F.3 Sites of Photographic Knowledge: Studios and Networks, Part 2

Fri Oct 22 / 11:30 – 13:00 PDT
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chairs /

  • Martha Langford, Concordia University
  • Eduardo Ralickas, Université du Québec à Montréal

This two-part session aims to foster interdisciplinary dialogue between scholars in all fields working on the historical and contemporary problem of photographic knowledge. We have sought proposals stemming from the history of photography, art history, the visual arts, sociology, aesthetics, anthropology, visual studies, cultural studies, and communications, or somewhere in between. Our focus has been on two sites of photographic knowledge, namely, studios, and networks.

Spaces of creation, the studio and researcher's cabinet/study, are increasingly present in exhibitions and publications, as both scholars and publics become curious about the life of the mind and the material culture behind the scenes. The studio is a space of situated and socializing knowledge, offering both intimacy and exposure to works-in-progress. In the vein of "exploding cinema," we are interested in the "atelier éclaté," but we are also looking at the photographic historian's spaces of communication — the book, the slide lecture, the conference, etc. — as "epistemological studios."

Network thinking has been reshaping art and photography history through biographical methods ("object-lives") and institutional recasting in terms of national and global circulation. Under current conditions of impactful social networking, we are particularly interested in relational studies of reality effects and photographic truth claims. The session, therefore, considers projects that have brought studios and/or networks to life, and particularly those that complicate current methodologies or ways of thinking about photography's epistemic privilege.

Martha Langford is a Distinguished University Research Professor of Art History at Concordia University and Research Chair and Director of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art. She participated in the four-year team-research project Networked Art Histories, led by Johanne Sloan. Langford is the principal investigator in the interuniversity research group Formes actuelles de l'expérience photographique (FAEP) : épistémologies, pratiques, histoires whose activities have included two spring schools, five UAAC sessions, and a book series in collaboration with Artexte.

Eduardo Ralickas is a Professor of Art History and Aesthetics at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He obtained his PhD at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and the Université de Montréal. He also holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Concordia University, where he majored in photography while studying mathematics, philosophy, and art history. Before joining UQAM's Department of Art History, he taught courses in art theory, including the theory and history of photography at Concordia University and the Université de Montréal. He is a founding member of FAEP. Recent papers include L'atelier comme méthode. Le cas de Raymonde April.

Hans van der Kamp, Ralph Gibson at his Soho loft where Lustrum Press resided, 1981. Courtesy Hans van der Kamp.

F.3.1 Lustrum/Contrejour: Photobook and the Transatlantic Network of Post-68 Photography

Anton Lee, University of British Columbia

This paper examines the importance of the photobook as an epistemological device, through which a new understanding of the photographic representation can be materialized and shared in different communities. I will focus in particular on the transatlantic exchange of influence between the American photographer Ralph Gibson and the group of French photographers and critics led by Claude Nori during the 1970s and 1980s. They interacted with one another not only in artistic and intellectual levels, but more importantly, through specifically material and institutional endeavours. This was due in large measure to their mutual interest in the transgressive potentialities of self-publishing and photographic sequencing.

Gibson founded the independent publishing house Lustrum Press in 1970 in New York City, which in turn became the model for the gallery-cum-publisher Contrejour opened by Nori in 1975 in Paris. Gibson's method of poetic sequencing garnered serious attention in France immediately after the publication of his first photobook, The Somnambulist (1970). Gibson, together with his contemporaries like Duane Michals, represented the experimentalism of 1970s American photography, which introduced a viable alternative to postwar humanist photography in France. This rejuvenated avant-gardism was called the "Nouvelle Photographie" among French intellectuals, in reference to the Nouveau Roman in literature and the Nouvelle Vague in cinema. In 1975, Nori published a manifesto in the bulletin Contrejour, identifying sequencing and self-publishing as an effective means to democratize the medium of photography in the spirit of May 1968. For the photographers and critics associated with Contrejour, the photobook and its capacity for storytelling were crucial for updating the medium's engagement with the political reality outside the norms of the documentary tradition.

By scrutinizing this significant yet largely overlooked chapter in the international history of photography, my paper will theorize the epistemological specificity of the photobook that enabled the subjective reimagination of the photographic truth in the postmodern period.

Anton Lee specializes in the history and theory of photography, focusing on European and Anglo-American regions from the early 20th century to the present. Lee completed his doctorate in Art History in 2018 at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver (UBC). He has taught lectures and seminars on 19th- and 20th-century art and visual culture at UBC and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD). Lee's current research prioritizes transforming his dissertation into a book, preliminarily titled New Wave of American Photography: The Rise of Photographic Sequence in the United States and France, 1968–1989. His writings have appeared or are forthcoming in various academic journals and art magazines, including Critical Inquiry, History of Photography, Materiali Foucaultiani, and Canadian Art. He is the author of "The Photogenic Invention of Thought-Emotion: Duane Michals and Michel Foucault," in Foucault on the Arts and Letters: Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Catherine Soussloff (London, UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). Lee was the Kenneth J. Botto Research Fellow at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, in 2016 and the Visiting Researcher at the Université Paris-Sorbonne in 2015.

F.3.2 Counterpower Photography: Documenting the Red Road to DC

Steve Lyons, Not An Alternative/The Graduate Center, CUNY

For the last 20 years, the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation has been carving totem poles, putting them on a flatbed trailer, and bringing them to sites of environmental struggle across the US. At each stop, participants are asked to touch the totem pole — to give it their power and to receive its power in turn. The goal of the totem pole journeys is to connect communities on the frontlines of environmental struggle, and to build, through the ceremony, a broad and unlikely alliance of people against pipelines — an insistent "we" that did not previously exist. In the summer of 2021, Lummi carvers and activists teamed up with Not An Alternative/The Natural History Museum and Native Organizers Alliance for their biggest journey yet.

The Red Road to DC is a cross-country tour connecting twenty Indigenous-led struggles where sacred lands, waters, and wildlife are imperilled by dams, climate change, and extractive industries: from the Salish Sea to Standing Rock and beyond. Like Lummi's other totem pole journeys, this one was designed to draw a line of connection between communities facing similar threats and a line of division against the extractive relation to land, life, and labour that is driving the world toward extinction. This presentation asks how the photographic documentation of the journey extends this line, arguing for an approach to the image not as a souvenir, historical trace, or resource for study, but as part of the productive process through which collective power is built--as a tool for establishing media narratives, building and representing counterpower, and scaling up lines of solidarity beyond localized sites of struggle.

Steve Lyons is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at The Graduate Center, CUNY. He is also a core member of the art/activist collective Not An Alternative, where he contributes to the ongoing project The Natural History Museum (2014–), a mobile and pop-up museum that highlights the socio-political forces that shape nature. The Natural History Museum collaborates with Indigenous communities, environmental justice organizations, scientists, and museum workers to create new narratives about our history and future, with the goal of educating the public, influencing public opinion, and inspiring collective action. Recent essays about socially engaged art, left counter-power, and environmental justice have appeared in e-flux journal, Journal of Curatorial Studies, Museum Activism (Routledge, 2019), and The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture, and Climate Change (Routledge, 2021). He holds a PhD in Art History from Concordia University (2018) and was an FRQSC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Humanities Center of the University of Pittsburgh from 2018 to 2020.