Photography and the Greater Middle East

Clephan Building 2.30, Tuesdays 4-6pm

Open to all – just turn up

talibanOctober 18, 2016| Dr Jenifer Chao (Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University)

Faces of  Insurgents: Encountering the Taliban through Judith Butler’s Ethics and Jacques Rancière’s Dissensus

This paper will juxtapose Judith Butler’s consideration of wartime visuality with Jacques Rancière’s thoughts on the politics of aesthetics to analyze a collection of studio photographs featuring Taliban soldiers. Known simply as Taliban, the compilation, published in 2003 as a book collection, consists of 49 photographs that capture these fighters through studio photography practices that contrast with the visual coordinates of insurgency and warfare commonly portraying them in popular Western media. This deviating visualization propels two ongoing debates in photography concerning its own function and efficacy: first, the ethical force of the medium at the scenes of war and violent conflicts, as discussed by Butler; and second, the status of photography vis-à-vis art which has emerged out of Rancière’s broader examination of critical art. This paper will argue that while these Taliban images might encourage a compassionate visuality informed by Butler’s notions of precarity and grievability, this potential instrumentalization is problematized by Rancière’s aesthetic dissensus, which facilitates a viewing that actually obfuscates legibility and disrupts meaning. As a result, these photographs contest a visual regime that seeks lucidity for the terrorist-enemy by provoking a more perplexing and enigmatic visual encounter with the Taliban.

carolineNovember 29, 2016| Caroline Molloy (PhD Candidate at the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, Birkbeck, University of London)

Re-imagined Communities: Understanding the Visual Habitus of Transcultural Photographs

With the aim of exploring migrant transcultural identities, this talk will discuss my ongoing MPhil/PhD research that explores how the photographic studio can contribute to migrant identity formation. Using the London-Turkish community as a case study, the research draws from multi-sited ethnographic research within the photo-digital studio. Looking at the photo-digital studio photograph as a discursive cultural object, I consider the “anthropology of the image” in relation to cultural practices within the community and relevant scholarly literature. I build on existing literature that explores the impact of the diaspora on migrant communities, raising questions about imagined communities, nation-ness and identity formation. I argue that the photographic studio is a transformative site, where the construction of cultural and cross-cultural identity is performed. In doing this, I reason that the identities performed are neither specifically English nor Turkish, but an alchemy of what one of my research participants called London-Turkish identity.

waltonDecember 6, 2016| Dr Shireen Walton (Teaching Fellow in Material and Visual Culture, Anthropology Department, University College London)

Digital ‘Deep Play’: The Soft Politics of Iranian Photoblogs

A defining characteristic of Iranian photoblogs is their visual-digital playing with dominant images of Iran (domestic and international). Many Iranian photobloggers take, exhibit and frame their digital photographs of everyday life inside the country in ways that seek to visually negotiate the aesthetic and political boundaries of what people (Iranians and non-Iranians, inside and outside of Iran) think post-revolutionary / contemporary Iran ‘is’ and/or looks like. This paper explores the soft political components of Iranian photoblogs. It examines how this particular phenomenon – Iranian photoblogging from the early 2000s to the present – ties into wider visual / political debates concerning Iran and ‘the West’, the political ontology of photography, and the ‘everyday aesthetics’ of online digital photographic practices and cultures in non-western contexts.

In case of queries contact Dr Gil Pasternak

Elizabeth Edwards and other specialists discuss the history of photography on BBC Radio 4

In Our Time with Elizabeth Edwards

BBC Radio 4 dedicated an episode of the programme In Our Time to the invention of photography. Broadcasted on the 7th of July 2016, Melvyn Bragg and his guests, Elizabeth Edwards (PHRC), Alison Morrison-Low (National Museums Scotland) and Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge), discussed the development of photography in the 1830s, when techniques for ‘drawing with light’ evolved to the stage where, in 1839, both Daguerre and Fox Talbot made claims for its invention. These followed the development of the camera obscura, and experiments by such as Thomas Wedgwood and Nicéphore Niépce, and led to rapid changes in the 1840s as more people captured images with the Daguerreotype and calotype. The Daguerreotype and calotype changed the aesthetics of the age and, before long, inspired claims that painting was now dead.

This episode is now available via iPlayer


Hugh Aston Building, Tuesdays, 4-6pm

Please see room numbers for each seminar

January 19, 2016 – Hugh Aston Building, room 2.08

Professor Clare Harris (University of Oxford)

‘Type-cast?’: Rethinking Studio Photography in the Hill Stations of British India

Clare HarrisIt is well known that from the 1860s onwards, individuals from all over the Indian subcontinent were photographed and classified according to ethnic, religious, and caste criteria, and thereby reduced to ‘type’ within the colonial anthropological project. This paper examines a parallel but neglected phenomenon of the late nineteenth century: the production of ‘type’ photography in commercial studios in the Himalayas and its reception in the ‘visual economy’ of the British Empire. By paying close attention to the activities and outputs of photographic studios and considering them as sites of transcultural encounter rather than of strict segregation between coloniser and colonised, I seek to reverse the process of ‘type’-casting that was inflicted on the local actors who performed within them.

