How to Understand Fiction in Photography

Wednesday, 10 May 2023, 16:00-18:00

Senate House, Room 243


Philosophical work about fiction in photography has been restricted to the discussion of whether photographs can or cannot represent fictional entities (Scruton 1981, Carroll 1996, Currie 2008, Cavedon-Taylor 2010, Atencia-Linares 2012). However, there is a different sense of fiction which captures the way in which critical practices sort representational works as fictional or non-fictional. This way of understanding fiction has been frequently theorized with respect to literature or film, but there is virtually no philosophical work on this dimension of fiction applied to photography. This paper will focus on this latter sense of fiction. The preliminary aim of this paper is to answer these two questions: (1) Does the distinction between fiction and non-fiction apply to photographic works in any informative sense? And if it does (2) do these categories behave in a similar way in photography as they do in other media such as, say, literature or film? Following the Genre Theory of Fiction, I propose that fiction is indeed an active genre in photography. This means that fiction is not only a label that captures a specific set of photographic works, but classification under this notion illuminates our correct appreciation of them in a way that is consistent with critical practices specific to that medium. I suggest that, in photography, the categories of fiction and nonfiction display peculiarities which makes it more accurate to talk about factual and non-factual photography. Factual photography is a proper appreciative category, encompassing a variety of relatively homogenous subgenres. Fictional photography, by contrast, is a more restricted but distinctive genre among other non-factual genres. Non-factual photography, however, is not a proper appreciative category or genre, but just an umbrella term that we can use to designate a set of heterogeneous genres. The peculiarities of factual and non-factual photography, I will further conjecture, may be related to the nature of the photographic medium. Finally, I offer additional arguments to show that the Genre Theory of Fiction provides us with a better way to explain the case of fictional photography than competing theories of fiction.


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