About this topic
Summary The (analytic) philosophy of photography came into its own relatively recently, in the early 1980's. Since then, philosophical theorising about photography has largely been preoccupied with three issues: 1. Are photographs transparent; that is, is seeing a photograph (and related photographic media, like film and television) a way of indirectly seeing photographed objects? 2. How should one respond to scepticism about photography's aesthetic value? 3. In what does the peculiar epistemic value of photography consist? More recently, attention has turned towards a number of other issues, including: 4. What is the correct ontological category in which to locate photographs? 5. In what does the peculiar affective power of photographs consist? 6. How does digital photography challenge extant answers to questions 1-5. Answering these questions has involved philosophers drawing on related research in aesthetics concerning: pictorial experience and theories of depiction; fictionality; standards of correctness and interpretive norms more broadly; aesthetic value; and artist's intention. But philosophers interested in the philosophy of photography have also drawn on issues further afield, including: issues in the philosophy of action; information-theoretic accounts of mental content; sense-data and the possibility of indirect perception; necessary conditions for perception; and the nature of causation.
Key works The locus classicus for the theory of photographic transparency is Walton 1984. Although Walton's concern is the affect of photographs, the principal influence of this paper, apart from its prompting numerous replies in response to the idea of transparency itself, was its spawning the literature on the epistemic value of photographs. Walton's paper is best understood when read in conjunction with the postscript in Walton 2008, which clarifies a number of subtle issues arguably obscured in various early responses to, and replies from, Walton. Scepticism about photography's epistemic value is vigorously defended by Roger Scruton in Scruton 1981. This paper is likewise best understood when read in conjunction with later clarificatory replies by Scruton, including Scruton 2009. Key works on the epistemic value of photography include: Cohen & Meskin 2004, Abell 2010 and Walden 2005. Key works on the affective nature of photography (in addition to Walton 1984) include: Hopkins 2012, Pettersson 2011 and Currie 1999. Edited collections include: Walden 2010 and a special issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Costello & Mciver Lopes 2012. Papers in the latter address a number of new issues in the philosophy of photography, suggesting those working in the area are beginning to move beyond the traditional issues of transparency, aesthetic scepticism and epistemic value. Notable monographs include: Maynard 1997 and Friday 2002. Three monographs in the philosophy of film that discuss photography at length are: Currie 1995, Carroll 2007 and Gaut 2010. The latter is especially notable for its theorising about the nature of digital photography.
Introductions Useful survey articles include: Costello & Phillips 2009 and Maynard 2001
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1163 found
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1 — 50 / 1163
  1. The Silence: Non-Discursive Agency in Photography.Gavin Keeney - manuscript
    An essay on non-discursive forms of knowledge that inhabit art photography. A version of this essay appeared in Gavin Keeney, "Else-where": Essays in Art, Architecture, and Cultural Production 2002-2011 (CSP, 2011), pp. 209-26.
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  2. Vertiginous Acedie.Gavin Keeney - manuscript
    Review of “Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: New Art from Russia,” Saatchi Gallery, London, England, and “Calder After the War,” Pace Gallery, London, England, April 2013. A version of this essay appeared in the Appendices of Gavin Keeney, Not-I/Thou: The Other Subject of Art and Architecture (CSP, 2014), pp. 157-60.
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  3. Depiction, Imagination, and Photography.Jiri Benovsky - forthcoming - In Keith Moser & Ananta Sukla (eds.), Imagination and Art: Explorations in Contemporary Theory. Brill.
    Imagination plays an important role in depiction. In this chapter, I focus on photography and I discuss the role imagination plays in photographic depiction. I suggest to follow a broadly Waltonian view, but I also depart from it in several places. I start by discussing a general feature of the relation of depiction, namely the fact that it is a ternary relation which always involves "something external." I then turn my attention to Walton's view, where this third relatum of the (...)
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  4. Life Through a Lens.Dan Cavedon-Taylor - forthcoming - In Sophie Archer (ed.), Salience: A Philosophical Inquiry.
    Kantian disinterest is the view that aesthetic judgement is constituted (at least in part) by a form of perceptual contemplation that is divorced from concerns of practical action. That view, which continues to be defended to this day, is challenged here on the basis that it is unduly spectator-focussed, ignoring important facets of art-making and its motivations. Beauty moves us, not necessarily to tears or rapt contemplation, but to practical action; crucially, it may do so as part and parcel of (...)
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  5. The Body's Truth: Notes on Angelo Novi's Still Photography From Mamma Roma (1962) To.Roberto Chiesi - forthcoming - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy.
