Depictive Traces: On the Phenomenology of Photography

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69 (2):185-196 (2011)
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Abstract

Ever since their invention, photographic images have often been thought to be a special kind of image. Often, photography has been claimed to be a particularly realistic medium. At other times, photographs are said to be epistemically superior to other types of image. Yet another way in which photographs apparently are special is that our subjective experience of looking at photographs seems very different from our experience of looking at other types of image, such as paintings and drawings. While the other seemingly distinctive aspects of photography have been quite thoroughly discussed in the literature, theories of the experience of photography, or in other words, theories of its special phenomenology, are less common. To be sure, the phenomenon has often been pointed out and described, but explanations of the phenomenology of photography are rare. In this essay, I attempt an explanation of at least part of the phenomenology of photography by appealing to the idea, borrowed from André Bazin, that a photograph is a certain kind of trace. Along the way, it is also argued that Kendall Walton's so called “transparency thesis” cannot give a plausible explanation of the phenomenology associated with looking at photographs.

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Mikael Pettersson
Uppsala University

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