Searching for photography’s realism

  • Weitian Liu

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (MPhil)


This dissertation addresses the notion of photography’s realism with reference to recent theorisations of photography that affirm the medium’s social and political dimension. Formulated as at once an interpretive framework for considering the current status of photography and a realist strategy capable of fostering critical understandings of the operation of photography and its truth-claims, photography’s realism is brought into play in three case studies, each related to an established use of photography. The first case study looks at photographs taken by Edinburgh-based photographer Franki Raffles for the Zero Tolerance campaign which was aimed at increasing public awareness of domestic violence against women and children. The second case study turns to the practice of photojournalism related to the 2019 Hong Kong protests, focusing on a multi-media presentation published by the New York Times. The last case study traces the political trajectory of photographs taken of a bombardment in Rafah in 2014 from the moment of their production to a counter-forensic investigation conducted by Goldsmiths-based research agency Forensic Architecture. The discussion of how photographic events and practices operate in the three case studies leads to a reflection on the notion of photographic truth in the conclusion. In traversing three practices of photography, this dissertation gauges the usefulness and limitations of both old and new perspectives regarding photography’s realism, and along the way examines persistent anxieties and tensions at the heart of photography’s claim to truth.
Date of Award1 Jul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorLuke Gartlan (Supervisor)


  • Photography
  • Theory of photography
  • Realism

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  • 3rd March 2026

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