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  6. Philosophy of Photography.Andrew Fisher & Daniel Rubenstein - forthcoming - Philosophy of Photography.
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  7. Literature and Digital Illumination.Lis Lindeman & Gregory O. Smith - forthcoming - Topoi.
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  8. Photo Mensura.Patrick Maynard - forthcoming - In Nicola Moeßner & Alfred Nordmann (eds.), The Epistemology of Measurement: Representational and Technological Dimensions. Routledge.
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  9. Fotografie: moralischer Blick oder ästhetische Distanz?Nicola Mößner - forthcoming - In Hauke Behrendt & Jakob Steinbrenner (eds.), Kunst und Moral. Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter.
    Photography: morally close or aesthetically removed? Can photographs make a contribution to the moral discourse? And, if so, what kind of contribution might that be? On the one hand, they are often used in morally laden contexts of communication such as media reports about wars etc. On the other, it is said that images are inherently ambiguous which seems to speak against the possibility to use them as a means to communicate focused moral judgements. The following article starts with a (...)
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  10. Portraits, Facial Perception, and Aspect-Seeing.Andreas Vrahimis - 2022 - British Journal of Aesthetics 62 (1):85–100.
    Is there a substantial difference between a portrait depicting the sitter’s face made by an artist and an image captured by a machine able to simulate the neuro-physiology of facial perception? Drawing on the later Wittgenstein, this paper answers this question by reference to the relation between seeing a visual pattern as (i) a series of shapes and colours, and (ii) a face with expressions. In the case of the artist, and not of the machine, the portrait’s creative process involves (...)
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  11. Pragmatic Saintliness: Toward a Criticism and Celebration of Community.Benjamin Davis - 2021 - Contemporary Pragmatism 1 (18):72-94.
    This essay responds to John McDermott’s diagnosis of politics and religious life in the U.S.: “[B]oth traditional political and religious institutions are no longer an adequate let alone rich resource for a celebratory language.” I present a new celebratory language by reading William James’s description of saintliness in Varieties of Religious Experience. James gives me the resources to naturalize and democratize saintliness. Distinguished not by her transcendent miracles but by her this-worldly energies and experiments, the pragmatic saint remakes the experience (...)
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  12. Seeing Through Photographs: Photography as a Transparent Visual Medium.Vivian Mizrahi - 2021 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 79 (1):52-63.
    The idea that looking at a photograph is akin to face-to-face perception and that photographs provide genuine perceptual access to the objects they depict was notoriously defended by Kendall Walton in “Transparent Pictures.” Walton’s main thesis is that photographs are transparent in the sense that we can see objects through them. The main goal of this article is to support Walton’s view by providing a full account of photographic transparency. I will argue that the transparency that characterizes photography is not (...)
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  13. Transparency and Egocentrism.Nils-Hennes Stear - 2021 - In Sonia Sedivy (ed.), Art, Representation, and Make-Believe: Essays on the Philosophy of Kendall L. Walton. New York, NY, USA: pp. 196-213.
    Kendall Walton argues that photographs are transparent; we literally see the things depicted in them, not just the depictions. This intriguing claim has endured numerous criticisms from those I call the ‘egocentrists’, according to whom seeing—literal seeing—requires the conveyance of egocentric information; to count as seeing something, a visual experience of that thing must impart some information, however spare, about its position relative to the viewer. Since photographs fail to convey such information, the egocentrists claim, Walton’s transparency thesis fails. This (...)
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  14. Invisible Images and Indeterminacy: Why We Need a Multi-Stage Account of Photography.Dawn M. Wilson - 2021 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 79 (2):161-174.
    Some photographs show determinate features of a scene because the photographed scene had those features. This dependency relation is, rightly, a consensus in philosophy of photography. I seek to refute many long-established theories of photography by arguing that they are incompatible with this commitment. In Section II, I classify accounts of photography as either single-stage or multi-stage. In Section III, I analyze the historical basis for single-stage accounts. In Section IV, I explain why the single-stage view led scientists to postulate (...)
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  15. New Facts Emerge: An Interview with Dave Beech.Dave Beech & Alex Fletcher - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):7-28.
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  16. The Limits of Art: On Borderline Cases of Artworks and Their Aesthetic Properties.Jiri Benovsky - 2020 - Springer.
    This open access book is about exploring interesting borderline cases of art. It discusses the cases of gustatory and olfactory artworks, proprioceptive artworks, intellectual artworks, as well as the vague limits between painting and photography. The book focuses on the author’s research about what counts as art and what does not, as well as on the nature of these limits. Overall, the author defends a very inclusive view, 'extending' the limits of art, and he argues for its virtues. Some of (...)
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  17. Reproducing Refugees: Photographia of a Crisis.Anna Carastathis & Myrto Tsilimpounidi - 2020 - London, UK: Rowman and Littlefield International.
    Since 2015, the ‘refugee crisis’ is possibly the most photographed humanitarian crisis in history. Photographs taken, for instance, in Lesvos, Greece, and Bodrum, Turkey, were instrumental in generating waves of public support for, and populist opposition to “welcoming refugees” in Europe. But photographs do not circulate in a vacuum; this book explores the visual economy of the ‘refugee crisis,’ showing how the reproduction of images is structured by, and secures hierarchies of gender, sexuality, and ‘race,’ essential to the functioning of (...)
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  18. The Post-Human Media Semblance: Predictive Catastrophism.Ekin Erkan - 2020 - Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge 36.
    Since the advent of media archeology, a deep-seated bifurcation has found one end of the field arguing for the interventionist and appropriative weaponization of media whereas the other side has championed a “total war” with technology itself, insisting that new media’s military-industrial roots inherently color its drivability. Here, I implore a moment within the cultural history of net.art and post-internet art to examine how contemporaneous queries about control after militarism and decentralization, as prognosticated by Paul Virilio and Gilles Deleuze, are (...)
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  19. Three Scale Models for a Photographic World: Benjamin, Constellation, Image and Scale.Andrew Fisher - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):49-67.
    This article sets out to substantiate an understanding of the photographic image as a constellation of scaled relations, with a focus on the significance of historically neglected questions of scale in and for the present. It explores two recurrent themes in Walter Benjamin’s writings: his celebrated methodological-epistemological concept of constellation and his less often remarked fascination for relationships of scale, processes of scaling and the scale effects these produce. These are investigated in light of the mutable and composite character of (...)
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  20. Art, Intention, and Everyday Psychology.Joshua Landy - 2020 - Nonsite 1 (32).
    Responding to a set of essays by Walter Benn Michaels, this paper argues that we can solve some interesting puzzles about intention in photography without the need for any fancy Anscombian footwork. Three distinctions are enough to do the job. First, with Alexander Nehamas, we should separate the empirical photographer from the postulated artist. Next we should mark off generic intentions (such as the intention to make a work of art) from specific intentions (such as the intention to critique capitalism). (...)
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  21. Photography From the Turin Shroud to the Turing Machine, Yanai Toister.John Lechte - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):137-141.
    Review of: Photography from the Turin Shroud to the Turing Machine, Yanai Toister Bristol and Chicago, IL: Intellect, p/bk, 215 pp., ISBN 978-1-78938-156-6, p/bk, £37.
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  22. Theory of the Image, Thomas Nail.Noa Levin - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):133-136.
    Review of: Theory of the Image, Thomas Nail New York: Oxford University, 432 pp., ISBN 978-0-19005-008-5, p/bk, £19.99.
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  23. Photographocene: The Past, Present and Future in the Photography of the Environment.Ana Peraica - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):99-111.
    Photography has an important place in picturing and documenting environmental changes, especially when they occur in distant areas, or are inaccessible from ground level and/or imperceptible to the naked eye due to their scale. As the invention of photographic technology was officially registered only 55 years after the invention of the steam engine, most subsequent transformations of the environment have been well documented. One needs to distinguish the time of human changes to the environment, the Anthropocene, from images of the (...)
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  24. The Assassination of Experience by Photography.Daniel Rubinstein - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):113-120.
    This article suggests that when the engagement with photography is limited to questions of recognition and resemblance, such approach stifles our experience of the world and directs us towards monotonous homogeneity in which everything can be represented in a photograph, and a photograph is always a representation of something or other. And yet, a photograph has the potential to move our gaze beyond representation of events and situations in a way that allows us to penetrate the appearance of things and (...)
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  25. The World and the Will: On the Problem of Photographic Agency.John Schwenkler - 2020 - Nonsite 32.
    This essay is my contribution to a symposium responding to several papers by Walter Benn Michaels that bring the work of Elizabeth Anscombe to bear on philosophical problems of artistic representation. In it, I take Benn Michaels's side in a dispute with Dominic McIver Lopes over the difference between Anscombe's view of intentional agency and that of Donald Davidson. I also critique Benn Michaels's reading of a difficult passage in section 29 of Anscombe's INTENTION, where she presents the famous case (...)
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  26. World Without Colour and its Photographs and Optical Images.Reza Tavakol - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):79-97.