February 16, 2016 – Hugh Aston Building, room 2.08

Dr Paul Fox (University of York)

Personal wartime photography in Egypt, 1898—1918

Paul Fox

Geoffrey Gibbs, Aerodrome Motor Transport Section, after 1915. RAFM AC95/121/5

Historians of the First World War have recently turned their attention to ‘personal photography’: the taking of photographs with privately owned portable cameras, and the disposal of the resulting prints in personal photograph albums or collections. The paper will contest the notion that this wartime phenomenon was without precedent by comparing First World War practice in Egypt with the way early portable cameras had been employed by British officers participating in the 1898 campaign to defeat a jihadist uprising in Sudan. The paper will examine how privately owned portable cameras were used in the Sudan, and trace the public afterlife of photographs returned to Britain. It will then turn to the personal photography of members of the Royal Flying Corps based in Egypt during the First World War. It will explore the impact of the proliferation of camera use to include soldiers of all ranks, not least the potential to present life on active service from new social perspectives.

March 15, 2016 – Hugh Aston Building, 4.15

Dr Colette Wilson (University of Westminster) CANCELLED (the seminar will still be held: Kelley Wilder will discuss colour in photography)

Travelling Memories: the Boissonnas photo-albums Salonique et ses basiliques (1913) and Smyrne (1919)

Colette Wilson

Les Quais, Smyrne (1919) In: L’Image de la Grèce. Smyrne. Boissonnas, 1919.

Two photograph albums by the Swiss photographer Frédéric Boissonnas and his son Edmond-Edouard, Salonique et ses basiliques (1913) and Smyrne (1919), capture Salonica (Thessalonika) and Smyrna (Izmir) at crucial turning points in their histories before a chain of events ignited Greek and Turkish nationalism leading to their near destruction. While maintaining an awareness of the ‘locatedness of memory’ within a national context (Radstone), the albums, with their clear focus on Greek-Christian national identity and heritage, arguably function as carefully designed propaganda tools, the aim of which was to create a memory that would travel transculturally (Erll) around the world gaining support for Greece which hoped to unite all the Ottoman lands with Greek populations into a single Greek state, whose capital would be Constantinople. Greece’s ‘Great Idea’ may have died in the flames of Smyrna, but it lives on in the Boissonnas albums and their online presence.

PHRC Annual Conference 2016

Photography: Between Anthropology and History

 Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

20-21 June 2016

Keynote speakers:

Professor Steve Edwards (Open University, UK)
Dr Wayne Modest (National Museum for World Cultures, Leiden, The Netherlands)
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Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @PHRC_DeMontfort

Conference hashtag #PHRC16

Click here for a downloadable version of the Call for Papers

On the occasion of Professor Elizabeth Edwards’ retirement, the 2016 PHRC Annual International Conference will address themes from her complex and wide ranging scholarship on the cultural work of current and historical social photographic practices. Thus, Photography: Between Anthropology and History aims to showcase scholarship driven by engagements with research methodologies that informed the material and ethnographic turns in the study of photographic history, and opened up a variety of innovative critical spaces for the re/consideration of photography and its history.

We welcome applications from all disciplines and career stages, and would like to invite abstracts for 20 minute papers on topics such as, the colonial-era photographic image, photographic museum practices, photography’s printed ephemera, the sociability of photographic knowledge, its development and dynamics of exchange, and the local, national or trans-national photographic imagination. Applicants might also consider different subject matters, related but not limited to the following themes:

  • Photography and anthropology
  • Photography in historical studies
  • Photography and geography
  • Photographic collections
  • Photographic ethnographies
  • Photography and material culture
  • Historiography of the social history of photography
  • Photographic practice and social as well as technical change

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to: by the 20th of January 2016. We will inform you within two weeks from this date whether your application has been successful.

Portrait of the Martyr as a Young Man: The Social Lives of Photographs in Revolutionary Egypt

PHRC Research Seminars in Cultures of Photography

Lecture by Dr Lucie Ryzova (University of Birmingham)

November 10, 2015 


In the PHRC’s second seminar of this term, the historian Dr Lucie Ryzova provided the audience with an insight into her recent, fieldwork-based project about the role of photographs in revolutionary Egypt. Through interviews and observations during and after the revolution Ryzova documents the social lives of photographs in order to scrutinise the visibility of the revolution’s martyrs.​

Focusing on the year 2011, Ryzova explained how ID or snapshot photographs of primarily young men who were killed in the course of the revolution were incorporated into acts of personal but most importantly public commemoration, and argued that these variously remediated images became modern icons. For instance, photographic portraits of the dead were cut out and mounted on different backgrounds with the help of Photoshop, they were then transferred into graffiti, photographed again, disseminated in social media networks, printed out, framed again and, finally, took part in procession-like demonstrations wherein people wearing stenciled images of the martyrs on t-shirts, held these portraits high up in the air presenting the face of the revolution. One of her main observations within these practices is the fact that the dead remain undead as long as the revolution itself takes place.

