International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015

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61 The material image: the photographic archive in circulation
Convenor(s) Felix Driver (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Noeme Santana (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Chair(s) Felix Driver (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Tuesday 07 July 2015, Timeslot 3 (14:15 - 16:00)
Room RGS-IBG Ondaatje Theatre
Session abstract This session will focus on the materiality of the photographic archive, and will ask what happens when the archives move from one place or context to another. The papers will focus especially on photographic albums in a variety of commercial and aesthetic contexts, including mining, engineering, and commercial publishing. It will also consider some of the specificities of the photographic archive and their significance for historical geographers.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details:
"To admit of easy mutual reference": functional origins and material meanings in a Colonial Office photograph album, 1869-2014
Joan M. Schwartz (Queens University, Canada)
In November 1869, a circular dispatched from Earl Granville, Secretary of State for the Colonies, to all colonial governors, requested ‘photographs of prominent buildings and scenery’. Accompanying documentation explained that ‘many useful purposes might be answered by supplying the Colonial Department with Photographs of the Principal Buildings and most interesting Localities in the various Colonies.’ Two sets of prints, one to remain in the colony, the other to be kept in the Colonial Office Library, were to be compiled into duplicate volumes, each carefully numbered and labeled ‘to admit of easy mutual reference thereto by the Secretary of State and Governors.’ This paper presents the social biography of one such album, ‘Photographic Views of British Columbia Taken by F. Dally, 1867-1868.’ Understood in the context of its functional origins, it represents one of the clearest manifestations of photographs being incorporated into the government administration of the British Empire. However, its meaning has changed over time, shaped by its materiality and institutional circumstances of its preservation.
Materiality, corporate structure and global business: understanding and contextualising the Pearson photographic archive
Noeme Santana (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Between 1880 and 1930 the British civil engineering company S. Pearson & Son compiled a large volume of photographs into albums. The albums, part of the company’s business archive are reflective of Pearson’s corporate history and global operations. By 1930 Pearson was a multinational conglomerate with diverse global business interests in oil, media, utilities and civil engineering. Comprising 150 photographic albums, business contracts, souvenirs, diaries and personal correspondence, the Pearson archive is a rich account of the pronounced material and visual culture in the company’s global operations. At the core of this paper are the challenges faced in understanding and contextualising the existence of such a thematically diverse photographic collection within the company’s corporate history. With very little to no information on the logistics of compiling thousands of photographs from both domestic and international contracts into albums, photographic and editorial authorship, and for what audience(s) the albums were intended for, the material qualities of the albums help shape the collection in terms of authorship and positioning the archive within Pearson’s wider business structure and culture. This paper will consider my approach to the collection, the challenges faced in identifying the logistics of putting the albums together, and the type(s) of audiences addressed by the albums.
Oficina Alianza and Port of Iquique 1899: the photographic album and the nitrate trade
Louise Purbrick (University of Brighton, UK)
In 1899, Mr Smail, a manager of Chilean nitrate mines owned by English merchant house Antony Gibbs and Sons sent an album of photographs to the head of the house, Henry Hucks Gibbs. The album, Oficina Alianza and Port of Iquique 1899, contained around a hundred colodion prints depicting each stage of nitrate mining, from opening trenches in the Atacama desert to loading jute bags of refined nitrate onto lighters at its Pacific ports. My paper examines the deployment of the conventions of industrial photography within the album and its function within the nitrate trade. From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, British speculators drove the extraction and export of Chilean nitrate, a highly valued fertilizer and ingredient of explosives. Oficina Alianza and Port of Iquique 1899 is both an artefact and a document of a capitalist and colonial, a material and historical, relation; it was given by Mr Smail as ‘souvenir’ of the nitrate business and accepted as indication of nitrate profits. Thus, this paper also considers how photographic acts are implicated in the exploitation of Latin American land and its mineral resources.
Reading Magnum’s Archive
Steven Hoelscher (The University of Texas at Austin, USA)
Andrea D. Gustavson (The University of Texas at Austin, USA)
In 1947, in the wake of the Second World War’s unprecedented destruction, four of the most prominent photographers to cover that shattering event had a unique idea: to form a photographic cooperative that would allow for the creation and dissemination of visual images unencumbered by the constraints of for-profit photojournalism. The experience of the war and its aftermath called into question the very foundation of Western Civilization and its traditional means of conveying visual information. The resulting organization—Magnum Photos—has since become one the modern world’s most influential photographic communities, producing images of great diversity and distinction. Its visual archive is a vast, living chronicle of the twentieth century’s diverse geographies, including the world’s capital cities. In this paper, I present some of the challenges facing historical geographers attempting to study such an archive. My beginning point is the recognition of the dual existence of Magnum photographs as compelling imagery and physical objects. Before a photograph can function as a symbol of any kind, it begins its life as a three-dimensional thing, which has a physical presence in the world. One might push this general observation even further to assert that a photograph’s material form, no less than the image it bears, is fundamental to its function as an object that carries social and cultural meaning. By exploring the creation of Magnum’s analogue archive, and its mechanisms for image distribution, this paper sheds light on the essential relationship between photography and materiality.
Gillian Rose (The Open University, UK)
Commentary by discussant