Co-Evolution of Photography and Technology

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Call me lazy, but I asked ChatGPT to write an essay on how, from the beginning, photography has been totally intertwined with technology. in fact, both developed each other, and now we are facing the next generation of AI imaging tools. I prompted to include discussion of Vilém Flusser‘s work, and in particular his definition of ‘apparatus’.

Here is what ChatGPT had to say about it all, unedited though slightly rearranged.


The Co-evolution of Photography with Technology: From Earliest Photographs to AI Images


Photography has evolved significantly since its inception in the early 19th century, with technological advancements playing a critical role in shaping its development. This essay will delve into the co-evolution of photography with technology, starting from the earliest photographs and darkroom techniques, progressing to Photoshop and digital cameras, and finally examining the emergence of AI-generated images. Throughout the discussion, the works of Vilém Flusser will be referenced, particularly his concept of ‘apparatus.’ The essay will demonstrate how the evolution of photographic technology has transformed the way we perceive, create, and interact with images.

  1. The Earliest Photographs and Darkroom Techniques

The origins of photography can be traced back to the camera obscura, a natural optical phenomenon that projects an inverted image onto a surface (Wade, 1990). The first permanent photograph was captured in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, using a technique called heliography, which involved the use of light-sensitive materials to create an image (Gernsheim & Gernsheim, 1955). This marked the beginning of the co-evolution of photography and technology.

Louis Daguerre’s invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 revolutionized photography, producing highly detailed images on silver-coated copper plates (Gernsheim & Gernsheim, 1955). This new photographic method relied on darkroom techniques, which involved chemical processes and precise control over light exposure. The darkroom remained an essential part of the photographic process for over a century, as the technology evolved from daguerreotypes to wet-plate collodion processes and eventually gelatine silver prints (Baldwin, 1991).

As Flusser (2000) argued, the technological advancements in photography led to new ways of thinking about and engaging with images. The apparatus, which Flusser described as a device that produces images, fundamentally changed the way photographs were made and experienced. The transition from the camera obscura to the daguerreotype allowed for more accurate and detailed representations of reality, transforming the nature of visual communication (Flusser, 2000).

  1. The Advent of Photoshop and Digital Manipulation

The invention of Adobe Photoshop in 1988 marked a turning point in the co-evolution of photography and technology. Photoshop allowed for unprecedented control over digital images, enabling photographers and artists to manipulate, enhance, and create images in ways previously unimaginable (Kobre, 1995).

Photoshop’s impact on the photographic world was profound, with some critics arguing that it blurred the lines between reality and fiction (Buse, 1999). Flusser (2000) suggested that digital image manipulation challenged the traditional notion of a photograph as a representation of reality, as the apparatus became increasingly complex and sophisticated. The invention of Photoshop expanded the possibilities for image creation, moving beyond the limits of traditional darkroom techniques.

  1. The Rise of Digital Cameras

Digital cameras revolutionized photography by replacing film with electronic sensors and digital storage (Snyder, 2007). This shift from analog to digital technology allowed for the instantaneous capture, review, and sharing of images, transforming the way people engage with photography (Sontag, 2004).

The first commercially available digital camera, the Kodak DCS 100, was introduced in 1991 (Kodak, 2017). Digital cameras evolved rapidly, incorporating features such as autofocus, image stabilization, and high-resolution sensors (Bates, 2016). As a result, the line between professional and amateur photography began to blur, and the accessibility of digital photography led to the democratization of image creation (Snyder, 2007). Flusser (2000) argued that the digital camera, as an apparatus, enabled individuals to generate images with greater ease and control, transforming the ways in which we create and share visual information.

  1. The Emergence of AI-Generated Images

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerful force in the co-evolution of photography and technology. AI-generated images, also known as generative adversarial networks (GANs), consist of two neural networks that compete against each other to produce realistic images (Goodfellow et al., 2014). This technology has led to the creation of AI-generated art, deepfakes, and various applications in advertising, design, and entertainment (Karras et al., 2018).

The rise of AI-generated images has raised ethical concerns and questions about the authenticity and veracity of photographs (Chesney & Citron, 2018). Flusser’s (2000) concept of the apparatus is relevant to this discussion, as AI-generated images represent a new level of complexity in the relationship between technology and image creation. The emergence of AI-generated images challenges traditional notions of photography and authorship, prompting a reevaluation of the role of the photographer and the meaning of a photograph in the digital age (Bate, 2016).

