The following are extracts from the objectives and the research goals of an ongoing project called Aesthetics after Photography which is being carried on at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Warwick (UK). Though there are no conclusions (yet), I find their objectives thought-provoking.
“Our project therefore asks: If photography is no longer theorised as an anti-aesthetic artistic medium, what kind of aesthetic theory would be adequate to it? Should photography be approached through categories that apply more generally to pictorial arts such as painting (style, expression, originality, depiction, intention, and the like)? Or does it require its own aesthetic categories to do justice to its specificity as both a medium and a technical apparatus (framing, focus, indexicality, reproducibility, and so on)?”
“… Debates concerning photography often turn on its relation to reality. Photochemical processes are claimed by some to ‘automatically’ create an indexical imprint without human intervention. Others, by contrast, have stressed the way the camera and its operator structure the image. The rise of digital manipulation has reinvigorated this debate. As a result, the photographic image is losing its privileged status as document, and this may have consequences for how we understand the medium in general. By the same token, its capacity to create fictional worlds has expanded enormously. Such transformations have had a striking effect on photographic art practices that calls for sustained theoretical investigation.
“The title of the project, ‘Aesthetics after Photography’, suggests that traditional aesthetic categories are challenged by photography. Yet it also points to the possibility of an aesthetic theory modified in response to that challenge. Our project thus positions itself critically in relation to both those who believe photography signals the end of the outmoded domain of aesthetics, and those who regard the new pictorial photography as largely continuous with the conventions of figurative painting. Aesthetics and photography are clearly fields that already trouble one another. This project seeks to understand the ways in which recent photographic art puts pressure on aesthetic theory, reconfiguring rather than negating it. In the process it will not only extend our understanding of what is now one of the dominant mediums of contemporary art, but propose new models of art writing that draw equally on art history, theory, aesthetics and criticism.”
From the list of goals of one of the research fellows, Dr. Dawn Phillips:
“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, material object with a particular causal history which originates in 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 digital photography on the future of photographic art. …” (she has a third item which I have not quoted)
There is also a very good numbered list of their aims and objectives that is too long for me to include here. It’s also very interesting and recommended if you have the time.
I will be interested to read the results of their project.