Cross-disciplinary colloquium takes fresh ideas on framing, documentation of photographs from faces old and new
A roundtable discussion of graduate students, professors and a visiting scholar was held on the sixth floor of the Academic Building on Friday to answer one question: how do we explain the history of photography today?
The first annual graduate student symposium titled "Writing the Histories of Photography" was captured by the Center for Cultural Analysis, the Department of Art History and the Developing Room — a group founded in 2008 and devoted to the study and practice of photography.
The symposium was held in a collaborative spirit. From the start of the event, a total of seven graduate students presented their dissertations that were aimed at helping photography scholars understand and spark new ideas on how to document photographs today.
For Andrés Mario Zervigón, a main organizer of the event and an associate professor of photography in the Department of Art History, the symposium was a way to expose students researching photography to different methods used by other graduates in hopes that they could learn from each other.
The symposium also brought Dr. Steffen Siegel, a professor of the theory and history of photography at the Folkwang University of Arts in Essen, Germany, into the mix to offer an “outside voice,” Zervigón said.
Siegel has authored publications that span photography’s history, such as "First Exposures: Writing from the Beginning of Photography" to "Belichtungen: Zur fotografischen Gegenwart," a book on photography’s contemporary practice.
“I always want some kind of outside voice to be present … someone who doesn’t know who’s presenting and can offer a different perspective,” Zervigón said.
The symposium was also an opportunity to bring graduates from cross disciplines into the same room.
Donata Panizza, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Italian, presented her research on the Alinari brothers, a sibling trio in mid-19th century Italy who aimed to photographically reproduce major works of Italian art, like paintings, architecture and sculpture.
In 1854, the brothers founded a photographic business called Fratelli Alinari Fotografi Editori, and through their work, photographs captured of Italian landscapes and cityscapes are still reproduced today.
In total, the Alinari holding has more than 100,000 photographs.
Panizza said she appreciated the opportunity to present her work to different minds. She said while doing her dissertation work, she only had the opportunity to present her work to cinema or film study scholars but never had the chance to show it to photography specialists and get their take on her work.
She said her discussion with other graduate students gave her new ideas on how to better frame the photography portion of her dissertation work for future research.
Another dissertation presentation was by Nicholas Morgan from Columbia University. His research tackled contemporary photographer Mark Morrisroe’s work. Morrisroe, who was diagnosed with AIDS, died at the age of 30 in Jersey City, but his intimate and often dark room-altered photographs helped the development of the 1970s punk scene in Boston and the art boom of the mid-to-late 80s in New York, Morgan said.
Because of Morrisroe’s fascination with the dark room process in photography, he made several innovations. One being the "sandwich" print that was done from stacking a color 35 millimeter photograph over a black-and-white 35 millimeter photograph of the same image together. The result was a hazy, painterly print that made his photographs unique.
During Morgan’s presentation, he made references to other techniques that Morrisroe used like slight tear marks at the end of some of his photographs. In discussion, other graduate students helped Morgan piece together Morrisroe’s techniques that could have been inspired by other photographers like 19th century English photographer Anna Atkins.
Atkins is attributed as the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images and even the first woman to create a photograph.
Other dissertation presentations included Stella Jungmann from the Institute of Art History University of Zurich, Anne S. Cross from the University of Delaware, Emily Doucet from the University of Toronto and Margaret Innes from Harvard University.
To conclude the symposium, Siegel gave final remarks to all of the presenters, remarked on how he perceived some of the presentations and his opinion on what they could do to improve their dissertation presentations next time.