(P056)
Photography and Political Belonging
Location SOAS Senate House - S320
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenor

  • Sophia Powers (UCLA) email

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Short abstract

This panel explores the relationships between photographic portraiture and political belonging, with special attention to the range of methodological approaches that can be deployed to explore this connection.

Long abstract

This panel explores the relationships between photographic portraiture and political belonging. How do photographic practices interact with political identity? What is the relationship between photographic representation and the public sphere? Can photography be used to leverage political rights and recognition and if so, how? Might photographic representation stand in for political belonging in the absence of the state? How can the artistic potential of photography be translated into political as well as civil concerns? These questions will be addressed through a range of papers that examine photographic production as well as reception, paying special attention to modes of public and private exhibition and display.

The panel is meant not only to reflect on the relationship between photography and political belonging though case-studies chosen from across the world, but also to explore the value of various methodological approaches to this question. What perspectives are brought to the debate by different disciplinary groundings such as art history, anthropology, sociology, and even political science? How can qualitative and quantitative data be productively combined? What is the value of bringing together techniques such as interviews, participant observation, surveys, and the close formal reading of artworks, and how can such diverse methodologies be most successfully brought to bear on the relationship between politics, civil society, and photographic portraiture?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Inscribing yourself in the state: ID cards in West Cameroon

Author: David Zeitlyn (University of Oxford) email

Short abstract

Using an archive from Mbouda, Cameroon I will explore ways in which citizens inscribed themselves in the state through identity cards and other administrative documentation which all require id style photos.

Long abstract

Using an archive from Mbouda, Cameroon I will explore ways in which citizens inscribed themselves in the state through identity cards and other administrative documentation which all require id style photos. Marriage certificates are an interesting case in point since there are some examples in the archive of literal cut and paste construction of marriage certificate style imagery, although there is no evidence of these were accepted. Further instances of how ID photographs were re-used complicate the story and show the agency of the clients as they took control of the images originally commissioned for the state.

Identity and Tactics: The Everyday "Civil Contract" of Photography in Contemporary China

Author: Yunchang Yang (University College London) email

Short abstract

This paper aims to explore the political implications of photographic practices in contemporary China on an everyday base. It asks how and why making and presenting photographic works play a vital role in image makers' self-identification and negotiations with larger political-economic discourses.

Long abstract

This paper aims to explore the political implications of photographic practices in contemporary China, drawing on qualitative data obtained from ethnographic fieldwork with both photography-based artists and amateur photographers. It asks how and why making and presenting photographic works play a vital role in their self-identification and negotiations with larger political-economic discourses on a national base, such as China's booming Internet economy, art market, state institutions, etc. For instance, how a series of staged photographic portraitures of an unidentified ethnic group enable its author to gain an international fame and funding so that he could identify himself as an "artist not being governed" and refuse to be represented by any gallery or art agency? Why a Chinese amateur photographer living in the UK is eager to photograph the country's monumental sites and post them on various social media and photographic platforms? In this paper, the photography's political belongings, though not as explicit as those in war, propaganda and reportage photography that are often associated with historical and evidential registers, characterises the "everyday tactics" (de Certeau 1988) employed by contemporary image makers to embrace or resist the power and capital that are penetrating their daily life. According to Ariel Azouley, photography here has the ability to allow people to "imagine every day", creating a "civil political space" where a "civil contract" is agreed by photographers, spectators and photographed people (2008). Following this statement, the paper examines this photography's "civil contract" in contemporary China by interrogating my informant's everyday photographic practices.

Protesting (family) portraits, portraying the protest: the political identity of the archivist/activist-photographer and their photo production the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City.

Author: Giulia Nazzaro (University of East Anglia) email

Short abstract

Based on ethnographic and archival data, this paper argues that the archivist/activist-photographer at the Lesbian Herstory Archives has merged the notion of familiar and political belonging by portraying lesbian community members at anti-racist and anti-homophobic marches around the US since 1970s.

