Uncertain Images: Museums and the Work of Photographs  book cover
1st Edition

Uncertain Images: Museums and the Work of Photographs

ISBN 9781409464891
Published October 30, 2014 by Routledge
282 Pages

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Book Description

Almost all museums hold photographs in their collections, and museum professionals and their audiences engage with photographs in a myriad of ways. Yet despite some three decades of critical museology and photographic theory, and an extensive debate on the politics of representation, outside art museums, almost no critical attention has been given specifically to the roles, purposes and lives of these photographs within museums. This book brings into focus the ubiquitous yet entirely unconsidered work that photographs are put to in museums. The authors' argument is that there is an economy of photographs in museums which is integral to the processes of the museum, and integral to the understanding of museums. The international contributors, drawn from curators and academics, reflect a range of visual and museological expertise. After an introduction setting out the range of questions and problems, the first part addresses broad curatorial strategies and ways of thinking about photographs in museums. Shifting the emphasis from curatorial practices and anxieties to the space of the gallery, this is followed by a series of case studies of exhibitionary practices and the museum strategies that support them. The third section focuses on the role of photographs in the museum articulation of ’difficult histories’. A final section addresses photograph collections in a digital environment. New technologies and new media have transformed the management, address and purposing in photographs in museums, from cataloguing practices to streaming on social media. These growing practices challenge both traditional hierarchies of knowledge in museums and the location of authority about photographs. The volume emerges from PhotoCLEC, a HERA funded project on museums and the photographic legacy of the colonial past in a postcolonial and multicultural Europe.



Elizabeth Edwards is Professor of Photographic History and Director of the Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Sigrid Lien is Professor in Art History at the department of linguistic, literary and aesthetic studies at the University of Bergen, Norway.


’This most needed volume represents a highly inspiring investigation into the role of photography as object and tool of representation in museums and archives today. Through a comprehensive selection of contributions by an interdisciplinary variety of authors - all drawing on hands-on experience - this volume fills up a void in photography and cultural studies. It is a must-read for everyone working with the materiality and meaning of photography.’ Mette Sandbye, University of Copenhagen, Denmark ’We have been needing a book like this for a long time. Looking at what photographs do, and could do, in museums, it beautifully fills a gap that has for too long stayed open in the literature on museums, museum practice, representation and photographs. On these pages we see photographs as acts of remembrance, as haunting, as absent, as representational forms and as much more besides. And throughout, this essential new volume not only explores the work of photographs in museums, but also makes a significant contribution to far wider debates on the processes of representation.’ Sandra Dudley, University of Leicester, UK