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Invisible Images and Indeterminacy: Why We Need a Multi-stage Account of Photography

Wilson, Dawn M



Some photographs show determinate features of a scene because the photographed scene had those features. This dependency relation is, rightly, a consensus in philosophy of photography. I seek to refute many long-established theories of photography by arguing that they are incompatible with this commitment. In section 2, I classify accounts of photography as either single-stage or multi-stage. In section 3, I analyse the historical basis for single-stage accounts. In section 4, I explain why the single-stage view led scientists to postulate ‘latent’ photographic images as a technical phenomenon in early chemical photography. In section 5, I discredit the notion of an invisible latent image in chemical photography and, in section 6, extend this objection to the legacy of the latent image in digital photography. In section 7, I appeal to the dependency relation to explain why the notion of a latent image makes the single-stage account untenable. Finally, I use the multi-stage account to advance debate about ‘New’ versus ‘Orthodox’ theories of photography.


Wilson, D. M. (2021). Invisible Images and Indeterminacy: Why We Need a Multi-stage Account of Photography. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 79(2), 161–174.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 9, 2020
Online Publication Date Apr 19, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Jan 8, 2021
Publicly Available Date Apr 20, 2023
Journal The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
Print ISSN 0021-8529
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 79
Issue 2
Pages 161–174
Keywords Philosophy of Photography; Camera Obscura; Latent Image; Invisible; Digital; Causal Dependence; Indeterminacy; New Theory; Multi-stage.
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