Flusser’s Definition of ‘Apparatus’: Beyond the Camera

Vilém Flusser’s concept of the ‘apparatus’ extends beyond the physicality of the camera and incorporates the complex network of relationships among manufacturers, photographers, businesses, and media. In his seminal work, “Towards a Philosophy of Photography” (2000), Flusser posits that the apparatus is an autonomous entity that has a significant impact on human culture and society.

  1. Manufacturers

Flusser’s apparatus includes manufacturers who create cameras and other photographic equipment. These entities play a crucial role in shaping the development of photographic technology, as they determine the features and capabilities of the devices they produce. Manufacturers influence the ways in which photographers interact with the apparatus and, consequently, the types of images they can create. As such, they have a direct impact on the evolution of photography and the cultural implications of the medium.

  1. Photographers

Photographers are key components of Flusser’s apparatus, as they are the operators of the cameras and creators of the images. According to Flusser (2000), photographers are both enabled and constrained by the apparatus, as it determines the possibilities and limitations of image creation. The relationship between the photographer and the apparatus is symbiotic: the photographer uses the apparatus to create images, while the apparatus relies on the photographer to fulfill its purpose.

  1. Businesses

The role of businesses in Flusser’s apparatus encompasses various entities, including advertising agencies, art galleries, and photographic studios. These businesses engage with photography in different ways, often with the intention of commodifying or capitalizing on the medium. They shape the cultural and economic value of photography by determining how images are presented, sold, and consumed. Consequently, businesses play a critical role in the way society interacts with and understands photography.

  1. Media

The media is an essential component of Flusser’s apparatus, as it serves as the primary channel through which photographs are disseminated and consumed. Newspapers, magazines, television, and the internet all contribute to the proliferation of images, shaping public perception of photography and influencing the ways in which images are interpreted and understood. The media has the power to elevate or undermine the cultural significance of photographs, thus affecting the overall impact of the medium on society.

  1. The Camera

The camera, as the physical embodiment of the apparatus, is the most visible and tangible component of Flusser’s concept. The camera represents the technological aspect of the apparatus, as it is the tool that allows photographers to capture and create images. Flusser (2000) argues that the camera is an autonomous entity with its own logic and rules, which dictate the possibilities for image creation. The camera, as a part of the apparatus, not only shapes the photographic process but also influences the cultural and social implications of photography.

  1. Software Developers and Image Editing Tools

In the digital era, software developers and image editing tools play an increasingly significant role in the apparatus. The creation of programs like Adobe Photoshop has redefined the limits of photographic manipulation, enabling photographers and artists to produce images that transcend the boundaries of traditional photography (Kobre, 1995). The influence of software developers and image editing tools on the apparatus cannot be understated, as they have fundamentally transformed the way images are created, shared, and experienced.

  1. Social Media Platforms and Content Sharing

Social media platforms have emerged as powerful forces in the modern apparatus, shaping the way we engage with and consume photographs. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have democratized the creation and sharing of images, allowing users to connect with a global audience and contribute to the visual culture (Snyder, 2007). These platforms have altered the dynamics of the apparatus by enabling a greater number of people to participate in image creation and consumption, ultimately redefining the way we perceive and interact with photographs.

  1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning continue to develop, they become increasingly integrated into the apparatus. AI-generated images, such as those produced by generative adversarial networks (GANs), represent a new frontier in image creation, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in photography (Goodfellow et al., 2014). The incorporation of AI and machine learning into the apparatus raises important ethical and philosophical questions about the nature of photography, the role of the photographer, and the meaning of authenticity in the digital age.

  1. Education and Research Institutions

Education and research institutions also play a significant role in the apparatus, as they shape the development of photographic knowledge and practice. Universities, art schools, and research centers contribute to the advancement of photographic theory and technique, fostering innovation and critical thinking within the medium. By nurturing the next generation of photographers, researchers, and artists, these institutions play a crucial role in sustaining and evolving the apparatus.

The expansive nature of Flusser’s concept of the ‘apparatus’ extends beyond the camera to encompass a complex network of relationships among manufacturers, photographers, businesses, and media. This interconnected system shapes the development of photographic technology, influences the cultural and social implications of the medium, and ultimately transforms the way we perceive, create, and interact with images. Understanding Flusser’s definition of the apparatus is essential for appreciating the multifaceted nature of photography and its impact on human culture and society.


