Photographing Absen es: An Illustrated History*

When and Where

Thursday, November 23, 2023 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
JHB 100
Jackman Humanities Building
170 St George Street, Toronto, ON M5R 2M8


Roy Sorensen


You're invited to a special lecture by the JHI's 2023-24 Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Roy Sorensen. Sorensen is a Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas, Austin and a Professorial Fellow in Philosophy, University of St. Andrews. A reception with light refreshments will follow.

Lecture Abstract:

We can take photographs of what is present. Can we also photograph what is absent? Some physicists answer no: A photograph records only what interacts with light (by emission, reflection, and so on). Some metaphysicians answer yes. They claim to be on the right side of history. Early photographers noticed, usually to their annoyance, that their photographs contained shadows. A shadow is an absence of light. After struggling to not photograph shadows, some photographers went over to the dark side. They began to deliberately photograph absences. They started simple: a crack here, a tunnel there.  They climbed up the chain of nonbeing. By 1911, newspaper photographers claimed to have photographed the absence of the Mona Lisa (after its theft from the Louvre Museum). These metaphysical photographers were correct. They were also correct in regarding these photographs as being as objective as photographs of their corresponding presences. They thus furnish photographic evidence of absences.

*The author reports a conflict of interest. He is an absence tourist. Instead of traveling to see what is there, he travels to see what is not there. And to photograph these absences.

This event is free and open to all. Light refreshments will be served so we do ask that you register so that we can get the catering numbers right.



Jackman Humanities Institute


170 St George Street, Toronto, ON M5R 2M8