    Photographs and optical images, whatever their contents, are imprints of the electromagnetic waves in the visible range of wavelengths, we refer to as light. Furthermore, they are designed to portray different parts of the visible light in terms of different colours, in analogy with the human eyes, however imperfectly. The world outside our eyes and cameras, however, is permeated by electromagnetic waves with much wider spectrum of wavelengths than those in the visible range. Importantly also, colour is a construct of (...)
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  27. Documents of Doubt: The Photographic Conditions of Conceptual Art, Heather Diack.Thomas Watson - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):142-147.
    Review of: Documents of Doubt: The Photographic Conditions of Conceptual Art, Heather Diack Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 296 pp., ISBN 978-1-51790-757-0, p/bk, $30.00.
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  28. Pow! Pow!Neale Willis - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):69-77.
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  29. Roy DeCarava: Eyes to Hear.Andrew Witt - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):29-48.
    This article examines the belated reception and occlusion of the photographic work of Roy DeCarava by evaluating two recent publications: The Sound I Saw: Improvisations on a Jazz Theme and Light Break. In the article, I attend to the ways in which DeCarava’s closely cropped photographs delve into the sensual, private textures of everyday life but also track as well the collective anguish and social discontent that still burns on today.
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  30. Cite, Plagiarize, Pass-Off: Deixis, Bibliographic Imposture and Photography.David Zeitlyn - 2020 - Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2):121-132.
    In this essay I want to take some metaphors seriously. I want to push at their limits and ask whether this exercise can help us think differently about photographs and their relationship to what they depict. (Should it be ‘what they depict’ or ‘what they are seen as depicting’? The choice of phrasing depends on theoretical position: is depiction inherent in the image, or is it seen by the viewer?). The moel of citationality based on Cadava’s work is developed by (...)
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  31. Between Real and Virtual, Map and Terrain: ScanLab Projects, Post-Lenticular Landscapes.Peter Ainsworth - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (2):269-281.
    London-based company ScanLab Projects is a multi-disciplinary commercial collaboration between architect, artist, coders and designers who utilize technologies surrounding 3D laser scanning in their practice. Inherent in the manner their projects are pitched is through reference to the photographic as technological process. Central to their engagement with the light detection and ranging scanning apparatus is a consideration of the relationality between virtual or digital object and what could be determined as extrinsic or ‘real’ terrain. In Post-lenticular Landscapes, 2017, ScanLab created (...)
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  32. The Polarized Image: Between Visual Fake News and “Emblematic Evidence”.Emanuele Arielli - 2019 - Politics and Image.
    In this paper, a particular case of deceptive use of images – namely, misattributions – will be taken in consideration. An explicitly wrong attribution (“This is a picture of the event X”, this not being the case) is obviously a lie or a mistaken description. But there are less straightforward and more insidious cases in which a false attribution is held to be acceptable, in particular when pictures are also used in their exemplary, general meaning, opposed to their indexical function (...)
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  33. The Divisive Moment.Bernd Behr - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (1):7-10.
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  34. Photographic Art and Technology in Contemporary India.Aileen Blaney - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (1):23-40.
    The algorithmic turn in photography raises the question of whether an algorithmically generated image is even a photograph at all. This paradox is abundant on India's urban streets, where the pedestrian or road user is met with giant photo saturated flex hoardings printed with political and community messages and photo-shopped portraits of gods, chief ministers and party workers. In this article, attention to photo-based political posters alongside art practices sharing common elements of digital capture and postproduction contextualizes a reading of (...)
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  35. New Theory Reconsidered: Reply to Scott Walden and Dominic McIver Lopes.Diarmuid Costello - 2019 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 77 (3):313-320.
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  36. Miki Kratsman and Shabtai Pinchevsky: The Anti-Mapping Project.Andrew Fisher - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (2):243-268.
    This article introduces an evolving project of visual mapping initiated by Israeli photographers Miki Kratsman and Shabtai Pinchevsky under the title of Anti-Mapping. Placing this critical project in the context of the Israel/Palestine conflict, the article examines how Kratsman and Pinchevsky develop complex, strategic and critically sophisticated approaches to visualizing the conditions that produce victims of violence and that place Palestinian villages under threat of destruction. The article explores their strategic, technical and critical approaches to the difficulties of representing particular (...)
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  37. Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism, Ariella Aïsha Azoulay.Alex Fletcher - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (2):283-288.
    Review of: Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism, Ariella Aïsha Azoulay London and New York: Verso, 656 pp.,ISBN 978-1-78873-571-1, p/bk, £30.00.
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  38. Between Nature and Culture: Jakob von Uexküll's Concept of Umwelten and How Photography Shapes Our Worlds.Joachim Froese - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (1):11-22.
