Photography as Instrument and Medium of Art History
The recognition that historic photographic collections, applied to art-historical documentation, simultaneously portray the method and content of the history of the discipline, has led in recent years to a series of international studies and research projects. The impulses for this new approach spring equally from academic research and from photo archives themselves. The Photothek of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz is one of the institutions that initiated and accompanied the extended function of photographs from mere documentation to scientific analysis on an international level. The historical perspective is bound up with a material approach: photographs are recognized as three-dimensional objects that exist in a temporal and spatial dimension and in social contexts. They are not only academic tools, but also objects of research in their own right, almost speaking objects. This concept, which is especially indebted to the studies of Elizabeth Edwards and Joan M. Schwartz, permits the overcoming of a purely functional understanding of photographs as two-dimensional evidence for the (art) objects they represent. The focus on the archive as dynamic corpus, as locus for research and encounter, draws our attention to the actors involved: archivists, scholars and academic staff, who each give their impress to the collection and to its archival structures (Terry Cook) and hence to the potential connotations of photographs. It is against this background that research has concentrated on the classification system developed by the Photothek in Florence, especially on the role of Ulrich Middeldorf, and on the theme of peripheral holdings. The protagonists of the Photothek also include the many art-historical personalities and connoisseurs who have left their traces in it. Their attributions and the other annotations they left on the card mounts of the photographs represent important sources for art history as an academic discipline. Especially through donations and bequests individual experts such as Hermann Ulmann, Cornel von Fabriczy, Friedrich Kriegbaum, Richard Offner or Robert Oertel have significantly enriched the holdings of the Photothek and contributed to its academic profile today. The contextualization of groups of photographs and their correlation with documents in the Institute’s archive permit fresh light to be thrown on the individual methods of work of the various researchers who have left their traces in the Photothek. These case studies at the same time permit deeper insights into the history of the KHI and into the process of creation of its photo archive. The investigation of our own holdings and structures, is a way of contributing to and stimulating a wider debate on research both in and on photo archives.
Ute Dercks: Ulrich Middeldorf Prior to Emigration - The Photothek of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz (1928-1935), in: Exiles and émigrés, libraries and image collections: the intellectual legacy, edited by Jaś Elsner and Clare Hills-Nova, Art Libraries Journal vol. 38, n. 4 (2013), pp. 29-36
Ute Dercks: "And because the use of the photographic device is impossible without a proper card catalog. . . ." The Typological-Stylistic Arrangement and the Subject Cross-Reference Index of the KHI’s Photothek between 1897 and the 1930s, in: Classifying content. Photographic collections and theories of thematic ordering, edited by Chiara Franceschini and Katia Mazzucco, Visual Resources, Volume 30, Issue 3, September 2014, pp. 181-200