Photography, Materiality and the Historical Imagination with Elisabeth Edwards and Joan Schwartz


Amateur Photographers and the Experience of Antiquities in the late nineteenth century

Elizabeth Edwards, Leicester

In this paper I am going to consider ways in which the relationship between photography and historical imagination was figured through the embodied experience of the photographer, moving through the landscape, with a heightened awareness of historical and archaeological topography, and translating this into photographs of ancient buildings. I shall do so through an examination of the practices of amateur photographers in England around 1900, whose efforts to record landscapes of the past were articulated through competing rhetorics of subjective experience and objective observation, and thus competing claims of the historical and archaeological imagination. I shall argue that the historical landscape was defined, and the photographs shaped, not through a disembodied gaze, but through experiences of light, wind, space and, above all, the historical imagination of 'being there'. This is very much "work in progress" which emerges from my research on the photographic survey movement and attempts to rethink that archive.

Negotiating the Analogue/Digital Divide: Recovering and Preserving Meaning in the Photographic Archive

Joan M. Schwartz, Kingston

With the current trend toward online access and research, analogue photographs and photographic albums are increasingly made available for viewing and analysis as digital scans, with accompanying descriptions, on institutional databases, as well as through search engine sites such as Google Images or Flickr. However, despite heightened scholarly concerns for the nature of the archive and the importance of context, there continues to be a tendency on the part of institutions to treat photographs in their care as individual images. More critical for researchers, digitization and description efforts can all too easily dematerialize and decontextualize photographs, reducing the image to its visual content. But the meanings which a photograph initially and subsequently communicated do not reside in visual content alone. Rather, the photograph=s evidential value, rhetorical power, and social function depend, to varying degrees, on material form, and materiality is intimately and inextricably tied to archival concerns for the contexts of creation, circulation, viewing, preservation, and use. By extension, the meaning(s) or text(s) invested in, and generated by, a photograph can only be recovered by researchers if content can be understood against the changing contexts of its biographical trajectory. This paper takes a look at critical decisions governing the acquisition, arrangement, and conservation of a single nineteenth-century mixed album entitled Reminiscences of North America. In highlighting the role of the private collector, the art market, and the public institution, and in linking content and context, materiality and meaning, purpose and preservation.

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