Photographers tend to come off very badly in contemporary fiction—portrayed as emotionally warped, as voyeurs, or as exploitative, they are seen not as artists but as operating a piece of technology. Their photographs are understood in referential rather than imaginative terms: as depicting what was, what happened. In this piece, however, I show how much contemporary narrative photography challenges precisely those views of photography that are most frequently found within fiction itself. Looking both at staged photography of the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s and at more recent enigmatic photographs that allow plenty of play for the observer's imaginative speculation (including work by Jeff Wall, Justine Kurland, Lynne Cohen, and Connie Samaras), I ask why there should be such a discrepancy between fictional and nonfictional understandings of the work that can be done by photography. I argue that many novelists need the idea of photography as freezing a moment in time to meet their own narrative ends, to signify an instant of stopped action: that way, too, they retain authorial control of the (imaginary) photograph's signification. Their version of photography is underwritten by the theories of Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida; many innovative contemporary photographers, however, have preferred an earlier Barthean model in which spectators are set loose to find their own interpretations of an image, effectively becoming writers of fictions themselves.
Skip Nav Destination
Kate Flint; Photographic Fictions. Novel 1 November 2009; 42 (3): 393–399. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-033
Download citation file: