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Call for Papers: ‘Debates in Aesthetics’ Special Issue on Photography

Debates in Aesthetics is pleased to announce a Call for Papers for a forthcoming special issue on the topic of Photography.


In recent decades, the philosophical literature on photography has flourished (see, for example: Scruton 1981; Walton 1984; Currie 1991; Maynard 2000; Savedoff 2000; Friday 2002; Cohen and Meskin 2008; Gaut 2008; Davies 2009; Phillips 2009; Abell 2010; Nanay 2010; Atencia-Linares 2012; Pettersson 2012; Mag Uidhir 2012; Cavedon-Taylor 2013; Benovsky 2014; Hopkins 2015; Lopes 2016; Walden 2016; Costello 2017; Toister 2020; Anscomb 2021; Wilson 2021). Despite these developments, disagreement persists about how to define photography, whether it is an art form independently of other media and if so how, whether it has any epistemic advantages over other media, how it is changing in the digital age, and the ontology of photographic works. This special issue seeks to advance the debate about the philosophy of photography, and how we should understand and appreciate photographic practices and their products. To this end, Dr Dawn Wilson (University of Hull) will be contributing a target article, “Music, Visualisation and the Multi-stage Account of Photography”, which has been specially written for this issue.

** Articles

The editors invite papers of up to 3,500 words, that are either original articles on any topic relating to the philosophy of photography or that directly engage with the content of Dr Wilson’s article. Accepted papers of the latter kind will be published alongside the target article with a response by Dr Wilson. An abstract of Dr Wilson’s article can be found below. Those who are interested in responding to Dr Wilson’s work are asked to contact the editors (editor@debatesinaesthetics.org) who will pass along a draft of the article. All those who submit a paper are also asked to state whether they would be interested in participating in a workshop that is being planned on the theme of this issue (more details to follow on this). Please email your submissions to editor@debatesinaesthetics.org

** Essay prize

Any postgraduate student or early-career researchers who have papers accepted for this issue will be considered for the annual Debates in Aesthetics essay prize. The winner of this prize will be awarded £250. 

** Target article abstract

Ansel Adams proposed an analogy between fine art photography and classical music. I find this music-photography analogy compelling, though I will recommend modifications. Full benefit from the analogy, I suggest, can be obtained from a multi-stage account of photography rather than the single-stage account assumed by Adams. Like his contemporary, Edward Weston, Adams claimed that visualisation is essential for creating fine art photography. But, unlike Weston, he believed that a print from a negative is like a performance from a score. In his analogy, a photographer’s visualisation is like a musician’s composition: once it has been set down in a ‘score’, it can be expressively rendered by different performers, making it possible to create and critically appreciate ‘performances’ with different qualities. I argue that this analogy makes Adams’s conception of photographic visualisation more fruitful than Weston’s alternative. However, while I agree with Adams that a print is analogous to a performance, I criticise his idea that a negative is like a score. I argue that he holds a traditional, single-stage conception of photography, which led him to overlook a key distinction between undeveloped film and the developed negative. The multi-stage account of photography that I defend not only remedies this problem, but also shows how Adams’s proposal can be fully realised in digital photography. Most significantly, it offers an invitation to theorists and practitioners to expand the music-photography analogy by considering wider varieties of music, not only performances from a score. 

** The target article author

Dr Dawn M. Wilson works on language, thought, images, technology and art. Her 2009 article, ‘Photography and Causation’, launched a field of debate known as the ‘New Theory’ of photography and was selected as one of twelve classic texts to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the British Journal of Aesthetics. She recently published ‘Invisible Images and Indeterminacy: Why we need a Multi-stage Account of Photography’ (JAAC 2021) and ‘Reflecting, Registering, Recording and Representing: From Light Image to Photographic Picture’, (The Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2022). She is co-authoring, with Laure Blanc-Benon, the photography entry for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Debates in Aesthetics is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal for articles, interviews and book reviews. Published by the British Society of Aesthetics, the journal’s principal aim is to provide the philosophical community with a dedicated venue for debate in aesthetics and the philosophy of art.

Claire Anscomb and Sarah Kiernan
Editors Debates in Aesthetics

Email: editor@debatesinaesthetics.org