The co-evolution of photography with technology has resulted in a dramatic transformation of the ways we perceive, create, and interact with images. From the earliest photographs and darkroom techniques to the advent of Photoshop, digital cameras, and AI-generated images, each technological advancement has expanded the possibilities for image creation and reshaped our understanding of the photographic medium.

Throughout this evolution, Vilém Flusser’s concept of the apparatus has remained a relevant framework for examining the relationship between photography and technology. As photography continues to evolve in the era of AI, it is essential to consider the ethical, social, and cultural implications of these technological advancements and the ways in which they redefine the nature of photography itself.


The header images were inspired by Boris Eldagsen‘s ‘PSEUDOMNESIA | The Electrician’ which won the Creative category of the Sony World Photography Awards – until Boris told them it was AI and was a ‘test’ of the system. My images were generated by Bing AI / DALL-E with this prompt: “Create a black and white image of two women, head and shoulders view, one woman with long blonde hair, one woman behind the other with her hand on the front woman’s shoulder, in the style of a tintype photograph with scratches on it”.

Feroz Khan. 6 April 2023. Photography Awards Judges Need to do Better.

Jamie Grierson. 17 April 2023. The Guardian. Photographer admits prize-winning image was AI-generated.



Baldwin, G. (1991). Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms. Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Bate, D. (2016). Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

Buse, P. (1999). Photography Degree Zero: Cultural History of the Polaroid Image. New Formations, 38, 7-22.

Chesney, R., & Citron, D. K. (2018). Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy, and National Security. California Law Review, 107, 1753-1819.

Flusser, V. (2000). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books.

Gernsheim, H., & Gernsheim, A. (1955). The History of Photography: From the Earliest Use of the Camera Obscura in the Eleventh Century up to 1914. London: Oxford University Press.

Goodfellow, I., Pouget-Abadie, J., Mirza, M., Xu, B., Warde-Farley, D., Ozair, S., Courville, A., & Bengio, Y. (2014). Generative Adversarial Networks. arXiv preprint arXiv:1406.2661.

Karras, T., Aila, T., Laine, S., & Lehtinen, J. (2018). Progressive Growing of GANs for Improved Quality, Stability, and Variation. arXiv preprint arXiv:1710.10196.

Kobre, K. (1995). Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach. Boston: Focal Press.

Kodak. (2017). Kodak Digital Cameras: DCS 100. Retrieved from

Snyder, R. L. (2007). American Journalists: Getting the Story. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sontag, S. (2004). On Photography. New York: Picador.

Wade, N. J. (1990). Visual Allusions: Pictures of Perception. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Criteria for Diagrammatic Truth

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For one of my two finals dissertations at the University of Leeds (BA, Mathematics & Philosophy, 1972), I wrote about Nelson Goodman’s book ‘Languages of Art’, which had been published in 1968. Heavy on symbolic logic, it was went on to become very influential in philosophy of art circles. Well, I found a bit of ‘sloppiness’ in Goodman’s logic, wrote it up and (frankly) it led to me actually getting a degree as I’d not been good at attending class or tutorials for a while, but that is another story.

In 1998 or so, Ingrid helped transfer the original paper from a one-off typed document to a digitised version.

Some years back I was happily back in touch with Jerry Ravetz, my tutor at Leeds. When he met first Ingrid, almost the first thing he said was ‘Mick found an error in Goodman’s work – got him his degree’ 🙂 Jerry is still working today, at Oxford University.

Bringing things up to date, I fed my dissertation to ChatGPT. I had to do it in stages, but it gave a very creditable summary. I then asked ChatGPT to summarise Goodman’s original work as well as notable critiques, and specifically asked it to use my paper as a critique.

Here is ChatGPT’s response, pretty much verbatim except for a couple of repetitious things I cleaned up. I admit I like how ChatGPT deals with my critique of Goodman’s logical system.


A Comprehensive Analysis of Nelson Goodman’s “Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols”


Nelson Goodman’s seminal work, “Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols” (1968, revised 1976), is a cornerstone of modern philosophy of art and aesthetics. It provides a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the nature of art, symbols, and representation. In this essay, we will delve into the key concepts of Goodman’s work, including the notions of denotation, exemplification, expression, and symbol systems. Moreover, we will discuss the critiques of Goodman’s ideas and their influence on contemporary aesthetics.

