CFP: Photography and its Institutions: Networks, Collections, Archives, Museums (Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen, 23-24 June 2022)

A conference based upon the research project “Forms and Formats of Photography’s Institutionalisation” at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen (KWI), Thursday and Friday, 23 and 24 of June 2022, organised by Anja Schürmann (KWI Essen) and Kathrin Yacavone (University of Cologne).

Deadline for abstracts: 10 Jan 2022

The term ‘institutionalisation’ refers to a process in and through which things, people, actions, and relationships are typified, standardised, and thereby fixed for a longer period; in the process the appearance, reception and interpretation of the physical objects which are part of institutions are shaped and defined. In the context of the current debate surrounding the foundation and possible functions of a Federal German Photography Institute, the conference is dedicated to the historical, political, sociological, aesthetic and photo-historical discourses on the institutionalisation of photography as a medium, a cultural and social practice, as well as an art form, document and technology.

The forms and formats, as well as the traditions and practices, of the classification, collection, exhibition, conservation, archiving and sale of photographic images will be examined from various cultural-critical perspectives and taking into account diverse methodological approaches, both theoretical and practical. The starting point is not primarily individual images, monographic groups of works, modes (portrait, landscape, etc.) or genres (art photography, advertising and scientific photography), but rather the question of how various practices in dealing with photography as an art and medium have (co-)shaped these categories and to what extent they are subject to historical and cultural value shifts and changes that are tied to issues of institutionalisation (without being completely absorbed by them). The temporal and geographical focus of the conference will be Germany since 1945, while comparative perspectives, drawing international comparisons between different (European) countries, are equally welcome.

To discuss these and related issues during the two-day conference, we are inviting proposals for contributions from the perspectives of photographic history and theory, cultural and media studies, art history, history and sociology, as well as from specialists in the institutional curation, collection and archiving of photography. We are seeking contributions in the forms of case studies on specific collections and their history of institutionalisation as well as broader cultural-historical and systematic overviews of the topic. Contributions may address the following specific questions and themes, but are not limited to them:

– Which initiatives on an individual (Gernsheim, Krauss, Honnef, Eskildsen et al.), collaborative (DGPh, Deutscher Fotorat), private (e.g. photokina, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation) and national level have attempted to institutionalise photography (e.g., as an art form)? And how and why did they succeed or fail?
– To what extent did the legitimisation of photography as fine art (in the 1970s) affect the evaluation of other types of photography (e.g. documentary, photojournalistic, amateur and advertising photography) in such initiatives?
– How do public, private, commercial or philanthropic galleries, or even private collections compare to established museums in their treatment of photography? Are collection criteria adopted when, for example, a private collection moves to a public museum or archive? What happens to photographic estates when they enter the art market (e.g. Ronkholz/VAN HAM)?
– What role does digitisation play in recent initiatives and what influence does it have on institutional issues involving existing collections and archives of photography?
– To what extent does the materiality of photography (analogue/digital, photo albums or photo books) affect its institutionalisation? Or: to what extent do digital images renew, shift or update the logics and principles of analogue collections?
– How can the tensions between (implicit or explicit) institutional criteria for collecting photography and the multifaceted ways in which the medium is used in our everyday lives be analysed?
– How did the practices of classifying, collecting and archiving photography differ in East and West Germany? And how were these differences negotiated after the reunification?
– What influence do art academies and institutions providing practical photographic training have on the institutionalisation of photography, more broadly?
– To what extent are networks and photojournalistic societies and agencies, or festivals and pop-up activities, complementary or contrary to the established institutions of photography?
– Which cultural-political frameworks and policies promote or prevent grass-roots initiatives to establish photography as a medium in its own right, and what role does digitisation play in this context?
– From an international and comparative perspective, how does the historical and current situation in Germany compare to other (European) countries with respect to these dynamics?
– And finally: what is the relationship between photographic historiography and/or the theory of photography, and the forms and formats of the institutionalisation of photography?

We invite proposals (in English or German) for 20-minute presentations. Abstracts of approximately 400 words, including a short biography (of max. 100 words) should be submitted by Monday 10 January 2022 by e-mail to Any queries should also be directed to the conference organizers using this address. Notification of acceptance will be sent out by the end of January 2022.

We plan to hold the conference on site at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen. Travel and accommodation costs will be covered. The languages of the conference will be English and German. After the conference, a publication is planned.

Contact: Anja Schürmann & Kathrin Yacavone –
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