Portrait of Dr Jonathan Friday

Dr Jonathan Friday

Senior Lecturer


I have a BA in the history of ideas from St. John’s College (1985 – Annapolis, USA) and a BA (Hons) in philosophy from King’s College, London (1990). In between study for these degrees I completed a foundation course in fine art at the Rhode Island School of Design. After studying for my degree in philosophy I went on to Cambridge University where I completed my M.Litt. and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy (in 1991 and 1994 respectively). The focus of my postgraduate research was initially meta-ethics, but with my Ph.D I turned to aesthetics, and in particular the aesthetics of photography. 

Shortly after completing my Ph.D in 1994 I took up an appointment in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen where I stayed until 2003 when I moved to the University of Kent. During this period I became increasingly interested in the history of philosophy, and in particular 17th and 18th century British philosophy. 

I have also been a visiting lecturer in philosophy at the University of Latvia in Riga and was the Gillespie Visiting Professor at the College of Wooster (USA).

Research interests

My primary areas of research activity are the aesthetics of photography and the history of aesthetics (particularly the 18th Century British aesthetics). I first became interested in the former of these when, in the early stages of my postgraduate studies, I encountered the work of Roger Scruton, Kendall Walton, Stanley Cavell, and Roland Barthes of the topic. For many years prior to that I had been an avid photographer and follower of contemporary photography, and in the work of these and other writers on the medium I found intriguing and challenging positions inviting engagement. These authors introduced me to the strangeness of photography, and my research in this area has deepened my sense of this strangeness and appreciation of the complex puzzles it gives rise to. My publications in this area on the whole engage with the ideas of realist thinking about photography, of the sort represented by the authors listed above, but differ from most of them in understanding the origin of realism in the attitudes and responses of spectators to pictures with the properties of photographs. In this respect my approach to photography owes much to Andre Bazin, an often misunderstood but formative writer on the medium. 

My second main area of research activity is the history of aesthetics, particularly 18th Century British aesthetics. My interests here are relatively eclectic, but include the discussion of the standard of taste by Hume and Gerard, the evolution of the concept of the sublime, and most recently the close relationship drawn between aesthetics and ethics in British philosophy of this period.

Work in progress:

A monograph tracing the close relationship drawn between aesthetics and morality in the thought of the Earl of Shaftsbury, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid.

A monograph on the philosophy of photography, focusing on a series of issues outside of the aesthetics of photography properly conceived. In particular, I am developing chapters on the ontology of the digital photograph, the nature of photographic evidence and various issues related to stillness, motion and time (and their representation) in photography.

Esteem factors:

  • Member of the AHRC Peer Review College (2004-7)
  • Board Member, Lievan Gevaert Research Centre for Photography


My areas of teaching are closely connected with the areas in which I am actively engaged in research. Upon arriving at the University of Kent I designed several modules in aesthetics. The first, Now that is Art: Aesthetics and the Visual Arts, is an introduction to aesthetics and the philosophy of art for first year students. When I became Head of the School of Arts I handed this module over to a colleague, but it remains a vibrant and engaging introduction to questions around the value of art, and particular philosophical problems that arise in relation to the full range of visual art forms.

The second module I introduced to the University of Kent is closely connected with my primary area of research, and is entitled History and Aesthetics of Photography 1: Realism in Theory and Practice. The module combines a history of the photographic medium and its employment by artists, with consideration of the ideas of key realist theorists of photography. The question that runs through the entire module is why have so many writers and artists understood photography to be a supremely realist medium, and what does this imply about photography. The popularity of the module among students led me to design a complementary module, History and Aesthetics of Photography 2: Idealism from Pictorialism to Postmodernism, which is focused on the non-realist traditions of photographic theory and practice.

Finally I designed and convene two modules for the MA in Philosophy of Art of and Aesthetics: Taste, Beauty and the Sublime: Studies in 18th Century Aesthetics (which is also offered to students taking the MA in the 18th Century Studies organised by the School of English), and Beyond the Pale: Fakes, Forgeries and Appropriations.


I would be interested supervising research students in any area in the philosophy of photography (including the aesthetics of photography and photographic theory) and in the relationship between the history of the medium and theoretical writing about it. Research students pursuing topics in 18th Century British aesthetics, or contemporary aesthetics, would be welcome.

