International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015

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50 Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (2)
Convenor(s) Elizabeth Haines (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Emily Hayes (University of Exeter / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), UK)
Chair(s) James Ryan (University of Exeter, UK)
Timetable Tuesday 07 July 2015, Timeslot 2 (11:30 - 13:15)
Room RGS-IBG Education Centre
Session abstract This panel investigates the geographies of photographic production and consumption of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Over the last thirty years the role of the photograph in empire and exploration has seen fascinating scholarship (Edwards 1992; Ryan 1997). The contributors draw on this, and more recent studies of the material and social effects of photography (Edwards 2004; Tucker 2005; Ryan 2005; Wilder 2009) to look at how society and sciences have been configured (and re-configured) as the photograph was embraced to document and design the world. The presentations investigate how photographic forms bridged diverse social bodies. Institutions from engineering companies, to learned societies, to early tourist firms, found common ground in the use of the camera to develop global imagery. In this period photography also linked the small-scale (domestic or artisanal) to the industrial in unique ways. Innovation in technologies of photographic display, such as the use of stereoscopic and magic lantern slides, also shaped the reception and remediation of image forms. The session will interrogate these dynamics of the spatial, social, and material. The speakers draw from collections at the Science Museum, the Royal Geographical Society, University College London, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the British Ecological Society, the Scott Polar Research Institute, and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
Linked Sessions Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details:
Pseudo-photogrammetry and the touristic imagination
Elizabeth Haines (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
In 1864 Francis Galton presented a series of stereographic slides depicting ‘mountainous regions’ to the Royal Geographical Society. These slides were unlike the vast majority of stereographic ‘views’ that were circulating in Victorian Britain. Together with his cousin Cameron Galton, he had prepared what looked like early photogrammetric work by taking vertical photographs of relief models. Galton’s long association with the RGS, and his multifarious scientific career might lead the historian to consider these as scientific objects, or pedagogic devices (a 2D proxy for the models that have been shown to important in the history of British geographical education). The widespread market for stereographic views as a leisure activity, suggests they could be enrolled in narratives of nineteenth-century consumption where passive citizens were brought the ‘world-as-display’. Neither is exactly the case here. Rather these slides were intended to play a role in the anticipation of an embodied travel experience, a form of illustration for touristic guidebooks. This presentation explores the relationship between this new form of photographic representation and the idea of the nineteenth century armchair - not as a place for collecting or contemplating data but rather as a springboard into travel for pleasure.
No More Elsewhere: Antarctica through the archive of the Edward Wilson (1872-1912) watercolours
Polly Gould (University College London, UK)
With reference to the archive collections in the Scott Polar Research Institute and the RGS, this talk compares the work of Wilson, Antarctic explorer of the Heroic Age, doctor, naturalist, and watercolour artist, who travelled with the two British Antarctic Expeditions Discovery 1901-1904 and Terra Nova 1910-1914, with the photography of Herbert Ponting (1870-1935) the renowned ‘camera artist’ who joined the second expedition. Photography was about to usurp watercolour in its role in topographical documentation, but the technology could not yet take on the task of recording the colour effects of these new lands. During their time together, Wilson, influenced by Ruskin’s aesthetics, and Ponting discussed their work.
This research is informed by the anomalies of watercolour landscape painting in Antarctica, the permanence and fugacity of watercolour as a medium, and landscape as objectified view and/or enveloping atmosphere. Aesthetics and eco-ethics are explored, charting a shift from a subject centered to an environment-focused subjectivity. My art practice is a methodology.
Framing emptiness: the early photographing of ice sheets
Jean de Pomereu (University of Exeter / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), UK)
From their earliest exploration in the 1860s, up until the advent of glaciological seismic sounding in the early 1930s, the inland ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica remained frozen, uninhabited, largely featureless “topographies of absence” that were more easily defined by what they did not contain, as by what they did. With explorers still lacking the tools and technology to visualize what lay beneath their feet, ice sheets thus posed an unlikely challenge to visual representation, and especially to photography. Using as examples the photographs brought back by Admiral Byrd from his pioneering flight over the South Pole in 1929, this paper will show how in the most extreme of cases, attempts to frame the distilled, reductive topography of ice sheets resulted in abstract, minimalist images: white rectangles with for only texture the wave-like sastrugi on the ice sheet surface. It will further argue that these images stood in marked contrast to the still prevailing classical and romantic cannons of the times, and that they demonstrate why and how the surface of ice sheets also challenged different notions of place making, whether visual, linguistic, or social.
Spectres of Indigo: Colonial Photography and Post-documentary Blue in India
Natasha Eaton (University College London, UK)
This paper addresses the agency of photography in colonial and postcolonial India. It takes as its starting point two works by the contemporary artists Raqs Media Collective – ‘The Untold Intimacy of Digits’ and ‘An Afternoon Unregistered on the Richter Scale’. Both these ‘bluish’ digital projections of 2011 draw on colonial photographs that the artists came across either in the original (the Galton Archive at UCL) or as reproduction (relating to the Alkazi photographic collection in Delhi). Using these two contemporary artworks as a preliminary device, my paper explores the intense entanglement of photography and blue in relation to the violent chromatics of indigo in nineteenth-century India. Following the abolition of the slave trade, eastern India became the area most intensely cultivated for indigo. The British destruction of hundreds of villages and rice paddies unearthed ancient sculptural and architectural remains. Given this aggressive counter-insurgency policy, it’s no coincidence that the Archaeological Survey of India was founded just after the Indigo Revolt of 1860. Indigo rubbed into the photographic plate was also the literal stuff of the carbon process of photography. Even today blue has a taboo status in India that this paper will examine.