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Vol. 16 No. 1 (2022): Drawing and Loss

Why Draw Pictures that Already Exist? Photo-based Drawings and the Presence Phenomenon

30 November 2020


It is widely held that, due to its causal nature, photography is the visual medium best suited for enabling individuals to form a sense of perceptual contact with distant or deceased subjects, and so to mitigate against the loss of the subject. Yet, a number of artists, who have meticulously recreated photographs by a slow, laborious process of drawing, have reported that this manual activity has afforded a richer sense of connectedness with the distant or lost subjects. In this article, I produce a phenomenological analysis of this experience, which I term the “presence phenomenon”. To explain this phenomenon, I employ recent work from philosophy of perception and philosophy of mind to argue that the act of drawing, unlike looking at a photograph, presents affordances for bodily action that, in combination with the realism of the work, trigger sub-doxastic associative mechanisms that produce an enhanced sense of connection to the subject.