There is an interesting issue of the journal Art History on Photography after conceptual art (Volume 32, Issue 5), which was then published by Wiley as a book edited by Diarmuid Costello and Margaret Iversen. This body of academic work emerges out of an AHRC Research Project entitled Aesthetics after Photography.
Contemporary photography (after conceptual art) can be categorised as either pictorial or conceptual. On the one hand demand, we have highly aestheticised pictorial image concerned to ensure the autonomy of photography as art. This has already been established.
On the other hand, we have the purely conceptual where the photograph is incidental to the idea and disregarded as a medium via its incorporation into divergent practices. This treats the photograph as a document of transparent information.
Herein lies a tension between photography’s aesthetic uptake as an autonomous pictorial art being compromised by it apparently being too closely and easily connected to empirical reality.
One interpretation of art history holds that in the 1970s and 1980s, photography in art was aligned with a variety of radical avant-garde practices that sought to disrupt traditional modes of aesthetic appreciation. This post conceptual strand drew on Walter Benjamin's influential view that the mechanization of image-production undermined many of the values traditionally associated with fine art--eg., its aura.
Art photography in the early 21st century has shifted from being an anti-aesthetic artistic medium to spectacular, large-scale, pictorial museum pieces, as exemplified in the work of Jeff Wall and Thomas Struth.
This tension or problem between the two strands opens the door to the exploration of the photography’s aesthetic possibilities in terms of a merging of the conceptual and the pictorial.