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Workshop: On the Edge of History: Photographs and African Archives / 27-28 September 2018

This is not simply another colloquium about African photography within the field of visual studies. It is concerned with the question of how histories are written or assembled, and the materials that are drawn upon to narrate or analyse the past of the African continent, and the relationships between them. The field of African history is usually dominated by texts and oral-based accounts. When we ask what images (particularly photographs) do to the constitution of pastness and how it is narrated, this opens another kind of discussion. Fundamentally this is about the way photographs sit in uneasy and ambiguous relation to other materials generated in the past. They organise time and space differently. 'Photographs change everything’ (Edwards). What analytical opportunities do these insights open to us?

One part of this thinking concerns the disruptions of photographs when brought into conversation with other historical materials. There is a discursive association of history with what is visible, and what is usually taken into account archivally, which photographs are not. Does this mean that photographs constitute a kind of historical unconscious, at the edge of history? 

A further part of our thinking is stimulated by the way photographs themselves work ‘at the edge of sight’, which goes beyond normative ways of seeing of, or through, photographs. Our keynote lecture will be presented by Shawn Michelle Smith of the Chicago Art Institute, author of On the Edge of Sight and co-editor of Photography and the Optical Unconscious

Papers are not geographically confined to the African continent. We invite papers that address the more general methodological and theoretical challenges of working with photographs in relation to other archives and media. Abstracts should be sent to Full papers for pre-circulation will be requested several weeks in advance of the workshop. 

The workshop is organized by the National Research Foundation (NRF) SARChI Chair in Visual History and Theory, Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape. All workshop accommodation and meals will be covered. A limited amount of funding is available for travel costs.  

Deadline for abstracts: 31 July 2018

Contact: Patricia Hayes,

On the Edge of History: Photographs and African Archives 

International Workshop on Visual History & Theory

Cape Town

27-28 September, 2018

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