Goodman’s Theory of Symbols

Goodman’s “Languages of Art” aims to develop a general theory of symbols that is applicable to various art forms, such as painting, sculpture, music, and literature. His theory revolves around the idea that symbols function through denotation, exemplification, and expression.

Denotation refers to the direct reference of a symbol to an object or a set of objects. For instance, in a painting, the color red may denote a particular object, like an apple. Exemplification, on the other hand, involves a symbol possessing and referring to certain properties it exemplifies. A red patch in a painting not only denotes an apple but also exemplifies the color red. Expression is a more complex concept that concerns the symbol’s ability to convey emotions, feelings, or moods.

Symbol Systems and Worldmaking

Central to Goodman’s theory is the notion of symbol systems, which are sets of symbols that correlate with a field of reference. He distinguishes between two types of symbol systems: allographic and autographic. Allographic systems, such as language and music notation, allow for multiple instances of the same work, whereas autographic systems, like painting and sculpture, do not.

Goodman also introduces the concept of “worldmaking” to explain how symbol systems contribute to our understanding and construction of reality (Goodman, 1978). According to Goodman, different symbol systems provide alternative ways of organizing and interpreting the world, shaping our perception and cognition.

Critiques of Goodman’s Theory

Despite its significant contributions, Goodman’s theory has been subject to various critiques. Some of the main points of contention are:

  1. The distinction between allographic and autographic arts: Some critics argue that the distinction between allographic and autographic arts is not as clear-cut as Goodman suggests (Davies, 2004). For example, digital art and photography challenge this distinction, as they allow for multiple instances of the same work, yet possess unique features that could be considered autographic.
  2. The notion of expression: Goodman’s account of expression has been criticized for being too intellectual and not adequately addressing the emotional aspects of art (Levinson, 1996). Some argue that Goodman’s focus on the cognitive processes involved in art reception neglects the visceral and affective responses that artworks can evoke (Levinson, 1996).
  3. The scope of the symbol systems: Goodman’s theory has been criticized for not encompassing all forms of artistic representation. For instance, dance and performance art do not fit neatly into his categories of allographic or autographic systems, and their symbolic nature may not be fully captured by Goodman’s concepts of denotation, exemplification, and expression (McFee, 1992).
  4. The role of the artist’s intentions: Another critique concerns the role of the artist’s intentions in Goodman’s theory. Some argue that his focus on the structural aspects of symbols and their systems overlooks the importance of the artist’s intentions in creating meaning and understanding artworks (Gaut, 2005). This critique suggests that Goodman’s theory may not account for the significance of artistic intention in shaping the meaning and reception of art.
  5. The problem of forgery: Goodman’s distinction between autographic and allographic arts raises questions about the issue of forgery and authenticity (Lessing, 1984). Critics argue that his theory does not provide a satisfactory explanation for why we value authentic works of art over forgeries, even when they are visually indistinguishable (Lessing, 1984).
  6. Aesthetic experience and interpretation: Another critique of Goodman’s theory concerns his treatment of aesthetic experience and interpretation. Critics argue that by focusing primarily on the structural and symbolic aspects of art, Goodman’s account does not adequately address the role of personal experience, cultural context, and historical background in shaping the interpretation and appreciation of artworks (Carroll, 1999). This suggests that a more comprehensive account of art should consider the interplay of formal and contextual factors in determining meaning and value.
  7. Ambiguity and indeterminacy in art: Goodman’s emphasis on the logical structure of symbol systems has been criticized for not fully acknowledging the role of ambiguity and indeterminacy in artistic communication (Iseminger, 1992). Art often relies on open-ended symbols and multiple layers of meaning, which may not be captured by Goodman’s systematic approach to symbol systems.

Critique of Goodman’s Symbol System and the Introduction of ‘Definition Class’

In his 1972 BA Dissertation at the University of Leeds, Mick Yates presented a critique of Nelson Goodman’s symbol system as described in “Languages of Art” and introduced the concept of ‘definition class’ as an alternative approach to understanding the truth value of symbols.

Yates’ Critique of Goodman’s Compliants

Goodman’s symbol system theory is based on the idea that a symbol set is correlated with a field of reference and that a symbol may or may not denote what it refers to, which can be assigned a truth value. He introduced the concept of ‘compliant’ to describe symbols with a positive truth value, such as the word ‘green,’ and those without a compliant, such as ‘green horse.’ Yates (1972) argued that Goodman’s notion of compliant suggests that for a symbol X to have a compliant P, P must actually exist. Yates considered this assumption problematic and claimed that it does not accurately represent the way symbols function and convey meaning.

