British Journal of Aesthetics 58 (4):385-400 (2018)

Diarmuid Costello
University of Warwick
There is confusion about what counts as abstraction in photography: art theorists class very different kinds of photographs as abstract, and common philosophical views of photography, if true, should cause us to doubt their very possibility. I address two questions here: ‘What is Abstraction?’ and ‘What is Abstraction in Photography?’ To the answer the second, I briefly consider a third: ‘What is Photography?’ so that the resulting account is not undermined by a poor theory of photography. In answer to my target question, I outline a schematic typology of kinds of work generically typed as ‘abstract’ in order to bring out some differences between them. I distinguish ‘proto’, ‘faux’, ‘constructed faux’, ‘weak’, ‘strong’, ‘constructed’ and ‘concrete’ abstraction, although the differences between them are not always clear-cut and there is room for debate about borderline cases. My goal is not to resolve all such cases, but to show: that there is a range of broadly identifiable kinds of abstraction in photography; that images can be abstract in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons; and why certain images are not abstract, despite being widely typed as such.
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DOI 10.1093/aesthj/ayy037
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