Photographic History Research Centre, Annual Conference 2014

Exchanging Photographs, Making Knowledge (1890-1970)
Two-day conference to be held 20-21 June 2014 in the Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University, Leicester (UK)

Deadline for paper proposals:
Sunday, 26 January 2014

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This two-day conference will explore how collectivities of photography such as camera clubs, photographic societies, commercial photographic studios, and other groups of practitioners produced knowledge about world phenomena, about local and historical events, new technologies, visual practices and techniques, as well as about photographic history itself. In recent years scholars have begun to explore the ways in which photographs have been set in motion since the early nineteenth century in a range of circumstances, both social and cultural. Foregrounding detailed information about some of the main social conditions that enmeshed the use of photography within complex networks of institutional authorities, these accounts have shown how photographic practices and meanings were created jointly, by powerful groups of professionals and organisations. While such studies have clarified that the apparatus of photography and its various functions developed through institutional negotiations with sociocultural and economic forces, systematic interrogations of more prosaic, private exchanges that influenced the development and emergence of photographic enterprises are sparse.

Dominant histories of photography, with their attention on individual photographers have poignantly concealed much of the interpersonal, cross-cultural and collaborative relationships that have been at the core of the development of photographic technologies and processes, photographic images and objects, knowledge and education, as well as of the making of the hegemonic history of photography itself. This two-day conference aims to invite further interrogation of private interactions between camera users, image makers, designers of photographic equipment, writers, publishers and curators. It encourages contemplation of the impact that such exchanges might have had on the expansion of photography within the private and public, the social and political, as well as the professional and amateur terrains. Throughout the conference, we will strive to reconstruct forgotten links between histories of photography that have become isolated, as well as reestablish overlooked connections between individual subjects whose encounters, friendships, collaborations and animosities led to significant practical or theoretical photographic activities.

The conference organisers welcome proposals for papers exploring any period in photographic history, in particular from the period 1890-1970. Topics may include the popularisation of cameras, photographic technologies and processes and its impact on shared photographic conventions; photographic education, publications, exhibitions and world fairs as sites in which sociocultural and visual values are exchanged and negotiated; as well as the making of scientific or popular knowledge through photography. However, we also welcome papers on other related topics.


Abstracts should be sent via email to Dr Gil Pasternak by Sunday, 26th of January 2014. Submissions should be of 300 words in Microsoft Word or PDF format, and include your name, title, email address, academic position and affiliation. Successful applications will be allotted 25 minutes to present their papers. Scholars, academics, and postgraduate students are all encouraged to apply. Applicants must propose new and original empirical research that draws on interaction with primary sources.


Full house as Brian May delivers photographic history lecture

Queen guitarist Brian May visited De Montfort University (DMU) to launch a new book uncovering the hidden history of stereoscopic photography.

Dr May wrote ‘Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell’ jointly with Denis Pellerin, curator of his collection and currently a PhD student at the university’s internationally-acclaimed Photographic History Research Centre and Paula Fleming, former photographic archivist at the Smithsonian in the USA.

Read more

Call for Papers: “Textual, Visual and Digital Cultures”

“Textual, Visual and Digital Cultures”
Showcasing Art, Design and Humanities Postgraduate Research at De Montfort University
Friday 21 February 2014

This conference is organised by postgraduate students for postgraduate students and aims to bring together research from across the Art, Design and Humanities Faculty at De Montfort University.

This conference will showcase the breadth of research currently being undertaken through the focusing interdisciplinary lens of the conference’s theme: Textual, Visual and Digital Cultures. By inviting research from across the ADH faculty, this conference is an exciting opportunity to meet fellow researchers, gain experience and feedback from presenting your research, and hopefully to encourage future cross-departmental collaborations.

We invite 20-minute papers from current De Montfort University postgraduate students, at both PhD and Master’s level, who are working in, but not limited to, the following areas:

• Centre for Adaptations
• Centre for Textual Studies
• Creative Writing
• Dance Research
• Design and New Product Development
• Digital Building Heritage
• Drama
• English Literature
• Fine Art Practices Group
• History Research Group
• Intermediality and Performance Research Group
• International Centre for Sports History and Culture
• Photographic History Research Centre
• Textile Engineering and Materials

The conference also encourages short performance pieces and will provide a space to display visual objects, as well as proposals for panels.

Abstracts for papers and outlines for visually displayed and performance pieces (maximum 200 words) should be emailed to
Elizabeth Penner and Anna Blackwell by 12 December 2013.

There is no registration fee for this event, but we do request that you register to secure your place.

Dr Sarah James (UCL), Karl Pawek’s Post-fascist Family of Man: A Transformed World

PHRC seminar, Tuesday October 15th 2013


Seminar review by Duncan Shields

The history of photography has the power to illuminate many different strands of academic inquiry, far beyond the history of photography itself. Photographs seem to have become a visual diary of both world-wide as well as local historical events. However, they can also reveal much more than their superficial appearance may suggest. As such, I have always thought that photographic history requires a dedicated multidisciplinary approach, to cut through the customary surface interpretation of photographs as indexical imprints of reality. Launching this year’s PHRC seminar series, Dr Sarah James’ study of photographic exhibitions in the Cold War period exemplifies this approach. The two exhibitions that she discussed – Steichen’s The Family of Man (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955) and Karl Pawek’s lesser known What is Man? (West Germany, 1964) approached photography’s supposed universalism from strikingly similar poles yet produced very different interpretations.

Taken from her new book, Common Ground (Yale University Press, 2013), Dr James provided an eloquent re-evaluation of what it means to transpose the vision of one exhibition, created for a particular supposed “apolitical” purpose into another. Despite Steichen’s assurance of apolitical universalism, The Family of Man was a thinly disguised attempt at political propaganda. Similarly, Pawek’s exhibition superficially alluded to the universalism Steichen promoted but was directly aimed at the political maelstrom of Cold War Europe.

Bringing to the discussion aspects of context, political science, cultural and social inequalities and theoretical curatorial practices, dubbed “Metaphotography”, Dr James illustrated the issues arising from a refashioning of Steichen’s supposed humanist and apolitical vision in Cold War Germany. Yet as Foucault has described, no image collection can be entirely apolitical, especially in a heated political age. Dr James further argued that despite the apparent one-dimensional similarities between the two touring shows, Pawek’s appropriation of Steichen’s model showed a genuinely more reactionary and political expression. In what appears almost as a “reaction formation”, as Kraus has termed it, Pawek’s What is Man? demonstrated a stronger self-reflective approach to photography than Steichen’s universalist vision. Further to this, What is Man? exhibited a way of seeing photography that is much more multifaceted and complicated than traditional readings allow, regardless of aesthetic similarity. As Dr James explains in her book: “If Steichen’s exhibition drew on empathy and pleasure to eradicate political identification, using the threat of nuclear holocaust as a sublime unifying principle, Pawek’s show grappled with the idea of universals after Auschwitz and the impossibility of securing a sense of apolitical belonging in such explicitly political times.” (p. 100)

Reading this passage one may sense the terms that inspire and frame current scholarship of photographic history and the benefit of cross-subject multidisciplinary study, finally releasing photographic history from the shadow of the so-called canonical history of photography. If the remaining speakers achieve such interesting and thought provoking papers, it promises to be an exciting series of seminars indeed.