Photographing human finitude

Philosophical reflections on photographs of death

Authored by: Mathew A. Crawford

The Routledge Handbook of Death and the Afterlife

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138682160
eBook ISBN: 9781315545349
Adobe ISBN:


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Western philosophical engagements with photography have approached its relationship with human finitude in a variety of ways. Some take the photographic portrait, for example, to only exhibit death as it always shows what was. In this sense, one can take photography to always bear the absence and death of its subject. Others, however, emphasize the subject’s casual role in photography, arguing that the image carries some imprint of the subject’s being. By carrying a mark of our lives beyond our lives in this manner, we are offered some form of a photographic afterlife. However, there is no consensus on these matters which often center on the complex relationship between the photograph and reality. Stanley Cavell finds that the way we relate to photographs coincides with the way we relate to others and the world, namely as if viewing them as hidden, unseen. Thus, for Cavell, investigating the one informs our understanding of the other.

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