A lively discussion ensued in which Ryzova’s notion of photography, which is embedded in an approach of oral and visual history, was the main issue at stake. Under discussion was if and how far the events on Cairo’s streets elided the various socio-cultural, political as well as religious backgrounds of different groups, households or individuals and how these multi-layered affiliations may have affected the specific production, usage and circulation of photographs. Further issues were raised on the liminal character of these photographs, how performance entered into their remediation and how the concept of “the martyr” can be understood in this context.

Reviewed by Franziska Kunze (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Visual Histories, Archaeological Constructs and the ‘Indian’ Pasts

PHRC Research Seminars in Cultures of Photography

Lecture by Dr Sudeshna Guha (Tagore Research Scholar, National Museum, New Delhi, India)

October 20, 2015

Beginning this year’s PHRC seminar series was Dr Sudeshna Guha with what may prove to be a seminal moment in the discussion of the relationship between archaeology and photography. The relationship between archaeological research and photography has been viewed for too long as a one-dimensional symbiosis, often under the aegis of art historical analysis or through an archaeological standard. Guha’s seminar exploded these attitudes with a level of detail and a multidisciplinary approach that should be productively emulated – especially by us PhDs!

Her explanation of the use, and sometimes abuse, of archaeological photography in India explored themes from a range of disciplines and opened the subject to a new methodological approach. Archival history, aesthetics, archaeology, the history of knowledge, even architecture was all included in her analysis. The archive played a particularly prominent role, yet Guha continually extracted more than a surface understanding of the archive’s role within the creation and manipulation of archaeological knowledge.

Guha discussed the connection between Assyrian archaeology and the aesthetics of Indian architecture, through a discussion of archaeological pieces, bound for Britain in the 1850s but displayed in Bombay en route. Like much of Guha’s presentation, this is a view that questions many traditional opinions of archaeological influence and puts photography at the heart of this re-thinking.Further, many scholars of Indian archaeology have become embedded in the colonial debates that inevitably surround the subject. Whilst Guha tackled these historiographies decisively, her multidisciplinary approach to photographic history has allowed her a freedom to go beyond these surface intersections and attain a deeper understanding of the era, and archaeology’s role within the colonialist agenda. For example; the manner by which archaeological photography was used to modify the contemporary understanding of Indian religion and identity. Through this kind of photographic history we are able to track the efforts of colonial powers to manipulate religious attitudes; efforts that had attempted to seamlessly transition Hindus to Christianity using photographs.

If all assessments of archaeological photography were conducted in such a way, I am convinced there would be a far greater understanding not only of photography and its role in shaping our history, but a great many more disciplines.

Reviewed by PHRC PhD student Duncan Shields



Edith Murphy Building, Tuesdays, 4-6pm

Please see room numbers for each seminar

October 20, 2015 – Edith Murphy Building, room 4.09

Dr Sudeshna Guha (Tagore Research Scholar, National Museum, New Delhi, India)

Visual Histories, Archaeological Constructs and the ‘Indian’ Pasts

Sudeshna GuhaThis seminar explores the photographic visualisation of the absent past in Indian Archaeology and the ways in which archaeology’s visual documents become artefacts of history. It focuses on little-known histories of antiquarian practices, exhibitions of foreign collections and excavations of civilizational traditions, in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century India. The ways through which archaeological scholarship uses transcriptions of vision, and the practices of archaeological explorations and excavations, demonstrate ways in which ideological notions, including of heritage and legacies, are transformed into material evidence.

November 10, 2015 – Edith Murphy Building, room 1.28

Dr Lucie Ryzova (University of Birmingham)

Portrait of the Martyr as a Young Man: The Social Lives of Photographs in Revolutionary Egypt

Lucie RyzovaThis paper looks at the social lives of photographs of young Egyptians who died in the revolution’s many events over the past (almost) 5 years. They have become martyrs: their ordinary ID photographs or private snapshots have been elevated to the status of public icons. But becoming a martyr is a social process predicated on specific choices and practices of engaging with photographs. The paper traces social lives of these photographs across several different social contexts. Across these contexts, the same photograph is often repurposed and remediated in very different ways, addressing different audiences and needs.

December 8, 2015 – Edith Murphy Building, room 4.09

Dr Christina Rigg (University of East Anglia)

Shouldering the Past: Photography and Archaeological Labour at the Tomb of Tutankhamun

Christina RiggThis paper uses photographs from the 1920s excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb to explore the visualization of archaeological labour. Most of the relevant images remain unpublished, even online, while others were widely reproduced, since the British excavators had a contract with the Times. What was the proper work of archaeology, who performed it, and how have representations of this labour laid claims to scientific knowledge and the care of ‘cultural heritage’? The Tutankhamun photographs suggest alternative narratives of the discovery – but their archival trajectory arguably has yet to realise their potential to revisit and re-vision the practices through which archaeology shaped its methodologies, its knowledge base, and the modern world.