Photo Albums


  • 5pm - 6pm

  • Online

Watch recorded sessions on the Material and Visual Culture Seminar Series channel >

Session Chair: Tamara Trodd

Judith Riemer (Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen) 

Between cute babies and “Fotokompositionen” – Researching German artist photo albums between 1920 and 1940

Did you assemble a physical photo album in the last few months? Congratulations – you are part of a dying cultural practice. Whereas today analog photo albums are disappearing from our daily life, they were a common medium in the 1920s and 1930s – also amongst artists. In my presentation I want to give an insight into my doctoral research regarding the question: How do artists handle photographs in the context of the album? By presenting examples from artists like El Lissitzky, Kurt Schwitters and Gerda Leo I will show their visual strategies in composing the photographs and how they explore the creative freedom and limits of the album as idea and object. Their intentions oscillate between personal and art-related, making the photo album a hybrid object between everyday object and medium of artistic expression. The photo album in general is an ambivalent medium – between disciplines, between private and public, coherence and contingency, object and surface. My own handling of these albums is a constant reminder of their dialectical character, whether I browse through the pages or look at the scans on my screen. Therefor the presentation will also be a methodological contemplation regarding how to do research on photo albums – because research performs objects.

Pierre-Emmanuel Perrier de la Bâthie (École du Louvre and University of Poitiers) 

The Photo-Biography of the Artist in the 20th Century: the Case of Marcel Duchamp

During the 20th century, some artists chose various means, written and visual, to stage themselves. It was a way of supporting their artistic discourse, basing it on a few biographical details and a very personal attitude, both of which guarantee the authenticity of their work. Photography, a particularly mobile and adaptable medium, with a great capacity for remediation, seems to be the perfect tool for this image-making project.

Marcel Duchamp (b.1887, Blainville-Crevon; d.1968, Neuilly-sur-Seine) left us a large number of photographs showing his private life as much as his artistic activities. These pictures take part in the precise staging of the artistic character that underpins his body of work, providing the image of the impassive dandy that he carefully built during his career.

Decades after Duchamp's death, these photographs continue to circulate, both printed or digitalised. Some of them, very characteristic, are used and reused to depict the artist on any occasion: via traditional media such as exhibitions, catalogues and monographies, press articles, university classes, but also via more contemporary media such as blogs, websites, social networks, etc. This photographic network, built piece by piece by institutions and individuals, defines a new type of biography, where facts and data become more explicit through the image.

Using concepts from art history and semiology, the aim of this proposal is to question the significance of these photographs as a new way of considering the historiographic model of the artist’s life and work.