    This article addresses traditional perceptions about photography's position between nature and culture and concomitant schools of thinking focusing pre-dominantly on the photographic image as a form of visual representation. Aiming to develop an alternative perspective it considers a biosemiotic approach and turns to Jakob von Uexküll's model of subjective sentient worlds that critically dissolves the perceived dualism between nature and culture that has also underpinned most theoretical thinking about photography in the past. Today photography is largely embedded into social media (...)
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  39. Anti-Mapping.Miki Kratsman & Shabtai Pinchevsky - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (2):229-242.
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  40. This Misery of Light ‐ Light as Destruction in the Work of Lina Selander.Erika Larsson - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (1):115-131.
    In this article I look at two works by Swedish video artist Lina Selander and explore how underlying visual patterns unfold in these works that are connected to certain worldly phenomena. Borrowing from Jacques Derrida, I describe the tendency of being en mal d'archive as an obsession to structure the world into particular recognizable patterns. I argue that Selander's works can be understood as the unfolding of such structures, the result being that the very impulse itself, the obsession Derrida speaks (...)
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  41. Memory, Bernadette Mayer.Louisa Lee - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (2):293-296.
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  42. An Argument for the New Theory of Photography: Reply to Costello.Dominic Mciver Lopes - 2019 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 77 (3):311-313.
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  43. Spontaneity and Materiality: What Photography Is in the Photography of James Welling.Dominic McIver Lopes & Diarmuid Costello - 2019 - Art History 42 (1):154-76.
    Images are double agents. They receive information from the world, while also projecting visual imagination onto the world. As a result, mind and world tug our thinking about images, or particular kinds of images, in contrary directions. On one common division, world traces itself mechanically in photographs, whereas mind expresses itself through painting.1 Scholars of photography disavow such crude distinctions: much recent writing attends in detail to the materials and processes of photography, the agency of photographic artists, and the social (...)
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  44. Rephotograph.Gary McLeod - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (1):89-99.
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  45. Portraits of People Not Present.Bence Nanay - 2019 - In Hans Maes (ed.), Portraits and Philosophy. London: Routledge.
    The aim of this paper is to explore what could be meant by modernist portraiture. On the face of it, there is a real tension about the very idea of modernist portraiture inasmuch as one key idea of modernism is negativity and self-negation, whereas portraiture is, in some very obvious sense, not negation. It is the depiction of the sitter. So there are reasons to think that modernist portraiture, in the strong sense of the term, is a contradiction in terms. (...)
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  46. You Are My Territory.Liz Orton - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (1):73-88.
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  47. Premenlivá pozícia amatérskej fotografie [Shifted Position of Amateur Photography].Michaela Paštéková - 2019 - Espes 8 (2):47-54.
    The amateur photographer used to be defined as a photography enthusiast or a "photographer of everyday life". Since the 19th century, he has liked to join photo clubs, where he improves his technical skills. Has his position changed fundamentally in the 20th and 21st century? What impact does the growth of the Internet and smartphones have on the amateur photography? And how has the world of art responded to the increase of number as well as visibitity of amateur photographs? In (...)
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  48. Adrian Piper's Aesthetic Agency: Photography as Catalysis for Resisting Neo-Liberal Competitive Paradigms.Gerlinde Van Puymbroeck - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (1):41-58.
    Contemporary neo-liberal society is ruled by the market. Davies, Chen and Lentin and Titley show that its objectification and categorization founds a competitive notion of agency that disables subjective construction of self and intersubjective understanding of the world. As the market's rules and norms are set by white patriarchy, its competitive paradigm structurally disadvantages others. Art too is objectified and categorized by neo-liberal institutions, equally embedded in white patriarchal market structures and severely limiting democratic public access to a diverse artistic (...)
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  49. Seeing Double: Assessing Kendall Walton’s Views on Painting and Photography.Campbell Rider - 2019 - Undergraduate Philosophy Journal of Australasia 1 (1):37-47.
    In this paper I consider Kendall Walton’s provocative views on the visual arts, including his approaches to understanding both figurative and nonfigurative painting. I introduce his central notion of fictionality, illustrating its advantages in explaining the phenomenon of ‘perceptual twofoldness’. I argue that Walton’s position treats abstract artwork reductively, and I outline two essential components of our aesthetic encounters with the nonfigurative that Walton excludes. I then offer some criticisms of his commitment to photographic realism, emphasising its theoretical inconsistencies with (...)
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  50. The Body as a Data Set.Daniel Rubinstein - 2019 - Philosophy of Photography 10 (2):225-227.
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