Photo-Objects, Cultural Displays, and Rhetorics of Value

Costanza Caraffa, Ute Dercks, Almut Goldhahn

Armin Linke, installation view "Image Capital", exhibition co-curated with Estelle Blaschke, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart. © Armin Linke, 2019

Systems of value impact the lives of photographs as well as the work practices in art-historical photo archives. They are therefore key concerns in the scholarly work carried out at the Photothek, committed to restoring the “archival value” (Vestberg 2008) of documentary photographs. Shifting attention from the visual content to the materiality of photographic objects and their different habitats, this approach challenges traditional hierarchies of (market and museum) values based on uniqueness and authoriality.

The question of values and hierarchies crystallized as a research thread of the Photothek thanks to the collaborations with artists. Interviews filmed by Armin Linke focused the gaze on the many levels on which the making of meaning and value interlace in the Photothek. These re-enactments of the everyday practices in a photographic archive produce value themselves, stimulating new thoughts about the power of cultural displays (Kratz 2011). This rhetoric of photo-archival value is not only able to convey research results, but also to emphasize the worth – and hence the need for conservation – of photographic archives confronted with an increasing fragility within the framework of digitization and “dematerialization” programs. Other artistic collaborations such as the installation “Objects of Migration, Photo-Objects of Art History” with Massimo Ricciardo were opportunities to think about forms of cultural display in connection with the ethics of seeing.

The pandemic caused a sharp decline in the forms of scientific communication used in previous years, based on installations with a strong interactive component. This limitation revealed how far the Photothek’s own rhetoric of value is, itself, a construct whose efficacy also depends on performance and design. Gestures had to be transferred from the space of the Photothek to that of the printed page (as in the book On Alinari) – or to the screen.

Costanza Caraffa: Curator or Archivist?
In: Armin Linke. Modalities of Phototgraphy, edited by Matteo Balduzzi, Milan 2020, pp. 60–68


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