Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Peter Alward

Varieties of Photographic Fictions

Scruton, in “Photography and Representation,” argued that the only sense in which a photograph could be fictional is in virtue of being a photograph of a fiction:

“Of course I may take a photograph of a draped nude and call it Venus, but insofar as this can be understood as an exercise in fiction, it should not be thought of as a photographic representation of Venus but rather as a photograph of a representation of Venus.”

In a recent paper – “Transparent Representation: photography and the art of casting” – I argue, by modeling photography on the art of casting actors in theatrical and filmic roles, that genuine photographic fiction is possible: by means of their (casting) choices of which photographs to exhibit, photographic artists can express thoughts about the (fictional or non-fictional) subjects of their photographs. As it stands, however, this does not suffice to establish that photographs can be specifically pictorial fictions as opposed to being fictional representations  in the merely  “relational sense” in which in which anything can be used to represent anything else.

One prominent account of pictorial fictions is Walton’s, according to which they are props of games of make-believe in which appreciators imagine de se seeing their fictional pictorial subjects. My reasons for resisting this approach are twofold: first, since, on Walton’s view, photographs are transparent, the view seems to require imagining de re of the actually seen photographic object that it is the photographic subject, which comes perilously close to again reducing all photographic fictions to photographs of fiction; and second, since I reject (except in special cases) Walton’s claim that engagement with fiction involves any kind of de se imagining, this approach is foreclosed at least to me. 

Instead, I consider two sorts of photographic fictions which require only de re imaginative activities. First, I consider cases in which the photograph itself is part of the fiction. In such cases, appreciators imagine de re of the photograph that it is a picture of the fictional photographic subject (rather than of the actual object/ model who played the requisite causal role in the production of image). And second, I analyze cases in which the photograph is not part of the fiction in terms of imagining de re of what is seen in (in Wollheim’s sense) the picture that it is the fictional photographic subject.

About Peter Alward:

I work primarily in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of art/ literature. I have recently completed a book manuscript on literary fiction – Empty Revelations: an essay on talk about and attitudes toward fiction – which I expect to be under contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press in relatively short order. I have published a number of articles on issues related to fiction including “Word-Sculpture, Speech Acts, and Fictionality,” “Onstage Illocution,” “For the Ubiquity of Non-Actual Fact-telling Narrators,” and “Leave me out of it: de re, but not de se, imaginative engagement with fiction” in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, as well as “That’s the Fictional Truth, Ruth” in Acta Analytica.