Photography and Migration
Special Issue of the International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity
Edited by Eva-Maria Troelenberg, Costanza Caraffa and Anna Sophia Messner
Looking at global migration, we are constantly confronted with the 'excess' and 'noise' of photography. This is not only the effect of the technology of photography as a recording medium and the sheer abundance of visual material, but also of the contrast or conflict between emic and etic perspectives, between the perspective of the subject and the perspective of the observer. This contrast is evident, for instance, when looking at images circulating on social media, or at press coverage. Contemporary and historical photographs connected to migration are often excessive: sometimes because they are explicitly made to represent suffering and displacement, sometimes precisely because they also contain a noise that escapes the photographer's intentionality. It is exactly these disturbing moments, however, that constituted a point of departure for the interdisciplinary conference 'Encounters: Handling, Placing and Looking at Photographs in Relation to Migration' that took place at the KHI in 2017.
In this special issue we present a selection of contributions which take their cue from the conference to provide a perspective on the work done by photographs in historical and contemporary processes and movements of migration. The essays investigate the multi-layered historical, material, technical and visual preconditions and effects of the 'migration and photography complex' in diachronic perspective, presenting studies ranging from the nineteenth century to the present. They are focused not primarily on the representation and documentation of migration in photographic images, but on photographic practices in migration contexts. Furthermore, handling photographs in relation to migration emphasizes the many layers of encounters across time and space that are embodied in the photographs themselves.