British photographic history

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Conference: The Institutional Life of Photographs / London, 6-7 December 2019

The V&A’s acquisition of the Royal Photographic Society collection from the Science Museum in 2017 has raised major questions about the place, role and nature of photography in museums, the shape of ‘collections’, the role and status of ‘non-collections’ of photographs, the practices and styles of history of photography, and the assumptions of museology.

The conference explores the dynamics of such themes across analogue and digital media, and considers the sprawling practices and deposits of photography in museums and galleries.  It will focus on the mass of photographs in museum holdings that fall outside formal ‘collections of photographs’, and explore the epistemic force and hierarchies of value to which photographs contribute as they remake, reproduce and solidify institutional values. What is ‘collected’ and what is not?  What are the shifting boundaries between ‘collections’ and ‘non-collections’?  How do ‘collections’ emerge and how are category shifts realised? How are photographs put to work within museums?  How do photographs form and cohere institutions and their practices? How are museum meanings made through photography? Finally, what are the interdisciplinary implications of these debates across, for instance, museum studies, history, art history, history of science and anthropology? 

With distinguished international speakers, including Dr Geoff Belknap (NSMM), Dr Costanza Caraffa (Kunsthistorisches Institute, Florence) and  Dr David Odo (Harvard University Collections) the conference gathers curators, conservators, academics and other specialists to consider the saturating role of photographs in museums, changing practices, and broader implications.

The conference is organised by the V&A Research Institute (VARI) and generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Institutional Life of Photographs

Victoria and Albert Museum, Hochhauser Auditorium, Sackler Centre

December 6-7, 2019

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