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Photonovels in Lisbon

I have had the chance to participate to the MLA International Symposium, which took place in Lisbon from July 23rd to July 25th. The theme of this year's symposium was "Remembering Voices Lost". Among the many, interesting sessions, panels and presentations, I presented "Photonovels: lost voices of a sentimental, popular genre" within the panel "Exploration in Narrative Photography".

Taking the theme of "lost voices" as a starting point, the presentation moved in two parallel directions. I firstly discussed the photonovel's own voice. The photonovel has been disregarded by intellectuals, right and left politicians and clericals alike from the moment it came to be; although read by millions, and therefore able to influence the masses, the photo-novel was perceived as too low-brow and frivolous to be actually taken seriously. Secondly, I focused on the creators' voices. The negative and dismissive attitude of the upper classes impacted strongly an important aspect of the production of photonovels, namely the recognition of the works; more often than not, photonovels hold no author credits thus sentencing all the people who worked to make photonovels to anonymity. At the same time, authors, directors, photographers and actors of photonovels often preferred to remain anonymous than to face the shame of admitting their line of work to the cultural establishment. With examples from the Belgian and Italian contexts (Richard Olivier, Hubert Serra and Cesare Zavattini), I highlighted the problem and concluded on a more positive note: projects like Photo-Lit, exhibitions on the topic and new academic publications are finally paying attention and giving a space to recover the lost voices of the photonovel.

The presentation was met by enthusiasm and many questions, showing once again how fascinating the world of photonovels can be.

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