Imagining Everyday Life
Symposium on Vernacular Photography

10/19/2018 - 10/20/2018

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Video documentation of the entire conference can be found here, as well as below. A complete agenda is available here.

On October 19 and 20, 2018, The Walther Collection, The Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University, and The Barnard Center for Research on Women presented Imagining Everyday Life: Engagements with Vernacular Photography, an international symposium at Columbia's Lenfest Center for the Arts, co-organized by Brian Wallis, Marianne Hirsch, and Tina Campt. The conference was free and open to the public with required registration, and consisted of four panels over two days: from 5:00–7:30pm on Friday, October 19, followed by a full-day convening from 10:30am–6:30pm on Saturday, October 20.

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Martina Bacigalupo, Gulu Real Art Studio, 2011–12

The symposium aimed to articulate the multiple definitions of vernacular photography within a newly expanded field of critical investigation—reconsidering the context and meaning of often overlooked photographic practices and tracing their specific social histories. Bringing together speakers from a wide range of academic disciplines, presentations considered vernacular photography in its diverse stylistic forms, utilitarian applications, and regional variants. With examples ranging from ethnographic records to criminal mugshots to family photo albums, the discussions offered new ways to think about photography in relation to our political communities, social agency, and daily personal rituals. While such formats may reinforce the regulatory standards of identity and political participation that govern definitions of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality, they also become crucial sites of social resistance and transformation.

Symposium Agenda

The Lenfest Center for the Arts at Columbia University, New York
Katharina Otto-Bernstein Screening Room

5:10 PM

Welcome and Introductions
Artur Walther The Walther Collection

5:30 PM

Why Vernacular Photography? The Limits and Possibilities of a Field

What defines photography as vernacular, and when is it not? Can a critical investigation of photographic representations of everyday life, the common and the quotidian, often in series or typologies, offer new insights into how we conceptualize family narratives, personal identity, political community, and social environments?

Session 1: Welcome Remarks and Speaker Presentations

Brian Wallis The Walther Collection (chair)
Ariella Azoulay
Brown University
Geoffrey Batchen University of Wellington
Clément Chéroux San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Patricia Hayes University of Western Cape

Session 1: Discussion and Q+A

10:30 AM

Troubling Portraiture: Photographic Portraits and The Shadow Archive

Identification photographs have long been used to sort, shape, segregate, and categorize citizens based on occupation, social group, body type, or political affiliation. How do such images, affixed to police records, driver’s licenses, passports, and ID badges position their subjects in relation to traditional conventions of honorific portraiture?

Session 2: Speaker Presentations

Tina Campt Barnard College (chair)
Nicole Fleetwood Rutgers University
Lily Cho York University
Ali Behdad University of California, Los Angeles
Laura Wexler Yale University

Session 2: Discussion and Q+A

2:00 PM

Performance and Transformation: Photographic (Re)visions of Subjectivity

Personal photographs often manipulate or invert conventions of photographic portraiture to explore changing notions of gender and sexuality, and race and ethnicity. How do such images expose the cultural factors that shape individual and collective subjectivities, and question the very notion of a stable, authentic self?

Session 3: Speaker Presentations

Gil Hochberg Columbia University (chair)
Shawn Michelle Smith Art Institute of Chicago
Sophie Hackett Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Elspeth Brown University of Toronto
Leigh Raiford University of California, Berkeley

Session 3: Discussion and Q+A

4:30 PM

Space, Materiality, and the Social Worlds of the Photograph

Vernacular photographs often rely on materiality—the physical and tactile nature of the object—as an element in their imagery or display. How does this tangible, three-dimensional aspect embody broader issues concerning the framing or viewing conventions of photographs, the social circulation of images, and the representations of public space?

Session 4: Speaker Presentations

Marianne Hirsch Columbia University (chair)
Drew Thompson Bard College
Thy Phu Western University
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett New York University
Deborah Willis New York University

Session 4: Discussion and Q+A

Click here to read a series of reflections on the conference presentations by Columbia students.

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The symposium coincides with The Walther Collection's multi-year series of exhibitions titled "Imagining Everyday Life," focusing on historical and contemporary uses of vernacular photography. These exhibitions aim to define the field by presenting a series of case studies, delineating general characteristics, establishing conceptual categories, and proposing various modes of future critical inquiry. "Imagining Everyday Life" will include five exhibitions at The Walther Collection Project Space in New York, including The Shadow Archive; Mistaken Identities; and Scrapbook Love Story, which is currently on view through January 26, 2019. It will culminate in May 2020, with a comprehensive exhibition at the collection’s campus in Neu-Ulm, Germany, organized by Brian Wallis, accompanied by a catalogue co-published with Steidl.

Imagining Everyday Life: Engagements with Vernacular Photography was generously supported by:

The Walther Collection
Center for the Study of Social Difference
| Columbia University
Barnard Center for Research on Women | Barnard College

School of the Arts | Columbia University
Society of Fellows in the Humanities and The Heyman Center for Humanities | Columbia University
Department of Art History and Archaeology
| Columbia University
Institute for Research in African-American Studies
| Columbia University
Institute for African Studies
| Columbia University
Andrew and Marina Lewin Family Foundation

Documentary Arts, Inc

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