Current and recent research students:

  • Anja Karina Nydal - “'Repertoires of Architects and Mountaineers: A Study of Two Professions 1567-1920.”
  • Jonathan Law – A Visual History and Aesthetics of the Invisible (Ph.D)
  • Cruelty and the Photographic Portrait (MA)
  • Laura Smart – ‘Official’ War Art (MA)



  • Friday, J. (2005). Andre Bazin’s ontology of film and the photographic image. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63:339-350.
  • Friday, J. (2005). Dugald Stewart on Reid, Kant and the Refutation of idealism. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 32:263-286.
  • Friday, J. (2004). Moral Theory and the Improvement of Moral Thought. Journal of Moral Education 33:23-33.
  • Friday, J. (2004). Moral Equality and the Foundations of Liberal Moral Theory. Journal of Value Inquiry [Online] 38:61-74. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/B:INQU.0000040016.68565.83.
  • Friday, J. (2004). Photography and Art – Responses to questions set by Artis Svece. Res Publica 2.
  • Friday, J. (2001). Photography and the representation of vision. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59:351-362.
  • Friday, J. (2000). Demonic Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Documentary Photography. British Journal of Aesthetics 40:356-375.
  • Friday, J. (1999). Quem Tem Medo De Uma Sociedade On-line?. Cadernos Da Escola Do Legislativo:39-51.
  • Friday, J. (1999). Looking at Nature Through Photographs. Journal of Aesthetic Education 33:25-35.
  • Friday, J. (1998). Hume’s Sceptical Standard of Taste. Journal of the History of Philosophy 36:545-566.
  • Friday, J. (1998). Who’s Afraid of an On-line Society?. Ends and Means 3:2-7.
  • Friday, J. (1997). Digital Imaging, Photographic Representation and Aesthetics. Ends and Means 2:7-11.
  • Friday, J. (1996). Transparency and the Photographic Image. British Journal of Aesthetics 36:30-42.


  • Friday, J. (2004). Art and Enlightenment: Aesthetics in the 18th Century. Imprint Academic.
  • Friday, J. (2002). Aesthetics and Photography. Aldershot: Ashgate Press.

Book section

  • Friday, J. (2007). The Art Seminar. In: Elkins, J. ed. Photographic Theory. Routledge, pp. 129-204.
  • Friday, J. (2005). Stillness becoming: Reflections on Bazin, Barthes, and Photographic Stillness. In: Green, D. and Lowry, J. eds. Stillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image. Brighton: Photoworks.
  • Friday, J. (2002). Demonic Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Documentary Photography. In: Rubene, M. ed. Homo Aestheticus. Tapals, pp. 245-266.


