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6. Justice Appears

Justice appears. At Standing Rock, for example. Law represents and negates. In North and South Carolina, for example. Law and justice stand in relation to, in and as the space of appearance. The dialectic of justice is possibility. Law is pure negation. more

Published: 08.12.2016
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5. Visual Sovereignty and Standing Rock: Decolonizing Native Spaces of Appearance

When I visited Aotearoa New Zealand in 2005, the conference I attended was opened by a Maori rangatira (leader; chief, if you must). As the visiting rangatira, I had to respond. It was a moving way to begin the event and it reminded everyone of the realities of settler colonialism. more

Published: 01.12.2016
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4. Empty the Museum, Decolonize the Curriculum: For the (Roman) General Strike

How does white supremacy make itself normal and the given against which other actions are judged? In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon claimed that cartoons and other forms of popular culture taught (white) people how to be racist. What teaches them/us how to be ‘white’? Whiteness demarcates the boundaries of the space of appearance and makes it a space of representation. To be admitted to this space is to not be, or have been, enslaved. And to be of the imperial group rather than the indigenous. more

Published: 25.11.2016
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3. A Broken Hallelujah: Mourning and Militancy for the Age of Authoritarian Nationalism

The clock of the world is showing a new time that we’re struggling to understand. Neo-liberalism became hegemonic in the doubled moment of Thatcher and Reagan coming to power (1979–80). Brexit-Trump heralds a toxic new formation of white supremacy, patriarchy and nationalism. What Stuart Hall called ‘the great moving right show’ in 1977 has become the ‘it’s great to be white show’ in 2016. more

Published: 17.11.2016
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2. It's on Us

Like so many others, I misjudged this. I had a draft of a post about how to undo whiteness post-Trump. Today these moves seem shallow, smug, self-righteous. It’s time to reflect. Trump and his followers are all about ‘them’: women, people of color, Mexicans. But what’s happened is on us, those people who are identified as white. We did this – or failed to stop it – and it’s mostly going to be people of color that pay the price. more

Published: 10.11.2016
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1. MAGA Masculinity, Scary Clowns and the Souls of White Folk

During the revolutionary upheavals of 2011 from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street, a transformation of real conditions of lived existence seemed at hand. In 1958, philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the phrase ‘the space of appearance’ to convey her sense of where politics takes place. This space, derived from the ancient Greek city-state, was constituted by exclusion of women, children, enslaved human beings and non-Greeks. more

Published: 01.11.2016
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From the series
The Spaces of Appearance
01.11.–20.12.2016

Philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the phrase ‘the space of appearance’ to convey her sense of where politics takes place. Until mid-December, Nicholas Mirzoeff will be exploring the spaces of appearance constituted by the intersection of the ‘right to appear’ (Butler) and the ‘right to look’ in both present-day and historical contexts. How does this space of appearance work, and what happens in the space of representation in politics and visual media that is its counter? 

The posts will be written ‘live,’ in the week prior to publication, rather than being excerpts from finished, written work. Themes that are likely to be considered include the state(s) of whiteness, decolonizing the space of appearance, and Black Lives Matter and its intersections. Dialogue is welcome!

show series
5. The Spectre of the Digital

I finished my last post thinking about shifting notions of ‘importance’ and ‘relevance’. This has, in part, been driven by digital technologies and the financial, socio-political and ethical pressures on institutions to give access to their collections, and in ways that connect to contemporary users. Likewise the massive and ever-increasing swirl of images in circulation is, of course, digitally-based, raising very real questions about the very nature of ‘photography’. more

Published: 20.10.2016
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4. Exhibiting the New Historiographies

Which history of photography is told in museums? We are familiar with the usual parade of nineteenth-century photography such as Linnaeus Tripe, Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron, and then that of the great masters of the modernist canon who repeatedly adorn our gallery walls in some shape or other. These of course have their interest and their merits and such exhibitions have done much to raise the public sense that ‘photography is important.’ But what of the social history of photography, the photography that worked within people’s lives – those millions of humble and unremarkable photographs which mattered to people and which constitute the majority of photographs? more

Published: 13.10.2016
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3. More on Categories

This week I want to pick up on the question of categories which has resonated through my last two posts on institutions, hierarchies and non-collections. The extent to which the categories of disciplinary landscapes and languages shape research was brought home to me forcibly when last year I contributed to an ‘at the print’ class for art history students. We were in Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, a major and politically savvy anthropology collection. We pulled from the collection Julia Margaret Cameron’s famous portrait of Charles Darwin. Despite having ‘done’ a Cameron class some weeks before, the students seemed unable to recognise it in any way. more

Published: 03.10.2016
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2. The Presence of Non-Collections and the Challenge of Photographic Ecosystems

I recently attended a leaving party for a museum photographer of some 30 years service. The usual orations were accompanied by a digital slide show of his work over those last 30 years during which he had excelled in a range of museum demands. He made bundles of sticks look exciting and provided photographs of masks, chests or totem of such technical precision and virtuosic lighting that First Nations carvers in Canada could reconstitute the haptics of their traditional carving practices – retracing chisel marks. It was also a slide show of how a museum sees itself and how it performs its objects. Yet these photographs were, until that moment, invisible as a photographic practice, and above all, they are not understood as part of the photograph collection at that institution. They are non-collections, ‘just there’, everywhere and nowhere. more

Published: 23.09.2016
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1. Patterns of Collecting, Institutional Mind-Sets and the Problem of Hierarchies

A few years ago I was talking to a curator of social history in a major British public museum service which I knew held substantial collections of photographs of the local region going back to the 1850s. I asked him how he thought about these photographs in his care, and how they related to the museum’s ethos and activities. To this he responded “well I don’t really – they are just there”. I have been thinking about the ‘just there’ quality of photographic collections ever since. How is it that a body of material, maybe 35,000 glass plates, of substantial importance in regional history can be ‘just there’? How are the tensions of specialness and ubiquity negotiated through institutional practices? more

Published: 15.09.2016
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15.09.–31.10.2016

In her blog series, visual and historical anthropologist Elizabeth Edwards will scrutinize the processes and mechanisms of institutional collecting. Why and how are photographs acquired by institutions and what are the implications for the photographs that get curated? And what happens when non-collections are brought into the remit of ‘history of photography’? Edwards will discuss assumptions, categories of description and hierarchies of values that shape the management of collections and look at how the new historiography of photography is being articulated in museums and galleries. Finally, she will consider the impact of digital technologies on the way in which photographs are constituted as both historical objects and ‘collections’. What are the effects on institutional assumptions and practices, and what does this do to a history of photography and its articulation in public space? 

show series