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"Photography and the Languages of Reconstruction after the Second World War, 1944-49"

Jan Baetens and Fred Truyen have given two fascinating presentations on April 12th for the Conference "Photography and the Languages of Reconstruction after the Second World War, 1944-49", which took place in Cardiff, UK. Fred's talk focused on photography of the Fifties from European archives. And Jan's? On photonovels of course!


Photonovel Bodies. Kitchen Sink Romance and Beyond. Jan Baetens

The postwar period sees the triumph of two ideas that are still key to the mainstream understanding of photography today: a picture is a trace of reality (which also means: a good picture, certainly in documentary photography, should not be staged or otherwise manipulated) and a picture represents a slice of time (its ideal is the snapshot, not the sequence). Photographic pictures that combine both staging and sequence are therefore marginalized, although they may be extremely important forms of photography (what is a family album if not a staged sequence?). The photonovel is a good example of such a marginalized, but socially crucial type of photography (in the pre-television era, one adult out of three in Italy and France was an avid reader of the allegedly “escapist” and “utterly unrealistic” fiction of the photonovel). Yet in order to understand which kind of pictures we discover in a photonovel, it is important to compare these images with those of a) the drawn novel (the genre that gave birth to the photo novel), b) the Hollywood celeb photography, and c) advertisements. These other types of images are not chosen at random, or intertextually reconstructed: all of them share the same space, namely the pages of magazines that specialized in photonovels.

Kaleidoscope: engaging Photography of the Fifties from Europe’s archives East & West . Fred Truyen

KU Leuven led the EC CIP project “EuropeanaPhotography”, which contributed 450.000 images of early photography from major private and public holdings, such as Alinari, Parisienne de Photo, TopFoto, United Archives, KU Leuven, Gencat, CRDI, MHF, Divadelni Ustav, NALIS, ICIMSS and others. It contains studio photography as well as news photography and Art photography, but also family albums and other citizen images. The collection focuses on masterpieces and hence takes esthetic considerations prominently on board, as was explified in the exhibition “All our Yesterdays”. This effort led to the creation of Photoconsortium, a non-profit organization representing Photo archives and agencies, with a focus of furthering mutual interests and knowledge. It also led to the Thematic collection of Photography on Europeana, of which Photoconsortium is the caretaker. This work is continued in the Europeana DSI and in the EC CEF funded project “Migration in the Arts and Sciences”, which had its first physical exhibition in October 2018 in Pisa “Thousands are Sailing” as well as the launch of its virtual exhibition on the Europeana Migration collection portal. Currently we started the work on “Kaleidoscope: the Fifties in Europe”. This project aims at leveraging photographic content from 1950's in Europe, increasing the engagement of citizens with the Europeana content, involving user interaction, crowdsourcing and co-curation of digital content. The kind of academic work that KU Leuven performs for these collections is different in two important ways from classical work on Photography. First of all, the goal is to serve a broad, rather undefined audience on Europeana. It wants to open up the riches of Europe’s photographic heritage to the wider public, which of course also happens to contain more informed groups such as photo amateurs – a visitor group gaining importance due to the popularity of vintage photography. Secondly, it wants to curate collections directly from the source, letting the images speak from themselves. Rather than starting from a study of photography in a specific timeframe – such as now the Fifties – the curation starts with reviewing the actual collections gathered on Europeana, who offer an important departure from the established canon of European photography. Not only the most famous collections are present, but also hitherto unpublished collections from Central and Eastern Europe that were unavailable before the fall of the Iron Curtain. It means new features can be explored and new common traits can be discovered across the whole of Europe. Again, rather than focusing on known stereotypes such as consumerism and social realism, it is the intention to let users discover the actual riches of the collections directly from the contributing archives. This allows to define new themes that start rather from the esthetic properties of the photographs. The project, like its predecessors, involves development of metadata for photographic heritage. This work already yielded a thesaurus for photographic terms published as linked data and integration efforts with Getty AAT and Wikidata. It also produced a Photographers’ index, listing many hitherto less known photographers both from Eastern and Western Europe. Currently we are exploring automated metadata for photographic properties of the images, such as balance and composition. This is the second contribution KU Leuven wants to bring to the academic work on European Photography. In the paper we will try to explain and defend our curation practice, and put the value of an esthetic curation point of view for photographic collections, and its importance for metadata development, forward for discussion. We will also discuss policy issues when publishing publicly archival photographic images.

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