More on FAQ #231

See also #230, “Don’t all photographs lie?”

231. Aren’t all photographs fiction?

Most people would answer that question “No.”

• “Photographs” typically depict something that is “real.”

• “Fiction” typically depicts something that is invented or imagined and not “real.”


There is a difference between something being a “portrayal” vs. it being a “fiction.”

The typical adult has seen millions of photographs that are “portrayals” of things that that person has seen “in real life.”

As a result of this experience, most members of the general public know that photographs are — at best — imperfect “portrayals” of real-world scenes.

In English the word “portrayal” is used to describe a depiction that portrays “something real” but has some properties that make the depiction different from that “something real.”

(Again, “fiction” typically depicts something that is not “real.”)

No “portrayal” can fully equal the real thing that it depicts or it wouldn’t be a “portrayal”; it would be the real thing.

In other words, one cannot fault the “portrayal” of something for having the very characteristics that make it a “portrayal” (as opposed to being the real thing itself).

Photographs are included in that statement, since they too are “portrayals.”


See also the Key entries on portrayal, real, realistic, reality, and subjective