Exercise:Transparent Pictures

Read the first three sections (pp.1-8) of the essay “Transparent Pictures: On theNature of Photographic Realism” by Kendall L Walton

The photographic image is the object itself
-Andre Bazin , “The Ontology of the Photographic Image”

Every photograph is a fake from start to finish.
-Edward Steichen , “Ye Fakers ”

Write a 200-word reflective commentary in your learning log outlining your views about Walton’s idea of photographic transparency.

Crime scenes , medical photography , police photographs of criminals are readily accepted as being accurate and truthful. A drawing  of a criminal, whilst it may be perfectly accurate , is only ever an artists’ representation.   Walton discusses the idea held by Bazin that photographs , unlike drawings and paintings etc , are realistic. The camera  records faithfully  what is in front of it , whilst a painting will always only ever be a portrayal , an impression , and hence subject to an individual artists’ interpretation. An illustrators’ visualisation of their subject is just an idea , an opinion , the subject within the picture or drawing never really existed.

Dissenters to this view argue that photographs too can be far removed from reality , but that is irrelevant .Regardless of whether an image has been manipulated , digitally , in the dark room , or by any other method , a photographic image is aways of something that actually existed. What was taken remains the same , regardless of how , accuracy is not the issue.

The You Tube clip below shows the work of Spanish artist Pedro Campos , its hard to believe the still life images are in fact oil paintings not photographs. One of the difficulties I found reading and understanding the essay was how do we actually know what is real and therefore transparent ? These certainly look real to me but the crux of the argument is that they never really existed and have been created by the artist. 


The reality of photographs makes them transparent , we see through them, and look at “literally the scene that was photographed”. We are able perceive beyond the frame , ‘”a special kind of seeing” distinct from simply looking. Photographs alone tell us little , and can deceive , but we literally see dead people , we see through the picture and are able to see , not the present , but into the past.

The prison photo below shows a rather glum Mary Richards , she isn’t glum now , in the present sense ,  but the image does show us how she looked over 100 years ago.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 19.28.46

Images by Julia Margaret Cameron were on display at the MoMA  when I visited in June. They made an impact on at the time me but I gave little thought to the fact that I was able to see what Cameron saw all those years ago: I saw through the image into the past.


I have many old photos I treasure but this exercise has made me realise just how precious and unique they are.



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