Long abstract

This paper explores the political role of the archivist/activist-photographer as well as their photo production at the Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA), in NYC - the largest organisation in the world that preserves material donated by lesbians since 1974. Through the eyes of archivist/activist-photographers, the LHA has been self-portraying at anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-capitalist marches around the country since the 70s.

Based on archival and ethnographic data as well as photographs that I took during my participation in the LHA's activism, this paper argues that the portraits of lesbian community members captured during marches stand between family and documentary photography. By portraying fellow activists - I contest - the archivist/activist-photographer politicises the notion of (lesbian) family album addressing their "voluntary kin" ties repeatedly reinforced during political demonstrations. Simultaneously, by capturing lesbian feminist activists during protests targeting an array of political and social issues, the archivist/activist-photographer visually embeds lesbian community members in a political movement against intersectional forms of oppression and not simply linked to gender and sexuality.

The figure of the archivist/activist-photographer equally attributes a private as well as public dimension to their photographs by making them not only part of the LHA's photo collection but also part of their own private body of work. In so doing, I argue that the archivist/activist-photographer translates the idea of "the personal (or private) is political" - a prominent idea during the radical (second-wave) feminist movement in New York City from the late 60s through the 90s.

Visual Anthropology of Child Labor in Progressive Era New Jersey

Author: JeongSoo Ha email

Short abstract

Social photography disseminated in Progressive Era New Jersey portraying a significant young population working in harsh factory conditions was revolutionary in altering normative ideals of childhood, instigating child labor protection laws and public education advocacy.

Long abstract

The increasing prevalence of images of child laborers as a form of social photography in Progressive Era New Jersey gave vivid depiction of the industrial abuse of American minors as inexpensive sources of labor. While the social impact of the nascent medium of photography in the late 19th and early 20th century was often downplayed by contemporaries, visual anthropologists have demonstrated that representations of child labor were in fact significant vehicles for displaying the unmanipulated reality of underage factory workers. Social photography disseminated in the Progressive Era portraying a significant young population in New Jersey working in harsh factory conditions was revolutionary in altering normative ideals of childhood, ultimately instigating a successful movement for the restitution of human rights deformed by industrialism through child labor protection laws and public education advocacy. Such publications conclusively protested against the previously ineffective child labor laws and industrialists who manipulated visual fictions of children as worthless and unworthy of safeguard.

Absence in the Desert: The Quiet Ethics of Gauri Gill

Author: Sophia Powers (UCLA) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the ethical dimensions of Gauri Gill’s extended photographic engagement with rural communities across Rajasthan, arguing that her attention to absence as well as presence offers her subjects a bridge to the broader world through the powerful medium of photography.

Long abstract

This paper explores the ethical dimensions of Gauri Gill’s extended photographic engagement with rural communities across Rajasthan. In particular, I examine two specific series within the broader Notes from the Desert project. The first, Jannat, focuses on the daily life of a single family—Izmat and her two daughters, Jannat and Hooran. The second project, Balika Mela, evolved at the site of a rural “fair for girls” organized by a nonprofit, where Gill set up a makeshift studio for portraits. Working with just a few simple props, the girls decided how they wanted to be photographed, producing a series of portraits that were at once charismatic and enigmatic. Grounded in a close reading of these two projects, I argue that Gill’s practice embodies a distinct mode of ethical engagement characterized by attention to absence as well as presence, and motivated in part by the desire to offer her subjects a bridge to the broader world through the powerful medium of photography. Because the political sphere in Rajasthan is overwhelmingly dominated by men, the absence of men can be read as emblematic of the absence of both organized authority and of the state. Through photography, however, Gill offers a quiet reprieve from the isolation incurred by state negligence. In passing on the art of photography—encouraging girls to direct their own portraits and later to use the camera and to print their own negatives, Gill is extending this power to Rajasthan’s most disenfranchised citizens, young women.

Visual Representation and Reportage of 19th Century South Asian Earthquakes from Colonial Archives

Author: Debojyoti Das (Bristol University) email

Short abstract

Drawing on research from the AHRC-funded project I conclude that photographs were crucial to substantiate colonial state and Indian nationalist (Indian National Congress) political appeal for relief and reconstruction in the colony in the aftermath of a disaster.

