British photographic history

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Photography: Object to Idea
A full day conference to examine the past, present, future and polemics of photography

Saturday, 3 October 2009

On Saturday, October 3, a group of 14 prestigious speakers gathered at the Courtauld Institute of Art to bolster and debate the many facets of photography at a conference entitled Photography: Object to Idea. The goal of the conference was to bring attention to the past and future of photography worldwide and in the UK where the presence and public interest in photography has waned by comparison to its neighbours. The event also brought together the major players in the world photography market from London to New York, clearly demonstrating the strength of the photographic community and a persistent, substantial level of interest in photography worldwide.
Nearly 150 delegates attended the event which included presentations about a variety of photographers and subjects. Senior Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum Martin Barnes spoke about an exceptional book maquette of Josef Sudek’s. Martin Caiger-Smith of the Courtauld brought to light the influence of personal curiosity and the impact on history presented by collections of images from the Vkhutemas workshops. Author and curator Brigitte Lardinois gave an illuminating survey of Eve Arnold’s career, followed by critic Louisa Buck who presented a vivid review of Helen Chadwick’s oeuvre. These discussions were largely inspired by the collection of the Tosca Photography Fund which sponsored the event.

Speakers also addressed the issues concerning the future of photography and the market. Collector Michael G. Wilson discussed the various methodologies of collecting and the concerns over the obsolescence of archiving photography—or its now, digital original—and the contemporary photographic practice in an increasingly digital age. These concerns responded directly to Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s discussion of their work, which effectively refuted the photograph as document and object. In the contemporary market, these opposing views span debates over the mounting of photographs, the investment value of work which is destined to fade, and the mutability of the photograph in an age when digital formats make the object itself infinitely reproducible and upgradable.

A question and answer session then delved into the future of the photographic practice, conservation, and presence which has become increasingly overshadowed by the contemporary art market. Additional speakers included W.M. Hunt, David Campany, Tom Hunter, Mark Haworth-Booth, Anne Williams, Geoff Dyer, and the founder of the Tosca Photography Fund, Mehmet Dalman.
In the evening, after a full-day programme, the delegates and speakers joined one another for a drinks reception, fostering more personal dialogues and relationships over shared interests and concerns for photography. The conference succeeded in exposing the discourses of photography and to bring together the photographic community.

Delegate Jean Roberts commented with a laudable review of the event: ‘It was a pleasure to hear such a range of approaches to the discussion of photography all under the same roof. Like everyone who was in the room I love photography, I love taking photographs and looking at photographs but what particularly struck me about last Saturday’s programme from Mehmet Dalman’s opening comments onwards was enthusiasm for the story surrounding photographs, the bigger picture, the one involving the photographer, the viewer and the subject.’

Overall, the conference was indeed an auspicious day for photography: opening the door for valuable discussions regarding the impact of photography and an encouraging demonstration of the support behind medium’s presence today.

Valérie C. Whitacre
Assistant Organiser, Photography: Object to Idea

*Images taken from the Tosca Photography Fund

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