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Aesthetics After Photography - Workshop Session 3

Robert Hopkins & Aaron Meskin

Robert Hopkins - Factive Pictorial Experience: Photography Before and During the Digital Revolution


What is special about photographs? Traditional photography is, I argue, a system that sustains factive pictorial experience. Photographs sustain pictorial experience: we see things in them. Further, that experience is factive: if suchandsuch is seen in a photograph, then suchandsuch obtained when the photo was taken. More precisely, photographs are designed to sustain factive pictorial experience, and that experience is what we have when, in the photographic system as a whole, everything works as it is supposed to. In this respect photographs differ from handmade pictures, and from other information-preserving tools, such as the readings on a geiger counter. This distinctive feature can be used to explain what is epistemically special about photographs, and also to give an account of the distinctive phenomenology of looking at a photograph rather than a handmade picture. In both respects, photography turns out to be interestingly analogous to perception, but without the implausible claim that to see a photograph of something is one way to perceive it. All this provides the background against which to assess claims that digital photography differs from traditional in certain key ways.


Aaron Meskin - The Ontology of the Digital Photograph


Digital photographs are standardly—perhaps essentially—multiples. That is, they allow for instances rather than mere copies. But what sort of multiples are they? In his Languages of Art, Nelson Goodman famously described a distinction between the autographic and allographic arts—according to him, the former admit of a certain kind of forgery that is impossible in the case of the latter. Although ordinary photography appears to be a case of the autographic, it is tempting to think that digital photography is a paradigmatic case of an allographic medium. After all, Goodman ultimately characterizes the allographic arts as those that are 'amenable to notation', and the electronic storage of digital photographs certainly seems to be a form of notation. Most other accounts of the autographic/allographic distinction (e.g., a number of the accounts offered by Jerrold Levinson) suggest the same result, albeit for different reasons. And although Goodman and Levinson did not themselves consider digital photography, recent commentators who have addressed the medium (such as William John Mitchell) agree that digital photographs are allographic. But digital photographs appear to be intuitively forgeable in the distinctive way that Goodman had in mind when characterizing the autographic. And there are accounts of the autographic/allographic distinction that seem to put digital photography in the former category. In this paper I explore the tension between these conflicting viewpoints. The investigation will shed light on both digital photography and the autographic/allographic distinction.