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Zsolt Bátori: How to Shoot a Unicorn: Epistemic Access and Interpretation of Fiction in Photography
The Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association, 2018 Joint Session, Oxford University, Oxford, UK, July 6-8, 2018.


ABSTRACT. Paintings and drawings are images of scenes produced manually, while photographs are the results of recording light values mechanically. While it seems that from the indexical nature of photography if follows that we may not take photographs of entities that do not exist, there are several examples for the fictional uses of photographs.


In this paper I discuss three positions. First, one might hold that photographs are incapable of representing fictional characters, objects or states of affairs. Second, it may be argued that we can use photographs as prompts to imagine that they represent fictional entities. Third, some have also suggested that photographs are capable of representing fictional entities by purely photographic means.


I argue that there are no photographs of fictional entities and states of affairs; the fictional use of a photographic image is an imaginative process in which we learn about the visual properties of a) the real persons and objects depicted in the photograph and b) the imagined properties of the fictional characters and objects. We form perceptual or sensory beliefs about the visual properties of real persons and objects depicted in the photograph (the literal meaning of the photograph). At the same time we form perceptual or sensory imaginings about the visual properties of the fictional characters and objects. Forming perceptual or sensory beliefs is a reflex-like, automatic process, and forming perceptual or sensory imagining involves cognitive imaginings about what is fictional in the context of the fictional use of the photograph. This position is explicated in the context of a cognitive theory of fiction and imagination.


Finally, I also argue that the fictional use of photographic images is a specific type of photographic illocutionary act, when the default photographic interpretation is suspended or modified for the sake of the fictional use. Indexicality and counterfactual dependence is assumed only for the literal meaning of the photographic image. For the properties of the fictional entities fictive indexicality and counterfactual dependence is imagined.

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