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Dawn M. Phillips

Saturday 27 march 2010

The Photographic Event: Addressing Philosophical Scepticism and Photographic Art

I will begin the presentation by reporting outcomes from the ongoing AHRC Project 'Aesthetics After Photography' (2007-2010) - an interdisciplinary project co-hosted by Philosophy at the University of Warwick and Art History and Theory at the University of Essex. Unlike most Art Historians, many Philosophers continue to think that the automatism of the photographic process is an obstacle for accepting photographs as significant works of art. If a photograph is 'mind-independent', how can it manifest the intentional states of the artist in aesthetically interesting ways?

I present a philosophical account of the photographic process which is able to remove this obstacle. My account is schematic (designed to cover the fullest range of photographic technologies) but also substantive (distinctively distinguishing photography from other image-making processes). I explain the photographic process as a multi-stage process which definitively includes the occurence of a 'photographic event'.

The products of this process include photo-objects and photo-images which can be understood as mind-independent, but mind-independence does not feature in the definition of a photograph. Photographers can create photo-pictures by using objects, people and light sources - as a painter uses paintbrushes and paint. As pictures these photographs are mind-dependent and as photographs they have distinctive aesthetic qualities.

I finish by indicating how this account of photography offers fascinating new avenues for art if we use it to compare works of photography with works of music, rather than with paintings.

Dr Dawn M. Phillips is Research Fellow for the AHRC Project Aesthetics After Photography, co-hosted by the departments of Philosophy at the University of Warwick and Art History & Theory at the University of Essex. Her research interests include Image, Thought and Language, principally related to Wittgenstein's Tractatus. In the Philosophy of Photography she has presented a theory of the photographic process which centres around 'the photographic event' and seeks to clarify the significance of the causal provenance of photographs. In her discussion of the 'mind-independence' of photographic images, she addresses problems of aesthetic scepticism and epistemic dogmatism. Her current work in Aesthetics explores analogies between works of photography and works of music