email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEarly ExposuresEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGoing Into TownGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNot My ShameNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPortraits of ResiliencePostmodernismPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlaySame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts
The nature of photographs or photography has entered our common language to the extent that we find ourselves speaking easily of photographic memories or photographic likenesses. We have theatre that titles itself, "I, camera". We even say that the camera cannot lie; an oxymoron worthy of Orwell himself. It is therefore both timely and important that we turn our attention to the philosophical ideas and constructs that underlie the nature of photography; what it is and is not; what it can be and cannot; how it is used and how it should not; how it is understood and misunderstood.
This collection of essays edited by Scott Walden represents both a broad sweep of the major perspectives of the debate that is accessible to the generalist interested reader, and a degree of seminal scholarly work that will enlighten the student and refresh the informed.
Walden reminds us that the philosophical debate around photography received considerable and fashionable attention in the 1970s and 80s, especially when in the orbit of writers like Barthes and Sontag, but the technology has changed so much that we need to seriously reconsider the issue. Of course, we no longer think of the photograph as being the pencil of nature as Fox Talbot did in his landmark series of essays published between 1844 and 1846 in which he speaks of sun-pictures unaided by the artist's pencil. We know that there is both a machine and a person, both editorial eye and mechanical interference in the production of the final print. We know that what is included is as important as what is excluded. And we know that photographs are both evidence and red herrings when it comes to the search for and verification of truth.
However, what we do not know so clearly, and what Walden and his contributors help us to uncover, is what this really means for our relationships with the world; what we see, how we see it and why.
There are 13 essays and an epilogue in the book, as well as a very useful introduction by Walden himself. Most are newly written for the collection, but some contributions, from Roger Scruton and Arthur Danto for example, are included because of their enduring significance to the debate. The book can be read sequentially or in a more random manner, for although there is a sense of the essays forming a thesis, each is also independent of the others.
Kendall Walton begins by considering the nature of photographic realism, and arguing that photographs are in some sense actually transparent, that is to say they are more important for the way in which they are pictures through which we see the world than they may be as pictures in themselves. He notes that photographs, even if they are fakes, are at some level of something real. They may be touched up, airbrushed, collaged, transposed, mocked up, cropped or whatever, but they are not imaginary in the way that a painting can be. Even pictures of fairies at the bottom of the garden were real in some sense, albeit a fraudulent one. However, it may be a category mistake to think that the realism that we would associate or attribute to a painting -- a portrait's likeness to the sitter for example or the accurate rendition of a building in all its detail -- is realism in the same sense as we should understand the term in relation to a photograph. It is probably true that a court of law would regard a photograph of an event as more trustworthy than a pencil sketch. We need only think back to the way divorce cases somehow needed a photograph of the adulterous couple, usually in some hotel bedroom taken by a man with a trilby hat and stained trench coat, in order to provide incontrovertible truth that the event actually took place -- he was there, he took the photograph, here is the proof. A quick sketch or artist's impression would not be quite the same. But it is truth and proof of a certain kind. And just as the invention of photography changed forever the nature of painting, so also was the nature of representational truth. As Walton suggests, while the invention of the camera gave us a new way of making pictures of the world, it also gave a new way of seeing the world. To some degree or another, this is the kernel of the debate, and the centre of the book.
Cynthia Freeland, Aaron Meskin and Jonathon Cohen, Scott Walden and Barbara Savedoff pick up similar themes in later chapters when considering icons, evidence, truth and documentary authority respectively. David Davies uses Cartier-Bresson's hugely influential work as an example around which to refute Roger Scruton's argument against photography being art. Patrick Maynard begins the discussion of composition and technique. Dominic McIver Lopes considers the ability to appreciate photography differently. Kendall Walton has a second contribution in which he examines the photographic capture of nature and landscapes. And in a thematic grouping to end the book, Noel Carroll, Gregory Currie and Arthur Danto consider movie stars, narrative power and the control of imagery.
Like any good collection of essays the contributions to this book encapsulate the major themes and debates, but neither produce definitive answers nor are partisan in their approach. It is to be recommended to both students of the discipline and the general reader. It undoubtedly contributes greatly to the literature and occupy a favourite spot on the book shelves of many a student.
© 2008 Mark Welch
Mark Welch, British Columbia