Photographic Histories of Psychology: One-day postgraduate symposium


Photographic Histories of Psychology
One-day postgraduate symposium

25 November 2014, Trinity House
(building number 35 on the DMU campus-map)

L0022466 Case notes from Holloway Sanitorium

Registration now open
registration fee include sandwich lunch, tea and coffee

There are various products available, please make sure to register using the correct category:

* £0: This category is only for PHRC students and symposium speakers
* £10: This category is for De Montfort University students only
* £20: This category is for students of any other institution
* £26: This category is for non-students

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Photographic Histories of Psychology seeks to explore how photography and psychology have influenced each other throughout their histories. Its aim is twofold: to uncover how psychological notions have informed photographic practices, and to bring into light the historical role that photography has played in the making of psychological knowledge and its public dissemination.

The emergence of psychology as a scientific discipline and the popularization of photography occurred in parallel in the last third of the nineteenth century. Since then, photographs have been used in psychological experiments, and psychological theories of perception have been applied to understand the reception of photography. Whereas much research has been done on these topics, only sparse scholarly literature has attended to other aspects such as the role that photographic images played in the configuration of psychological and psychiatric thinking in the nineteenth century, and the ways in which psychological findings have penetrated into popular culture by means of photography.

Photographic Histories of Psychology will contribute to this scholarship by reflecting on how photographic materials have circulated through scientific and non-scientific contexts. It proposes to analyse the ways in which professional and amateur photography have historically appropriated, negotiated, rejected and disseminated psychological ideas. Rather than focusing on the notion of photographic representation or its meaning, we invite contributors to examine how, for example, psychological definitions of memory have affected the notion of the archive and the family album; how psychological theories on emotions have incited different gestures and expressions in front of the camera; or what role the illustrated press has played in the dissemination or depathologization of psychological disorders. Conversely, the event also seeks to examine how practices such as photographing, collecting photographs, or posing for the camera have penetrated into psychological discourses. How, for instance, particular uses of photography have inspired psychological research into historically specific patterns of behaviour.


KEYNOTE LECTURE: “Photography and the Landscape of the Child in Twentieth-Century Britain”

Dr Mathew Thomson is a Reader in the Department of History at the University of Warwick and a member of Warwick’s Centre for the History of Medicine. He completed a PhD on the emergence of concern about the ‘feeble-minded’ in Britain, and this was later published as The Problem of Mental Deficiency: Eugenics, Democracy and Social Policy in Britain, 1870-1959 (Oxford, 1998). His first academic appointment, supported by a Wellcome University Award was at the University of Sheffield from 1993-8. From there he moved to a post in modern British history at Warwick. Here he completed a study on the popularisation of psychological thought and practice in twentieth-century Britain, published as Psychological Subjects: Identity, Health and Culture in Twentieth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2006). Since then, he has published on Britain’s first psychoanalyst David Eder, he has undertaken research on the history of student health, and he has been involved in a collaborative project that has begun to chart a history of recent mental health care policy.

Dr. Thomson recently published a new book on fears about child well-being in post-war Britain: Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement (Oxford, 2013). In his paper on ‘Photography and the Landscape of the Child in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Thomson will draw on this recent study to examine the influence on photography of the idea that the child saw the world in psychologically different way – that there was a ‘landscape of the child’. In particular, his paper will consider the way in which photography grappled with this challenge in its fascination with the figure of the street child, who would emerge as a central symbol in thinking about lost freedom in twentieth-century Britain.

For further information and questions, please contact Dr. Beatriz Pichel

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Survey Photography and Cultural Heritage in Europe (1851-1945): Expanding the Field

A workshop organized by Prof. Elizabeth Edwards and Dr. Ewa Manikowska

Warsaw, Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, 14–15 April 2015

The large-scale application of photography to the recording and preservation of cultural heritage is a transnational movement that appeared at a very particular cultural moment. This focuses on the phenomenon of survey photography in the same historical period, from Britain in the age of High Empire across Europe to the multi-ethnic territories of the western borderlands of the former Russian Empire. While there are striking links between the survey images produced in such distinct cultural and political contexts, there are also similarities and differences in the patterns underlying their production, use, dissemination, impact and the networks of survey actors. This workshop emerges from the conviction of a need to establish a new research agenda at the intersection of the cultural history, history of photography, and the concept of national heritage. Thus, the core aims of the workshop are to explore the practices and politics of photographic survey and to indicate and delineate the topics, chronology and methodology of survey photography seen as a European phenomenon (both in its transnational and local aspects) closely linked to the Western concepts of culture, identity and memory.