Long abstract

Earthquakes are catastrophic, sudden and ground-breaking. In nineteenth century India, British colonial officials and geologists created a legacy of private and official archives of major earthquake disasters, including newspaper clippings, geometrical measurements and photographs. Yet, although disaster studies are a burgeoning scholarly field, anthropologists working on natural disasters in South Asia have barely looked into the visual representation of disaster events and their aftermath (relief and reconstruction) kept in such archives. In this paper I will examine the metaphors, symbolisms and representations that photographs carried in the aftermath of a disaster by examining colonial photo collections kept in British and Indian archives, while considering the ways that photographs were produced, organised and catalogued. I will compare photographs from three major earthquakes: in Assam, India, 1897; Nepal and Bihar, India, 1934; and Quetta, Balochistan (now Pakistan), 1935. I contend that ethnographic examination of earthquakes through the study of photographs as an archival source makes one aware of the nuances in representation that are often missed by written texts. Visual archives can produce a long term register of the disaster event that can be of novel value for anthropological investigation of earthquakes and their long term impact on society and public policy on disaster risk reduction. Drawing on research from the AHRC-funded project 'Broken Ground: Earthquakes, colonialism and nationalism in South Asia, c.1900-1960', I conclude that photographs were crucial to substantiate colonial state and Indian nationalist (Indian National Congress) political appeal for relief and reconstruction in the colony.

Political Identity - "1848"

Author: Petra Trnkova (Czech Academy of Sciences) email

Short abstract

The paper looks at the photographic portraiture related to the revolutionary year 1848 in Austrian monarchy. Drawing on three barely known portraits connected with local political upheavals it shows how differently the photographs assisted at the turmoil and how their meaning shifted with time.

Long abstract

Owing to recently extending research into early history of photography, more and more topics which have been overshadowed by researchers' interest in the pioneering generation of photographers, now emerge. One of them is the photographic portraiture associated with the revolutionary events in the Habsburg Empire in 1848.

Evidenced by a large number of portraits which have been lately identified within an extensive survey into local (particularly Czech) collections, it is clear that the interest in photographic (or photography-related) portraiture must have intensified in 1848. Such an unusual amount of preserved or documented portraits raises several questions, particularly of their origin, of their function and also of their subsequent elimination from the photography narrative.

Apart from the photographic and graphic collection surveys, the paper draws on memoirs, newspapers, and other publications of the period and also on close formal reading of three barely known portrait samples referring to diverse parties, groups, notions and picture processing. (These are the portraits of the café owner and short-term politician Petr Faster; the painter and creator of the "Czech national style" Josef Mánes; and the entrepreneur and member of a local National Guard Josef Alitzer.)

The amount and variety of portraits, and sometimes also their strangeness aroused by the figures' costumes, prove that the revolutionary year 1848, which was in the Habsburg Empire closely tied up with (temporary) abolition of censorship, left its fundamental marks on the photographic production and vice versa; incidentally, it also gave birth to a new generation of photographers.

"[...] a very dangerous area" - Photography and politics: reflections on representation, belonging and meaning of a threshold practice.

Author: Gustavo Racy (Universiteit Antwerpen/CAPES Foundation) email

Short abstract

The paper will stress Walter Benjamin's contribution to the history of photography and experiment methodologically in ways of addressing photography vis-à-vis politics. It will adress matters such as social relations of production, cultural history and the practice and reception of photography.

