Unboxing Photographs

Working in the Photo Archive

An exhibition of the joint research project "Photo Objects – Photographs as Objects (of Research) in Archaeology, Ethnology and Art History"

Partner: Photothek of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut; Institut für Europäische Ethnologie der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; Photographic Collection of the Kunstbibliothek and Antikensammlung at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

"Unboxing Photographs: Working in the Photo Archive" opens the boxes of four photo archives to showcase the material diversity of photographs as three-dimensional objects: from glass plate negatives, to 35 mm film, to prints on albumin or silver gelatin paper. These photo-objects are taken in the hand, tilted and turned over, labeled, cut down, framed, glued into albums, printed, and dispatched or posted online. Contact and inventory sheets, cardboard mounts, card catalogs, and today even display screens are integral parts of the photo-object, or even constitute it. Since the 19th century, archaeologists, ethnologists, and art historians have worked with photographs and assembled them in archives. There, they are processed and ordered – and only through such treatment do they become usable as documents for scholarly research. These procedures alter the physical properties of photographs and leave behind material traces. Photographs, hence, are neither objective nor timeless. By taking them seriously as objects, and not just as pictures, it becomes possible to tell their multifarious stories. The exhibition interrogates the commonly practiced and disciplinary conventions that govern the perception and presentation of photographs – for example museum display using passepartouts – and tries out new design possibilities. Work with photo-objects is also central to the artistic interventions of JUTOJO, Ola Kolehmainen, Joachim Schmid, Elisabeth Tonnard, and Akram Zaatari, all of which have been integrated into the exhibition.

Curatorial Concept: Julia Bärnighausen, Costanza Caraffa, Stefanie Klamm, Franka Schneider, Petra Wodtke


in cooperation with
supported by

16 February – 27 May 2018

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Kunstbibliothek
Matthäikirchplatz 6
10785 Berlin

Opening times 
Thu–Fri, 10am–6pm
Sat–Sun, 11am–6pm

Further information


Photo-Objects - Photographs as (Research) Objects in Archaeology, Ethnology and Art History

A project is funded by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung


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