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

A project funded from 2015 to 2018 by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung as part of the funding initiative 'The Language of Objects – Material Culture in the Context of Social Developments'

Taking the material aspects of photographic practices in the humanities as a starting point, this project investigates the scholarly potential of photo archives in museums, universities and research institutes from a comparative viewpoint.

Archaeology, art history and ethnology are connected not only by their common institutionalisation around 1900, but also by their use of photographs as substitutes for the objects of their research. Based on the most recent studies on the materiality of photographs and photo archives, the research project understands documentary photographs as three-dimensional objects formed by historical processes that operate as repositories of sedimented knowledge in social and cultural contexts. It aims to show in a comparative investigation how the formation of methods in the humanities, the development and dissemination of photographic techniques, and the establishment of specialised photo archives in the decades before and after 1900 were mutually dependent. The focus here is on techniques and practices of scholarly work on and with photographs. The latter lead a double existence as objects: they are indexical representations of objects, and at the same time they are themselves 'talking' objects. 

The project will investigate the following subsections in the respective collections: the photographic documentation of archaeological excavation campaigns in Greece and Asia Minor (SMB – PK, Antikensammlung), architectural photographs from the USA and Europe ca. 1900 (SMB – PK, Sammlung Fotografie, Kunstbibliothek), the Hahne-Niehoff ethnological photo archive (Humboldt-Universität, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie), and the photographic documentation of applied arts (Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Photothek). 

The project was funded by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung as part of the funding initiative The Language of Objects – Material Culture in the Context of Social Developments.


Dr. Costanza Caraffa (Koordinatorin)
Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, Photothek
Phone: +39 055 24911-64

Dr. Martin Maischberger
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Antikensammlung
Phone: +49 30 266 42 5101

Dr. Ludger Derenthal
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kunstbibliothek (Sammlung Fotografie)
Phone: +49 30 266 42 4180

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kaschuba
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie
Phone: +49 30 2093 70843


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