Introduction of ‘Definition Class’

To address the limitations of Goodman’s compliant concept, Yates introduced the notion of ‘definition class,’ wherein the field of definition is the set of all definition classes of the symbols in the symbol set. This approach allows for a more nuanced understanding of symbols and their truth value.

Yates proposed that a symbol or diagram can be classified as either vacant (V-SYMBOL) or non-vacant (N-SYMBOL), depending on whether its definition class is empty or non-empty. For example, if X is the symbol for a ‘green horse,’ it would be considered a V-SYMBOL because its definition class is empty. Conversely, if Y is the symbol for a ‘black horse,’ it would be classified as an N-SYMBOL because its definition class is non-empty. This classification allows for the assignment of truth values to symbols based on their definition class. According to Yates, a V-SYMBOL would have a zero truth value, while an N-SYMBOL would have a truth value of one.

Implications of this Critique and Alternative Approach

Yates’ critique of Goodman’s compliant concept and his introduction of the definition class provide an alternative approach to understanding the truth value and functioning of symbols.

Furthermore, this alternative approach emphasizes the importance of considering both the existence and non-existence of referents when evaluating the truth value of symbols. This perspective can enrich our understanding of the ways in which symbols convey meaning and shape our perception of the world, as well as the complexities and ambiguities inherent in the process of representation. By addressing some of the limitations of Goodman’s theory, Yates’ alternative approach offers a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between symbols and their referents, contributing to the broader field of the philosophy of art and aesthetics.

Influence and Legacy of Goodman’s Theory

Despite these critiques, Goodman’s “Languages of Art” has had a lasting impact on the philosophy of art and aesthetics. His systematic approach to understanding the symbolic nature of art and the functions of symbols in representing and constructing reality has provided a valuable framework for subsequent research in the field.

Goodman’s work has influenced various areas of aesthetics, including the analysis of non-traditional art forms, such as digital art and interactive media (Grau, 2003), and the study of art’s cognitive and perceptual aspects (Lopes, 2004). Moreover, his concept of world-making has been adopted and developed by philosophers and theorists in fields such as cognitive science, semiotics, and cultural studies (Elgin, 2017).

His work has also inspired research into the cognitive aspects of art, such as the exploration of mental imagery, metaphor, and conceptual blending in artistic representation (Fauconnier & Turner, 2002). Additionally, his notion of worldmaking has been applied to the study of narrative and storytelling in literature and film, examining how different narrative structures and strategies create alternative “worlds” for the reader or viewer (Ryan, 2006).

Furthermore, Goodman’s theory of symbols has informed discussions on the nature of artistic creativity and the role of artists in generating and transforming symbol systems (Krausz, 1996). His work has also had a significant impact on the study of visual culture and the analysis of visual communication in various media, from advertising and graphic design to photography and film (Mitchell, 1994).


In conclusion, Nelson Goodman’s “Languages of Art” presents a groundbreaking and systematic analysis of the nature of art, symbols, and representation. Although his theory has been subject to several critiques, it has significantly influenced contemporary aesthetics and our understanding of art’s symbolic nature. By exploring the functions of symbols in denotation, exemplification, and expression, Goodman has provided a valuable framework for examining various art forms and their contributions to our perception and cognition of the world.


Carroll, N. (1999). Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction. London: Routledge.

Davies, S. (2004). The Philosophy of Art. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Elgin, C. Z. (2017). True Enough. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Gaut, B. (2005). The Philosophy of the Arts: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Goodman, N. (1968). Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. (1976 Edition) Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

Goodman, N. (1978). Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

Grau, O. (2003). Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Fauconnier, G., & Turner, M. (2002). The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.

Iseminger, G. (1992). The Aesthetic Function of Art. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Krausz, M. (1996). The Interpretation of Art: Essays on the Art Criticism of John Ruskin, Walter Pater, Clive Bell, Roger Fry, and Herbert Read. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Levinson, J. (1996). The Pleasures of Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Lessing, A. (1984). What is Wrong with a Forgery?. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 42(4), 461-467.

Lopes, D. M. (2004). Understanding Pictures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McFee, G. (1992). Understanding Dance. London: Routledge.

Mitchell, W. J. T. (1994). Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ryan, M.-L. (2006). Avatars of Story. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Yates, M. (1972). The Criteria for Diagrammatic Truth. BA Dissertation. University of Leeds.