Assignment 1: Beauty and the sublime

This assignment asks for a series of 6-12 photographs that convey my interpretation of beauty and/or the sublime.

What do I consider to be beauty? Smith (2003) condenses various definitions of beauty to “being pleasing to the senses in some way”. Adams (1996 p27) considered that the proper goal of art is beauty and that “the beauty that concerns me is that of form”, which I take to mean the line, colour, tone and composition of an image.

So, in my view, beauty as a subject is pleasing to the senses in some way and a representation of beauty will be concerned with form. These though seem rather traditional and, perhaps in Adams’ case somewhat formalist. As Harris (2006 p40) points out, by the mid 20th century, the term beauty became “virtually redundant” in terms of art. 

Some weeks after starting this course I went on holiday to Corfu. Just before going I was undertaking this background reading about beauty and the sublime. While there I started to think about beauty and what defines it. It can only be a human definition, yet once something is defined as ‘beautiful’ it would seem to automatically attract people to witness that beauty. The more it is acclaimed as beautiful the more people it would encourage to visit it and the more easily accessible it is again the numbers arriving to witness the beauty would rise.

Parts of Corfu are very beautiful (pleasing to the senses), and in the very acclaimed parts it almost seemed that you could calculate the degree of beauty by counting the numbers coming to witness it! Other areas of the island (usually away from the coast) are, to my mind, also very beautiful. In these cases I was interested in looking at the human effect on that beauty.

I was intrigued by the idea of trying to capture images that hinted at both the beauty of the area but also the human effect on that beauty, either by those visiting to witness the beauty or by local residents. The album below shows the photographs that I took to illustrate beauty, I don’t think that any of them convey a sense of the sublime. 


I think that I have just about made an acceptable first attempt at the assignment, but I am not too happy with the overall result. I still think that it was an interesting project to explore the effect on beauty of those who declare it beautiful, but there are a number of things that I would do differently if I were to undertake it again:

I was rather reactive in taking the photos, looking out for situations that met the criteria and then photographing them. On another occasion I would have researched and planned the activity more. 

With fewer restrictions on time and transport I would have planned the timing of some of the images better to obtain more interesting lighting conditions.

I might have used different equipment for some of the shots rather than the one camera I took on holiday.

Some of the colours are a bit flat and not as vibrant as I would have liked. Although I tried to choose an appropriate time of day it wasn’t always possible and I struggled with the bright lighting conditions.

Still I am at least pleased to have tried it, as it caused me to think a great deal about the nature of beauty and taught me a lot about the need for very careful planning.




ADAMS, R., 1996. Beauty in photography : essays in defense of traditional values. 2nd edn. New York, N.Y.: Aperture.

HARRIS, J., 2006. Art history : the key concepts. London: Routledge.

SMITH, L., 2003: Beautiful, Sublime [Homepage of University of Chicago], [Online]. Available:  Accessed [19/07/2017].