Three kinds of realism about photographs

Journal of Speculative Philosophy 25 (4):375-395 (2011)
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In this paper, I explore the nature of photographs by comparing them to hand-made paintings, as well as by comparing traditional film photography with digital photography, and I concentrate on the question of realism. Several different notions can be distinguished here. Are photographs such that they depict the world in a 'realist' or a 'factive' way ? Do they show us the world as it is with accuracy and reliability other types of pictures don't posses ? Do they allow us, as some have suggested, to literally see the world through them ? Below, I will distinguish three kinds of realism about photographs, reject two, and partly endorse one. Indeed, the label "realism", when concerning photographs, can stand for a variety of very different claims. The first (and quite obvious) distinction to start with concerns what the realist thesis is about : the claim that somehow photographs are more accurate or more reliable or that they somehow depict the world better than hand-made pictures can be a claim about the photographic image itself or alternatively a claim about the way in which photographs are produced. In the former case, realism is a thesis about how photographs look and what sort of information they contain, while in the latter case realism is a claim about the process of production of photographs. It is the latter claim that is the most discussed in the philosophical literature about photography. I will concentrate on this type of realism, of which I shall examine two varieties.

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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.
The Limits of Photography.Jiri Benovsky - 2014 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 22 (5):716-733.
Aesthetic opacity.Emanuele Arielli - 2017 - Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics.

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References found in this work

Photography and Representation.Roger Scruton - 1981 - Critical Inquiry 7 (3):577-603.
Theorizing the moving image.Noël Carroll - 1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Marvelous images: on values and the arts.Kendall L. Walton - 2008 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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