  • Windsor, M. (2016). What Is the Uncanny? A Philosophical Enquiry.
    From Edgar Allan Poe's macabre tales of mystery, to David Lynch's nightmarish visions of American suburbia, to Rachel Whitread's haunting casts of interior spaces, the uncanny represents a significant aspect of art and culture. Following Freud's famous essay on the topic, the uncanny is typically characterised as an unsettling ambivalence between the familiar and the unfamiliar. But beyond this broad characterisation, it seems that no one is able to say exactly what the uncanny is. This thesis aims to plug this gap by offering an original account of the uncanny. While I reject Freud's theory of the uncanny in terms of the 'return of the repressed', I develop aspects of Freud's more often overlooked theory of 'surmounted primitive beliefs'. I use philosophy of emotion to provide a framework for defining the uncanny-specifying the way that an object is experienced by the individual such that it elicits the emotion of uncanniness. What all uncanny phenomena share in common is that they are incongruous relative to what is believed to be possible: waxwork figures appear to be both animate and inanimate; doppelgangers and twins appear to be the same individual; strange coincidences appear to not merely be coincidences. This incongruity causes an uncertain threat to one's grasp of reality. I define the uncanny as an anxious uncertainty about what is real caused by an apparent impossibility. I elaborate the definition by examining in detail each of the four key concepts that comprise it: reality, impossibility, uncertainty, and anxiety. I discuss fictional cases where the object is not experienced as real, but rather fictionally experienced as real. I discuss two subsets of uncanny phenomena, which I call 'uncanny narratives' and 'uncanny pictures'. And finally, by way of conclusion, I offer some brief remarks on the 'paradox of the uncanny'- the question of why, when the uncanny is essentially a negative emotion, it is also something that we often find attractive.
  • Castoro, M. (2016). The Decisive Moment and the Moment in Between: Kairos, Tyche and the Play of Street Photography.
    This dissertation provides a theoretical and historical exploration of two contrasting approaches and attitudes that took hold in street photography during the 1950s, and of their impact on the street photography of the 1960s and 1970s. The two approaches and attitudes are identified as, firstly, that of the "decisive moment," and, secondly, what is referred to as the "moment in between." The former attitude was famously introduced by Henri Cartier-Bresson and exemplified within his work, while the latter is distinctly manifested in the work of William Klein and Robert Frank. Through a comparative and interpretative approach to each, this study analyses the work of photographers whose imagery exemplifies the stylistic differences, and the conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of the two attitudes to street photography.
    In the first part of the dissertation, two concepts taken from ancient Greek thought - kair?s and tyche - are used to elucidate the nature of, respectively, the decisive moment and the moment in between, as well as the differences between these approaches to street photography. It is argued that the concept of kair?s embodies certain spatial, temporal, aesthetic and moral features capable of enriching the understanding of the approach to street photography represented by the notion of the decisive moment. The concept of tyche, with its focus upon chance and the unforeseen, brings to light a powerful contrast with the decisive moment, emphasising the photographers' position in respect of the fortuitous episodes that shape their practice, as well as the significance of the abandonment of linearity, intelligibility and determinability that is characteristic of this approach and attitude toward reality.
    The second part of the dissertation is dedicated to the impact of the decisive moment and the moment in between upon the North American street photography of the 1960s and upon the work of photographers active outside of the North American and Western European cultural and intellectual contexts. In particular, it is argued that in the 1960s, Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander established within their work a bridge between the approaches of the decisive moment and the moment in between, bringing about their fruitful co-existence within a single image. By interpreting these elements through the categories of kair?s and tyche, I analyse how these photographers embraced both approaches with the aim of appreciating the aesthetic opportunities resulting from their union.
    This second part also involves an examination of the extent to which forms of street photography that developed in relative isolation from the intellectual and cultural contexts of North American or Western European street photography, or which are embedded in non-Western ideas and philosophy, may still be understood by means of the dichotomy between the decisive moment and the moment in between. The works of Miroslav Tichý, a photographer who worked in the climate of seclusion of Communist Czechoslovakia, and Raghubir Singh, an Indian photographer who was profoundly influenced by Indian philosophy, are analysed in order to assess whether or not the categories of kair?s and tyche can be usefully employed in their interpretation.
  • Law, J. (2014). Materialising the Unseen: The Multisensory Cinema of the Invisible Body.
    The long century of western cinema has produced numerous depictions of invisible bodies – those bodies that function as any other, save for the distinctive feature of their invisibility. The invisible body challenges conventions of cinematic production, presentation and reception, suggesting an ‘extra-visual’ cinema. But, as well as this, the invisible body also challenges conceptions of the limits and categorisation of the human sensorium. In tracing a sensory history of invisible bodies, this thesis is concerned with how such depictions connect with and contribute to constructions of the senses in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This thesis thus makes an original contribution to knowledge by asking: What kind of history of the senses can be found in the onscreen invisible body? In doing so, this thesis engages a film theory of the senses that asks what the depiction of the invisible body – itself a delicate cultural construction that has no direct equivalent in nature – brings to a cultural understanding of the modern sensorium.

    Chapter One introduces the sensualities of the invisible body in Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924). Chapter Two connects the imagery of The Invisible Man cycle (1933–1951) with a tendency towards sensory reconfiguration. Chapter Three addresses a Cold War phase of invisible extraterrestrials in terms of technologised sensory extension. Chapter Four identifies the late twentieth-century onscreen invisible body as representative of a reconstituted social sensorium. Finally, Chapter Five analyses sequences from The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003), interpreting invisible embodiment in relation to the disorientations of both pain and intersensoriality. Through my approach, I connect the multisensory with the multidisciplinary, identifying the unsettling character of the onscreen invisible body as a consequence of its taxonomical unsettling of sensory and media boundaries.
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