Roger Scruton on Photography

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In Roger Scruton's Photography and Representation the author establishes the idea that ideal photography is not art. In the same breath he says that ideal photography is not necessarily an idea which photographers should strive, nor does it necessarily exist. Yet, he bases his argument upon the ideal. In reviewing his paper, I’ll take a look at why he painstakingly tries to make this distinction between ideal painting and ideal photography. His argument is based upon the proposition that photographs can only represent in a causal fashion, whereas painters create representational artwork via intentional relations. Scruton manages to create a solid argument, but in the end I’ll decide it is not a fair assumption to say that photographs cannot provide meaning or aesthetic value.

Scruton wants to look at photography as an ideal, but he quickly states that ideal photography is a logical fiction. Why does it matter then? Obviously photography is a complex form of expression and the goal seems to be to derive the basic properties of photography in the simplest terms possible. However, he states that it should be clear to the reader that the concept need not actually exist and that if he makes claims that seem “exaggerated or false” we should not be put-off. To me this feels like a cop out. It is not made clear, to me at least, where exactly the connection between a fictional concept and reality occurs.

Scruton argues that when we take an interest in photographs, is actually an interest in the actual objects that were photographed rather than the photographs themselves. He claims this because he says there is no such thing as photographic representation. He says the photograph relates to the subject in that it is a phot...

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... believe makes photography an art, the individual photo may still be considered close to an ideal photograph in the sense that it is a causal relationship. However the medium as a whole is capable of much more than Scruton is willing to allow. I believe that the clear distinction lays in the fact that Scruton's argument that photography's causal relationship is equivalent to perceiving the object without the photograph. This is not true, because we have found distinctions where photographs and reality can never be the same. There is no doubt that you cannot see some of the intricacies of a fast moving object with the naked eye. This brings the eye new information. It may be a mechanical depiction of how the object actually looks, but it is a unique observation of it complete with its own aesthetic interest. Therefore we must say that photography may be art.

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