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Aesthetics after Photography - Philosophical Research

Dr Diarmuid Costello

My research for the project currently involves three projects.

  1. For Philosophy Compass I am reviewing the current state of the philosophical literature on photography.
  2. A short book, On Photography, giving equal weight to the philosophy and theory of photography. Where the former is concerned with foundational issues, the latter is generally concerned with more substantive issues. The book’s central project will be to demonstrate that the degree to which such enquiries have been conducted in mutual isolation has impoverished both: philosophical debates often generate arid definitions of photographs that remain unilluminating when applied to the most interesting uses of the medium; debates in the theory of photography frequently sacrifice conceptual rigour to critical insight.
  3. More long term, Photography as a Medium will extend this general project by bringing a philosophical perspective to bear on recent debates in the theory of photography. In particular, it considers what distinguishes photography as art from other depictive arts such as painting, post-digitalisation. Though much has been written about digitalisation in art theory, it is generally regarded as an anomalous, limit, or intermediary case by philosophers. Against this, I suggest that in so far as digitalisation undermines basic assumptions about the evidential, documentary nature of photography once taken for granted, in virtue of transforming their aetiology, it impacts on the beliefs underwriting our first order responses to photographs, and so too the epistemic value of photography in general. Hence it may no longer be possible to draw a principled distinction between photography and other depictive arts. Various reasons why this conclusion remains intuitively unsatisfying will be explored. If correct, the argument will require rethinking some entrenched notions of what is and is not aesthetically significant about photography as art.

Dr Dawn Phillips

My research for the project currently involves three lines of enquiry.

  1. I argue that we should recognise a distinction between 'the photograph' and 'the photographic event' and think that this has the potential to resolve a number of problems currently found in the aesthetics of photography. In brief, my view is that a photograph is a visual image with a particular causal history which definitively includes a photographic event. We appreciate the photograph in virtue of appreciating its relation to the photographic event, but the photographic event should not be conflated with the photograph.
  2. My view is that we should understand photographs as analogous to performances of music, rather than to paintings or literature. I am pursuing this idea in numerous directions, including thinking about the photographic equivalents of jazz improvisation, studio multi-layer productions, different interpretations of works of music, the recording and reproduction of performances in different media (analogue and digital). I propose that the music industry provides the best model for anticipating the impact of digitial photography on the future of photographic art.
  3. I am interested in learning more about the aesthetic theories of Wollheim and Collingwood and intend to think and write about what these theories have to offer the aesthetics of photography.

Personal webpages


Diarmuid Costello, Philosophy, Warwick


Dawn Phillips, Philosophy, Warwick