There are so many ways of how the subject matter can be constructed in the photographic image on the depictive and mental level. Starting from simple and innocent staging/composing (family snapshots) to the sophisticated and spectacular theatrical constructions (Crewdson), sculptural installations (Fishli & Weiss, Erin Sheriff, Anne Hardy) and performances (Erwin Wurm).
Where is the difference between the constructed photography and the documentary record of some artistic event? In my opinion the intention is again an answer but there are some other interesting points of view.
Scruton, who is very conservative and sometimes quite extreme in his opinions, believes that the construction of the subject precedes the act of photographing and is completed before the image is taken, hence the record is an documentation of whatever was done already as an installation, sculpture, gesture etc.
Although I disagree with his general point that “the photograph lacks that quality of 'intentional inexistence' which is characteristic of painting” (Scruton, p.204), I do agree with the controversy related to the practices which exist on the verge of multiple disciplines.
Scruton illustrate his point with the following example:
"Of course I may take a photograph of a draped nude and call it Venus, but insofar as this can be understood as an exersise in fiction, it should not be thought of as a photographic representation of Venus but rather as the photograph of a representation of Venus. In other words, the process of fictional representation occurs not in the photograph but in the subject: it is the subject which represent Venus; the photograph does not more than disseminate its visual character to other eyes. This is not to say that the model is (unknown to herself) acting Venus. It is not she who is representing Venus but the photographer, who uses her in his representation. But the representational act, the act which embodies the representational thought, is completed before the photograph is even taken."
I think it is up to author to determine if the photograph of some arrangement or situation is a an ultimate goal and intended outcome or a documentation of it.
- Scruton, Roger, "Photography and representation" Chapter 6 in Neill, Alex and Ridley, Aaron (2002) "Arguing about art. Contemporary philosophical debates", Routledge