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Aesthetics after Photography - 2008 Workshop (21-22 November)

Photography as a Medium (post-digitalisation)

The widespread use of digital technologies in recent years, and their capacity for apparently seamless integration with the traditional photographic input processes on the one hand (standard lenses and shutters) and output processes on the other (the variety of photographic prints) has reawakened interest in the nature of photography as an artistic medium. This workshop will explore such questions from a philosophical perspective in the light of recent technologies.

  • What, if anything, does digitalisation tell us about the nature of photography as an art form?
  • Is digitalisation best understood as internal to photography or an external adjunct? Is it a distinct medium or some hybrid intermediary form of traditional optics and digital processes?
  • What is the ontological status of, for example, 'RAW' files as distinct from film negatives?
  • What are the implications for widespread pre-digital intuitions about what distinguishes photography (indexicality, automaticity, realism and objectivity, non-representational transparency, or epistemic privilege)?
  • Now that every aspect of the final image is, in principle, open to manipulation by the photographer, is there any difference in kind between photography and other depictive arts, notably painting?
  • If digitalisation really does undermine basic assumptions about the evidential, documentary nature of photography previously taken for granted, how does this impact on both the ontology of the photography image, and the epistemic value of photography in general?

Where analogue photography once inspired Szarkowski, among others, to try to enumerate a distinct set of aesthetic categories (variously specified as the detail, framing, focus, point of view, and the like) what are the prospects for a set of such categories that might circumscribe photography as an artistic medium today? Does photography even require a distinctive set of aesthetic categories to do justice to its status as an art, or is photography such a diverse array of media variously specifiable in terms of use, intention and context as to render such a project otiose?

The conference will bring together philosophers working on photography with first order practitioners (artists who use digital photography and have an intimate knowledge of the technologies involved). To date, philosophical debate has been hindered by an insufficiently fine-grained understanding of the technologies involved, and what they make possible. This workshop should mitigate this and thereby promote philosophical understanding of a technology that has significant implications for photography and the pictorial arts more generally.

Workshop Report

Workshop Programme

Workshop Speakers

Workshop Papers


Workshop Organisers


Diarmuid Costello Philosophy, Warwick

Dawn Phillips Philosophy, Warwick




Supported by



The British Society for Aesthetics