Conference: Blinded by Light: Flashes and Revelations / Paris, 17-18 October 2024

This conference explores the multifaceted history and cultural significance of flash photography. Flash, introduced in the 1860s, has played a crucial role in photography, making previously unseen scenes visible, from the nocturnal lives of animals to the bustling nights of New York City. There is a keynote presentation from Dr Sara Dominici. 

This conference aims to move beyond a purely technical narrative of flash as merely a tool for overcoming darkness. Instead, it seeks to understand flash as a socio-technical device that shapes photographic practice and cultural perceptions. Flash photography, from early magnesium bursts to modern electric strobes, not only illuminates scenes but also influences the photographic event itself. The noise, smoke, and sudden light of early flashes contributed to the dynamic nature of photo shoots, impacting both photographers and subjects.

This conference will investigate the diverse dimensions of flash, including its aesthetic, cultural, and media implications. The performative nature of flash and its role in capturing rapid motion, filling in light, and creating new visualities will be discussed. Flash has been both embraced and rejected by photographers, creating boundaries between art and non-art. Its use has marked significant moments in the history of photography, contributing to genres like celebrity and wildlife photography.

Moreover, flash photography has served as a metaphor in literature and theory, symbolizing revelation and memory. It has been linked to powerful narratives, such as those documenting social injustices. Despite technological advancements reducing the need for flash, its historical and cultural impacts remain significant. The conference invites discussions on the flash’s role in photographic history, its cultural and social uses, and its ongoing relevance in contemporary visual regimes.

Blind by Light: Just to see: Flashes and Revelations
17-18 October 2024
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Richelieu
See the programme and register here

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