Seeing Through Photographs: Photography as a Transparent Visual Medium

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 79 (1):52-63 (2021)
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Abstract

The idea that looking at a photograph is akin to face-to-face perception and that photographs provide genuine perceptual access to the objects they depict was notoriously defended by Kendall Walton in “Transparent Pictures.” Walton’s main thesis is that photographs are transparent in the sense that we can see objects through them. The main goal of this article is to support Walton’s view by providing a full account of photographic transparency. I will argue that the transparency that characterizes photography is not metaphorical but in fact exhibits all the essential properties of transparent materials. To understand how a photograph can be transparent, one must understand the special type of causal connection between a photograph and what it shows. Building on Fritz Heider’s work, I will argue that photography is a visual medium, like air, water, glass, or mirrors, capable of transmitting the visual properties of distant objects to the perceiver.

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Vivian Mizrahi
University of Geneva

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