We invite papers both general and based on specific case-studies from the period between 1851 and 1945, which consider survey and record photography in its wider European context and which contribute to an understanding of its wider definition, analysis and understanding. The workshop will discuss survey photography:

* as a response to specific historical moments;
* as a local and transnational phenomenon;
* as a codification of national heritages;
* as a scientific and an amateur practice;
* as a geographical practice;
* as a response to imperial expansion/consolidation;
* as definition of group identities through the visualisation of cultural heritage;
* through its institutions and actors;
* through its specific photographic practices;
* through the photographic survey archive.

The workshop will take the form of pre-circulated papers (all papers to be submitted by the end of February 2015). Participants will be asked to use their papers as the basis of a 20 or 30 minute presentation (depending on final schedule) addressing the issues of the workshop.

The number of speakers is limited to 20. Applicants will be notified of the chosen proposals by 30 November 2014.

The workshop will take place on 14–15 April 2015 in the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

Accommodation costs can be covered when necessary.

Abstract of no more than 300 words should be sent by 15 October 2014 to:
Dr Manikowska ( & Professor Edwards (



Autumn 2014

Tuesdays 4 – 6pm   Hugh Aston Building

check rooms for each seminar


October 14  (HU 2.31)

Caroline Edge (University of Bolton)

Creating a collaborative Worktown Archive: Mass Observation and mass photography

In 1937 Mass Observation announced their intention to create an ‘anthropology of ourselves’ which would document everyday life in Britain. Photographer Humphrey Spender was recruited to participate in the organisation’s experimental study of Bolton. This lecture examines how his photographs, now held in the Worktown Archive at Bolton Museum, have been documented and reactivated using photographic methods in collaboration with the local community.

November  11 (HU 2.08)

Dr Louise Purbrick (University of Brighton)

Collodion prints and corrugated iron: photography, materiality and the nitrate trade

On the surface of slag heap in an abandoned nitrate works lies a broken panel of corrugated iron. The nitrate works, Oficina Alianza, is one of many industrial ruins of the Atacama desert of northern Chile, sites once exploited by European speculators who dominated the extraction and export of nitrate, a highly valued ingredient of fertilizers and explosives.  At the height of the trade in late nineteenth century, a photographic album, Oficina Alianza and Port of Iquique 1899, was sent as a ‘souvenir’ to the senior partner of British merchant house Antony Gibbs and Company at his City of London offices by representative of his firm in Chile. It contained around a hundred collodion prints that traces the mining of nitrate, its movement across the desert to Pacific ports and European markets. The album, a material form in its own right, also documents the materials from which nitrate works were constructed: corrugated iron, an industrial colonial architecture that remains characteristic of industrial ruins of northern Chile. These entangled material presences of nitrate trade are examined in this paper as documents of the chemical, industrial and capitalist transformations of a remote desert landscape.

December 9 (HU 2.31)

Professor Maiken Umbach and Professor Mathew Humphrey  (University of Nottingham)

Picturing Nature: Photographs (and Non-photographs) Between Political Mobilisation and Ideological Decontestation


Pictorial representations of nature abound, but how, when, and why are images of the natural world used for ideological purposes? In this paper we examine two, apparently conflicting, ideological strategies involving representations of nature – stabilisation and mobilisation. Ideological discourse can utilise nature for the purposes of naturalisation: they link politics with a particular conception of the natural order that reinforces existing belief structures and renders them ‘invisible’. Nature can also be used to mobilise support against existing political arrangements, to disrupt and challenge hegemonic power structures, to critique industrial society, even civilisation itself. (And, as we shall argue, the two can also become paradoxically intertwined.) Images play a crucial yet complicated role in such processes. Recent literature on propaganda has emphasised the centrality of photographs. Photos, due to the apparent veracity of their representation, the spontaneity and non-elite nature of their production, and the affective qualities of the way they communicate, are favourite ideological vehicles of the modern age. At the same time, the abundant use of photographical representations of nature and naturalness in other media and discourses (for example, in commercial advertising, or in the image-making of rival ideological projects and systems), also renders them problematic for certain activists. When and for what purposes those who mobilise nature politically think photography a helpful vehicle, when they consciously abstain from using photographs, and when they reach for alternative genres of visual representations, are questions we explore (though shall not be able to answer definitively) in this paper.


All welcome, no need to book, just turn up.