Dr Jonathan Friday

Senior Lecturer in Art History,
Graduate Studies Lead (Research)
+44 (0)1227 827416
Dr Jonathan Friday


Dr Jonathan Friday has 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 he completed a foundation course in fine art at the Rhode Island School of Design. After studying for his degree in philosophy, he went on to Cambridge University where he completed MLitt and PhD degrees in philosophy (in 1991 and 1994 respectively). The focus of his postgraduate research was initially meta-ethics, but with his PhD he turned to aesthetics, and in particular the aesthetics of photography. 

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

Jonathan has 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

Jonathan's primary areas of research activity are the aesthetics of photography and the history of aesthetics (particularly the 18th Century British aesthetics). He first became interested in the former of these when, in the early stages of his postgraduate studies, he encountered the work of Roger Scruton, Kendall Walton, Stanley Cavell, and Roland Barthes on the topic. 

These authors introduced him to the strangeness of photography, and his research in this area has deepened his sense of this strangeness and appreciation of the complex puzzles it gives rise to. Jonathan's 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, his approach to photography owes much to Andre Bazin, an often misunderstood but formative writer on the medium. 

Jonathan's second main area of research activity is the history of aesthetics, particularly 18th Century British aesthetics. His 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.

Jonathan has been a member of the AHRC Peer Review College (2004-7), and serves as a Board Member for the Lievan Gevaert Research Centre for Photography.


Jonathan's areas of teaching are closely connected with the areas in which he is actively engaged in research. Upon arriving at the University of Kent he 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. 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 he introduced to the University is closely connected with his 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 him 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.

Jonathan designed two modules for the MA in Philosophy of Art: Taste, Beauty and the Sublime: Studies in 18th Century Aesthetics, and Beyond the Pale: Fakes, Forgeries and Appropriations.


Jonathan would be interested in 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 (PhD)"
  • Cruelty and the Photographic Portrait (MA)
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