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Photography, aesthetics of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M035-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Photography and painting are sometimes thought of as different processes with a common goal: the creation of a depiction of an object or scene. One way to characterize their difference, qua process, is to say that photography is, whereas painting is not, mechanical, though it has not been easy to specify precisely what this means. Attempts to explain the sense in which photography is mechanical sometimes appeal to the idea of a causal chain which is intention-free. In addition, photographs have been said to be transparent, allowing us literally to see things we could not see directly. On this view photographs are not so much depictions of things as aids to vision, as telescopes are. Assessing this more controversial idea requires close attention to the notion of seeing, especially to the question whether, and in what sense, seeing involves the provision of information about the spatial relations between the object and the viewer. The claims that photographs are mechanical and that they are transparent also raise important questions about whether photography is a reliable source of knowledge, and whether it is expressively or representationally limited.

Photographic techniques are subject to various kinds of intervention at the process of development or, these days, through digital manipulation. These interventions, and the kinds of intentional control of the picture’s appearance they allow, blur the distinction between photographs and ‘handmade’ images. The arguments of this entry apply most straightforwardly to unmanipulated images, and care must be taken in applying them more generally.

Citing this article:
Currie, Gregory. Photography, aesthetics of, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M035-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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