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Joseph Raz: Philosopher and Photographer

Joseph Raz (1939–2022) was an eminent legal, moral and political philosopher, best known for his seminal work on normativity and reasons for action. In 2011, he joined King’s College London’s Dickson Poon School of Law as Research Professor, an appointment which he held until his death in 2022. As part of the Twin Conferences in Tribute to The Philosophy of Joseph Raz jointly organised by Columbia University and King’s College London, an exhibition of Raz’s photography was held at the Somerset House East Wing at the end of October.

Learning of Raz’s hobby did not come as a huge surprise, since I had already known of another famous philosopher-photographer, Derek Parfit. Parfit, a moral philosopher at Oxford, was as relentless in his philosophy as in his photography. Parfit was known for his obsessive focus on calm landscapes of cities in soft light, especially Oxford, Venice and Saint Petersburg.

What did come as a surprise to me was Raz’s choice of subject matter and the quality of his images. Black-and-white film, varying depths of light and shadow, and intricate details in the natural environment characterise his work. Raz’s images are full of texture: little waves on the sea; criss-crossing metalwork beneath a bridge; people on the ground, speck-like, as seen from Manhattan’s lofty heights.

One image particularly struck me: a gritty, black-and-white street photograph of a stone house with laundry-laden clotheslines on the terrace. Most noticeably, the words “Silwan” (the name of the district in East Jerusalem where the image was presumably taken) and “Allah” (“God” in Arabic) graffitied on the wall and door. This dense, almost bewildering array of intersecting lines, devoid of colour, is perhaps a visual metaphor of the sadly tumultuous situation in the region.

A keen, rigorous eye, both in philosophy and photography. Joseph Raz (1939–2022).


Photos by Quince Pan, Photography Editor


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