Photography and materiality

There has been a recent efflorescence of writing, exhibitions and other research focused on the material qualities of photographs. Here are just a few links, please feel free to add more in the comments:
Smithsonian Anthropologist Joanna Cohan Scherer resurrected the work of photographer Benedicte Wrensted in this online exhibition. Wrensted’s photography career began in Denmark in the 1880s and continued following her immigration in 1895 to Pocatello, Idaho. Many of her photos were of American Indians who visited her portrait studio by choice. These powerful Indian photographs unfortunately lost their provenance and were repeatedly used in exhibits and publications as unidentified, stereotypical Indian images.
This research project brought back the identification to the photos and reunited them with the Northern Shoshone and Bannock Indian families of origin. Scherer’s book, A Danish Photographer of Idaho Indians: Benedicte Wrensted, University of Oklahoma Press, (2006), gives a more detailed analysis of Wrensted’s work and other photographers of American Indians during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The web site is an excellent source of information regarding Native Americans and how photography influenced both the viewer’s idea of the American Indians and the way the Indians viewed themselves.
I also found this helpful compendium of resources about photography on the web
And some other links, suggested by material world editor-at-large, Josh Bell:
tibet.jpgTibet Album (Pitt Rivers Museum project) – Clare Harris, Elizabeth Edwards, Richard Blurton, Project Leaders
“The Tibet Album presents more than 6000 photographs spanning 30 years of Tibet’s history. These extraordinary photographs are a unique record of people long gone and places changed beyond all recognition. They also document the ways that British visitors encountered Tibet and
Tibetans. Go to the Tibet album site.” (quote from PRM site)
Southern Sudan (PRM project) Jeremy Coote & Elizabeth Edwards Project Leaders
“This website provides access to a detailed catalogue of the
collections from Southern Sudan held at the Pitt Rivers Museum, the
University of Oxford’s museum of anthropology and world archaeology.
The Museum’s holdings from Southern Sudan comprise more than 1300
artefacts and 5000 photographs. Together together, the artefacts and
photographs provide a major resource for studying the cultural and
visual history of the region. Go to the Southern Sudan site.” (quote
from PRM site)
Luo Visual History (PRM Project) Gilbert Oteyo and Chris Morton Project Leaders
“Explore around 350 historical Luo photographs from the collections of
the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, taken between 1902 and
1936. Go to the Luo visual history site.” (quote from PRM site)
George Eastman House
Online Photographic Collections of The Smithsonian American Art Museum website
Smithsonian’s Photographic Initiative
Attempt to integrate the diverse photographic holdings of the
Smithsonian, and make the accessible to researchers, artists and the
Library of Congress
The National Digital Library Program digitizes the Americana holdings
at the Library of Congress.
Collected Visions
Project directed by Lorrie Novak in which people submit their own
family snapshots to the archive or use existing images to create a
visual essay.
aka Kurdistan
Site created by Susan Meiselas that was inspired by her book
‘Kurdistan, In the Shadow of History’. The site expands upon the
books tracing of the Kurds history through visual traces, and provides
a means for Kurds to create a digital archive.
And an interesting site that uses photography:
Graffiti Archaeology

Download PDF

6 Responses to Photography and materiality

  1. Thomas July 27, 2008 at 5:16 am #

    Dear Haidy, can you be more specific about what you mean by the material qualities of photographs? All the links you list are to collections of images, but none (as far as I can see) to the specific material qualities of these images. My understanding of ‘material’ here would be the paper quality, the gloss, the break-down of the specimen etc. — i.e., all those things you cannot show/feel in a digital rendering over the internet.
    Best wishes,

  2. Haidy Geismar July 27, 2008 at 5:55 am #

    DEar Thomas
    A hasty first response and I hope we can have a “conversation” about this!
    Thanks so much for this comment – you are absolutely right. I was hoping that this post would like up some of these links to some of the more theoretical and textual discussions of photography. Most of these sites do indeed present the photographs as digital images. However, if you look at the Pitt Rivers Museum projects, to take one example, you will see that the images are shown very much as objects – with markings, numbers and so on, front and back. They are presented as negatives and positives and even just as digital files on the internet very much give a sense of their object-ness . A lot of the research surrounding these images pertains to their place in collections, their making and their form, not only the content of each image (as detached from these contexts). And this research is presented alongside the digital files. When referring to recent work on the material qualities of photographs I had Elizabeth Edwards work particularly in mind, and also that of Chris Pinney, Chris Wright and others. I would be interested to know if you thought that some of these museum sites do render some of the qualities you refer to within their digital forms? Or if you think that this is impossible to achieve digitally?

  3. Ross Day, Metropolitan Museum of Art July 31, 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    “Here are just a few links, please feel free to add more in the comments”. A terrific starter webliography. I wonder whether you’d consider compiling it in another, more editable venue, such as a wiki (f’rinstance)?

  4. Haidy Geismar August 3, 2008 at 10:44 am #

    Ross- I’m all ears but not sure how to do that in such a way that it is still a part of Materialworldblog? Your thoughts?

  5. Jessica McDonald, George Eastman House August 7, 2008 at 1:00 pm #

    Readers interested in the materiality of photographs may be interested in a new academic journal with a broad focus on photographs as objects, Photography & Culture, published by Berg (Oxford). Here is a brief description:
    Photography & Culture is a new refereed journal that is international in its scope and inter-disciplinary in its contributions. It aims to interrogate the contextual and historic breadth of photographic practice from a range of informed perspectives and to encourage new insights into the media through original and incisive writing. Photography and Culture will be at the forefront of international research on the historical, technological, cultural and social aspects of photography. Properly cross-disciplinary, the journal integrates art historical approaches with newer work from visual culture, communication and anthropology, media, cultural and museum studies, fashion and design, as well as history and sociology. All photographic genres – from portraiture to advertising and from fashion to the family album – are covered. For the growing community of scholars in this field, Photography and Culture will provide the ideal forum for the exchange of ideas and the presentation of the newest research.
    Photography & Culture aims to:
    • examine both contemporary and historical photography
    • represent differing methodological and theoretical approaches to the study of photography
    • cover all genres, from vernacular to art photography
    • redress the balance of a traditional art historical approach to the photographic image
    • set the rapidly changing world of the photograph – both print and digital – in its broader cultural context
    More information is available at

  6. Photographe Professionnel November 10, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    More photos from reportages and events taken by Photographier Hamid AZMOUN:

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes

%d bloggers like this: