Collections, Non-collections and Ecosystems: Case notes on photographic cultures in the Museum
Professor Elizabeth Edwards
What do photographs ‘do’ in museums? This paper considers the presence of photographs in museums as an ecosystem. This ecosystem is characterised, I suggest, by shifting relationships between formal ‘collections of photographs’ and the museum’s photographic ‘non-collections’ which saturate its practices. In tracing the history of these relationships I shall consider how hierarchies of photographic value have been established, maintained and challenged over time. Drawing on my recent work on the history of photographic cultures at the Victoria and Albert Museum, I consider the dynamic institutional performance of photographs across four key overlapping spaces of gathering and dissemination - the ‘guard-book’ albums, the library, the curatorial departments and through illustrated publications for the public. The V&A provides a particularly pertinent set of ‘case notes’, having developed an extensive relationship with photographs since the 1850s, one of the first museums to do so. Using anthropological concepts and methods to interrogate the matrix of photographic practice, accumulation and purpose, I suggest how thinking about what photographs ‘did ‘and are ’doing’ in museums can illuminate the epistemic values that shape them, and as such, constitute a vital yet overlooked strand in the histories of museums.
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5.30pm MGHG Lecture
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