Zsolt Bátori: Photographic Illocutionary Acts
5th European Communication Conference of The European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA), Philosophy of Communication Section, Lisbon, Portugal, November 12-15, 2014.

ABSTRACT. The philosophy of visual communication has advanced through ideas and theories of various philosophical traditions, relying on diverse research methodologies. A long forgotten philosophical advancement in visual communication has been recently revived, suggesting that the theory of speech acts can be successfully extended and developed for explaining the communicative nature and processes of pictures and other visual phenomena. According to the theory of picture acts, paintings, drawings, photographs, etc. serve as visual locutionary acts, and as such they have illocutionary force in the context of the use of the pictures. Furthermore, visual locutionary and illocutionary acts may also result in perlocutionary acts, just as it may happen in case of speech acts. Although the theory of picture acts might be applied to still and moving images as well, I restrict my discussion to still photographic images here. I do not attempt to resolve questions arising from the combination of picture and speech acts either. I analyze still (mainly photographic) images, and for the purposes of this talk I treat possible titles as part of the contextual information we may use when interpreting the images.


I argue that photographic images constitute a specific category of picture acts. I suggest that the intended recognition of photographic images as photographic images (as opposed to – even photorealist – paintings, drawings, montages, etc.) results in illocutionary acts that are specific to interpreting photographic images. In case of a photographic illocutionary act we interpret the image as the result of photographic processes, even with the added understanding of possible analogue or digital manipulation of the photographic image. This interpretation takes into account our more or less precise knowledge about the difference between the epistemic status of photographic images on the one hand, and drawings, paintings, and other non-photographic images on the other hand.


In my talk I use a number of examples to demonstrate and analyze photographic locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts. I first show the main differences between speech acts and picture acts in general, and then I proceed to explicate the specific features of photographic locutionary and illocutionary acts. I also provide examples of how perlocutionary acts change, depending on whether the illocutionary act is photographic or other non-photographic pictorial. I conclude the talk with suggesting a specific understanding and description of the various types of manipulative uses of photographic images. On the basis of the photographic picture act theory I provide a precise characterization of how photographs may be used to mislead us, and how it is possible to lie with photographs.




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