Fixing the Image: Re-thinking the 'Mind-independence' of Photographs

Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics 6 (2):1-22 (2009)
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We are told by philosophers that photographs are a distinct category of image because the photographic process is mind-independent. Furthermore, that the experience of viewing a photograph has a special status, justified by a viewer’s knowledge that the photographic process is mind-independent. Versions of these ideas are central to discussions of photography in both the philosophy of art and epistemology and have far-reaching implications for science, forensics and documentary journalism. Mind-independence (sometimes ‘belief independence’) is a term employed to highlight what is important in the idea that photographs can be produced naturally, mechanically, accidentally or automatically. Insofar as the process is physical, natural, mechanical or causal it can occur without human agency or intervention, entirely in the absence of intentional states. Presented innocuously, the idea is that although photographs are dependent on natural or mechanical processes, they can be produced independently of human agency – particularly human beliefs. Presented in a stronger form, the claim is that even if human agency is heavily involved in the production process, the definitive features that make the photograph a photograph and determine its salient properties are nonetheless independent of human minds. In epistemic debates, mind-independence is viewed as essential for explaining why photographs occupy a distinct category among images and justifying a variety of claims about their privileged epistemic and affective status in science, forensics, popular culture and journalism. But, in the philosophy of art, claims about mind-

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