Here's another one of these Big Questions, but it always need more tackling. It's been bugging me for a while because most academic papers I've read seem to be one-sided.
When people write about photography, they often take the transparency position about it.
Its briefest summation was given by Gary Winogrand: "I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs." (*) In other words, that we do not look at photographs, but through them, like the late John Szarkowski said.
This means two things:
a) That we have a different interest in the photograph of a thing than we do for the thing if we were to actually encounter it
b) That photographs have a privileged relationship to the world that painting or drawing do not have.
Claim a) is not controversial to me, I think it is fairly obvious to most people who either appreciate or produce photos. Claim b) is where the meat is.
We've all heard (or taken) positions to the effect that photography is a trace, whereas a painting is an interpretation, an act of will. Fiction in painting is indeed more accepted than it is in photography.
But what if we actually had an interest in painting because we like to see how things look when they are painted? Did not Monet paint the same cathedral over and over because he wanted us to appreciate its changing appearance through painting?
The problem with b) is that it actually prevents any meaningful creation of fiction in photography. Why would a painting of a Cyclop be a painting of a Cyclop, whereas a photo of a person dressed as a Cyclop will never be a photo of a Cyclop? Why would Cindy Sherman's "untitled film stills" be only self-portraits, whereas a movie with Marilyn Monroe is not a portrait of her?
No swearing, no name calling, discuss!
(*) He also said "A photograph is the illusion of a literal description of how the camera 'saw' a piece of time and space," so I don't want to say that he believed in photographic transparency.