The claim that photography is or might become an art has been resisted for generations on the ground that photographs are essentially mechanical products, whereas artistic representations in forms of which painting is the paradigm engage the essentially free and imaginative human creator.
Recently it has been argued that photographs are not even representations, and a fortiori that photography is not a representational art. This claim is so outrageous to common sense that we had better take it seriously. It seems to be founded on the contentions that representations are intentional objects; that ideal photographs are not intentional (in the required sense), and that they are therefore not representations. What sense of “intentional” can such an argument rely upon?
Roger Scruton has volunteered to clarify the point, in a paper called “Photography and Representation.” 1 There are very good reasons to reject accounts of the kind he gives, and perhaps some consideration of them will lay a useful foundation for a different story about representation, in which the important philosophical business is not done entirely at the expense of common sense.
“The ideal painting” (emphasis added), Scruton writes,
stands in a certain intentional relation to a subject. In other words, if a painting represents a subject, it does not follow that the subject exists…. Furthermore, the painting stands in this intentional relation to its subject because of a representational act, the artist’s act, and in characterizing the relation between a painting and its subject we are also describing the artist’s intention. The successful realization of that interpretation lies in the creation of an appearance, an appearance which in some way leads the spectator to recognize the subject. 2
By contrast, he tells us that the ideal photograph stands in a causal, and not an intentional, relation to its subject. “The photograph,” he writes, “also yields