In Photography and Representation, Scruton advances the view that photography cannot be described as a representational art form in the same sense as painting, and that the photograph is unworthy of aesthetic appreciation in and of itself. Indeed, Scruton suggests that it is not even possible to have an aesthetic interest in the photograph, as such interest is necessarily directed towards its subject. In this sense, photography is merely a facilitator of seeing. It is no more a representational art form than viewing a scene through a pair of spectacles, or observing an object through a magnifying glass. It is a simply a tool for seeing-through, and what one perceives in a photograph is quite literally the object photographed; it is, Scruton suggests, a surrogate for engaging with the object directly (Scruton, 1980, 221). The photograph is thus transparent to its subject - it cannot alter or represent reality in any way, but merely captures a glimpse of it. It is imprisoned by its truthfulness to its subject, as its content is entirely determined by whatever is before the camera lens when one takes the photograph. Hence, the photograph is simply an automated reproduction of reality over which the photographer possesses scant control (Scruton, 1980, 227).
In contrast, upon observing the details of a painting, it is possible for one to question the intentions of the artist in virtue of what and how she chooses to represent. As Scruton articulates, when perceiving a painting, “the question, ‘Why?’ can be asked of every observable feature, even if it may sometimes prove impossible to answer” (Scruton, 1980, 226). For instance, one may perceive a photograph and take profound aesthetic interest in the way ...
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...acity to arouse an interest in the subject photographed in a manner that transcends face-to-face viewing, the fact that the photograph boasts the ability to suspend its subject in time is also indicative of its transcendence of face-to-face viewing. If one takes an aesthetic interest in Vivian Maier’s photographs of children playing in a street in the 1950’s, for instance, this would evidently not be equivalent to viewing the same subjects directly in the present moment. As such, the photograph’s ‘distance’ from its subject, both physical and temporal, is perhaps further reason to distinguish it from face-to-face seeing, and may be indicative of its worth as a visual art form. Thus, contra Scruton, paintings and photographs are equally worthy of aesthetic appreciation as visual art forms, and photographic transparency is not synonymous with photographic equivalency.
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