Art & Art History
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Some philosophers, like Roger Scruton, famously deny that a photograph can be a work of art. On their views, whatever is truly photographic is sheerly mechanical: it is dependent on the objects of the world, not on the ideas, beliefs or intentions of the photographer. Photography cannot make art, because there is no way to intend something photographically. To help us grasp what is essentially photographic, Scruton suggests we consider what he calls an “ideal photograph,” which is (as he explains) a “logical fiction.” The “ideal photograph” is the product of photography stripped of all manipulation and reduced to what is specifically photographic. Some corresponding ideal could be posited for painting. The ideal painting, Scruton explains, stands in what he calls “a certain ‘intentional’ relation to a subject.” Among other things, that means that it stands in a certain relation to “a representational act, the artist’s act,” so that “in characterizing the relation between a painting and its subject we are also describing the artist’s intention.” “In characterizing the relation between the ideal photograph and its subject,” on the other hand, as Scruton explains, “one is characterizing not an intention but a causal process, and while there is, as a rule, an intentional act involved, this is not an essential part of the photographic relation.”1 Because of this, your interest in a photograph can always be reduced to an interest in what the photograph pictures, which we’ll call (following some philosophers) the “pro-filmic event,” or to some nonphotographic manipulation of the photographic image after it is formed. Your appreciation of the photograph can never be an appreciation of it as a photograph, because there is no way for a photograph to show something, precisely as it appears, exactly because the photographer means what the photograph shows. And that is because of the kind of action taking a photograph is, on Scruton’s account. You can take a photograph intentionally, but you cannot intend the photographic image itself. The image is an unwilled, merely mechanical copy of the pro-filmic event.
Palermo, Charles J., Action and Standing a Round (2016). nonsite.org.