Three kinds of realism about photographs

Journal of Speculative Philosophy 25 (4):375-395 (2011)
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Abstract
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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