Week 4. History of Photography

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From the Emergence of the Canon to the 'Vernacular'

Meeting Details

Tuesday, 23 October

Morning seminar 10-12:00, Portland 2.3.

Afternoon seminar 1:30-4 pm, Portland 2.1

This session will be delivered by Gil


"... vernaculars are photography's parergon, the part of its history that has been pushed to the margins (or beyond them to oblivion) precisely in order to delimiter what is and is not proper to this history's enterprise." (Geoffrey Batchen, Each Wild Idea: Writing Photography History, Cambridge Massachusetts, London England, The MIT Press, 2001, 58).

Research work that looks into the histories of photography and photographs, away from the museum and art gallery as well as beyond its utilisation by social institutions of power, is only in its very early days. And yet, at the present time, one notices the growing number of sporadic scholarly investigations that centre on a fairly discontinuous range of photographic manifestations, uses, mobilisations and other photography-related phenomena that do not seem to fit in so easily with familiar photographic historical trajectories. These look at, for example, family photographs and family snaps, photographic clubs and societies, amateur practices and other "ordinary", unprofessional uses of photographs. This week we will explore the work of some scholars who mapped out the historiography of photography with a view to assessing whether its history could be explained comprehensibly and exist within a demarcated scholarly territory of its own. By doing so, we will consider how or where emerging debates about "vernacular photographies" are positioned, if at all, in relation to other, dominant histories of photography. Mainly, we will ask what may be their contribution to our perception and understanding of photography.

Below students are encouraged to upload one photographic image that you consider as belonging to the category "vernacular photography" - whatever it may mean to you at this moment. In the afternoon session each of you will have the opportunity to take about 5mins to explain to the group:

what is the photograph's origin

what it shows

where it is currently kept

why you consider it as belonging to the category of the vernacular

how you would describe or defend its ability to broaden existing ideas about photographic histories and practices


Douglas R. Nickel, ‘History of Photography: The State of Research’, The Art Bulletin 83:3, 2001, 548–558

Ya’ara Gil Glazer, ‘A New Kind of History? The Challenges of Contemporary Histories of Photography’, Journal of Art Historiography 3, 2010

Geoffrey Batchen, Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History, Cambridge, Mass.: London: 2002, 56–80

Vernacular photographic images

Please use the space below to upload one photographic image you consider as vernacular

Holiday postcard. Seaside resort. Circa 1935
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Studio Portrait Birmingham Clippie circa 1943
Whitehawk Primary School, Brighton, C.1951

Feedback ()

The feedback is due by the Monday after the session is offered.

This material should be provided as a short response to the following three questions:

1. In one sentence for each, please note two or three main ideas from this session.

    A. The role of MoMA curators in shaping the history of Photography

    B. The difference between documentary or art photography and fine art photography. The complexity of defining vernacular photography
    C. How the history has evolved over the photographer's desire to be medium specific and demonstrate what no other medium can achieve

2. What concept(s) need more reinforcement?

    A. Philosophical arguments that presume prior knowledge of these theories
    B. Why photography should be seen as separate from art. The arguments for why are understood but sometimes difficult divorcing the idea

3. What two or three aspects of this session did the group like/dislike and why?

    A. Liked the clear delivery and wealth of examples (images and quotes) that illustrate the points.
    B. Sparked lots of ideas to think about and read further on

    C. Would've liked more time in the afternoon to discuss about what is and what isn't 'vernacular' photography and relate the required reading to the lecture/seminar

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