chapter  47
14 Pages

PHOTOGRAPHY

ByPATRICK MAYNARD

Despite the great importance of photography, philosophy, including aesthetics, has paid this strikingly modern kind of image-making scant attention, neglecting philosophy’s traditional roles of asking meaningful questions, inventing basic conceptions, drawing important distinctions, and in general critically searching into the meaning of a topic in relation to other things that matter to us. A bibliography of philosophical writing on photography could be printed on a single page, with little of that about art photography. Not only in philosophy, but in aesthetics generally, cinema is a far more developed topic: indeed, some of the better known ‘aesthetic’ essays on photography are prefaces to film theories (Bazin 1979, Cavell 1971, Kracauer 1979, Scruton 1990). ‘Essay’ is the word for most of the best selling, impressionistic, occasional pieces on photography by the philosophes of the time, who admit light acquaintance with their subject (Barthes 1981, Berger 1980, Sontag 1977). Fortunately, over the last decades serious, well-researched, attractively presented photographic histories have been written, and, with the stronger presence of photography in art exhibitions, fresh lines of photo interpretation, criticism and critical history have sprung up, filling a gap between the steady tradition of technical writing and spikes of journalistic interest signaling the arrivals of new processes such as digitalization. All this provides conceptual material for philosophy, but it is not philosophy.