Long abstract

The relation between photography and political belonging may be draw back to the very inception of the medium. The dispute between Talbot and Daguerre over the credits for the invention of the medium, for instance, translated the competition between English and French cultural and economic systems over political hegemony. Likewise the fact that photography was simultaneously invented in Brazil by a Frenchman, and the fact that this is hardly ever remembered, come together as an expression of the political character that legitimates and decides how history is to be told. Looking back at the 19th century, Walter Benjamin provided two seminal readings on photography. In both "Small History of Photography" and "The Work of Art", Benjamin looks back at the social conditions that allowed photography to emerge both as technology and as practice that borders a threshold. Still today, social scientists and scholars of photography go back to these texts acquiring new insights on the many levels in which photography and politics relate. Using different examples this paper will develop both a theoretical argument and an experimental methodology for addressing the relaton between photography and politics. Stressing Benjamin's thinking and bringing photographs from the 19th century onwards, the paper will address the many layers in which photography and politics relate, from nationality and nationalism to relations of production and cultural history, addressing the viewer and viewee alike, the photographer and the photographed, and so fort. With that, the paper expects to create a debate over qualitative analysis of photographic images.

Pinélides Fusco, first Peronism photographer

Author: Julieta Pestarino (Buenos Aires University) email

Short abstract

Pinélides Fusco was an Argentine photographer during the first two presidencies of Juan Domingo Perón, between 1948 and 1955, author of many of the most emblematic and famous images of the first Peron's government that are still reproduced in books, newspapers and magazines.

Long abstract

The present work intends to analyze the photographic production developed by Pinélides Fusco, an Argentine photographer member of the Press and Dissemination Department, during the first two presidencies of Juan Domingo Perón, from 1948 until the coup of 1955. Fervent Peronist, he was the author of many of the most emblematic and famous images of the first Peron's government frequently reproduced. His performance as a presidential photographer made him a witness and privileged portraitist of significant government landmarks, such as Perón's oath of the new National Constitution in 1949, and of important personal moments of the life of the president and his wife, Eva Duarte ("Evita").

Fusco is the author of images that became icons of Peronism, as the embrace of Perón and Eva in the presidential balcony after the her resignation in 1951 for the Vice Presidency candidacy because of an advanced disease, or her vote from bed a few months before dying, during the elections that inaugurated the feminine vote in Argentina.

The coup d'etat of 1955 put an end to the first Peronist government and the career of Fusco's political photojournalism. Under the proscription of Peronism and the prohibition of possession and reproduction of photographs of Perón and Evita, Pinélides hid all his photographic archive for more than thirty years. There were many offers from national and international institutions to buy that collection, but Fusco always refused: he apologized by saying that he could not charge for a material for which he had already been paid.

Hemispheric Photographic Collaborations: Susan Meiselas, Chile from within (1990) and Chile desde adentro (2015)

Author: Ángeles Donoso Macaya (BMCC - City University of New York) email

Short abstract

My presentation considers the dissemination, (re)contextualizations, and reception of Chile from within, a collective project that documents life under dictatorship in Chile. The book was edited by Susan Meiselas in collaboration with the photographers who made the photos in Chile in the 1980s.

Long abstract

In 1988, MAGNUM photographer Susan Meiselas traveled to Santiago, Chile to document the Yes/No referendum that eventually put an end to Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship (1973-1990). In Santiago, she met a group of photographers who had been documenting life under dictatorship for over a decade; Meiselas started to work with them on a book of photographs. Since its conception, Chile from within was formulated as a collaborative documentary project. This collaborative endeavor was "created entirely from within, by witnesses who lived what they focused on," as Chilean writer Marco Antonio De La Parra indicates in the book's introduction, eloquently titled "Fragments of a Self-Portrait." Indeed, one of Meiselas's motivations this project was that the world (the North) could see Chile (the South), not through eyes from afar, but through eyes trained "inside." In 2015, Chile from within was translated into Spanish and published in Chile for the first time.

My presentation, for which I interviewed many of the photographers who participated in this project, considers the production, modes of dissemination, (re)contextualizations and reception of Chile from within, both in the U.S. in the 1990s and in Chile in the 2010s. This collective project made "from within" not only allows us to consider the questions this panel seeks to address from a different angle—for instance, the relationship between photographic portraiture and political belonging from a collective point of view—but it also illustrates how photographers such as Meiselas can help building frameworks without necessarily producing images.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.