditional ones made using photosensitive film and development techniques.



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Jiri Benovsky
University of Fribourg

Citations of this work

Aesthetic appreciation of landscapes.Jiri Benovsky - 2016 - Journal of Value Inquiry 50 (2):325-340.

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References found in this work

Material beings.Peter Van Inwagen - 1990 - Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Material Beings.Peter Van Inwagen - 1990 - Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Objects and Persons.Trenton Merricks - 2001 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Material Beings.Peter van Inwagen - 1993 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (3):701-708.
Précis of Objects and Persons.Trenton Merricks - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (3):700-703.

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