Special issue edited by Marie-Ève Bouillon and Laureline Meizel
To what extent does the meaning of a photograph depend on social experience, industrial contingencies, the professional environment or the culture of its producers? This special issue of Photographica aims to explore this question and thus extend the discussions initiated during a seminar at the EHESS in 2018–20201. The issue attempts to contribute to the growing number of studies into the professions or companies related to photography (previously unknown or underestimated by historiography) (Blaschke, 2016; Callens, 2016; Bouillon, 2017; Lugon, 2019; Bihl et Dogué, 2020), as well as recent research on the influence of cooperation networks on the “‘public’ life of photographs”2 (Leblanc, 2015; Grossi, 2018; Bair, 20203). Its purpose is to bring together texts devoted to trajectories and collaborations of the multiple players who participate in the production of photographs and, at the same time, contribute to shape their modalities of existence in social space. Instead of questioning the photographer’s gaze,4 the meaning or the intrinsic power of his or her images, the question will be to examine skills, trades or professions involved in the conception, the financing and/or making of photographic images intended for distribution in multiple copies to a wide audience. How, by whom, and according to which cultural, social, and economic models, has the expertise of these producers been structured and, possibly, hierarchized within a field whose contours remain to be questioned over the course of the history of photography? At the same time, what were the repercussions of the interactions between these producers both on their operating models and on their photographs?
By inviting contributors to position themselves behind the image and no longer in front of it,5 this call invites surveys on players whose role in the making of visual cultures has remained obscure, for reasons that the contributions will seek to tackle. Drawing specifically on the methodological contributions of a pragmatic sociology of art, culture and media,6 this call therefore incites to take a critical and situated interest in the armies of invisible hands and minds that participate or have participated in the public existence of photographic images, without geographic or chronological restrictions. It encourages a more careful look at the inconsistencies and fragility of the processes which shape photographs, but also to accept the epistemological uncertainties generated by a posture based on seeing and knowing. Finally, it invites contributors to take into account what constitutes the common thread between the producers in question: the images as well as the objects resulting from the collective practice of the photographic medium.
One of the most paradigmatic examples of this approach is embedded in the study of postcards. For Gisèle Freund (1974 ), a postcard is above all a social object without a claimed author, understood as a global phenomenon or as a simple way of reproducing images, without an assessment of the conditions enabling its existence, nor its cultural influence. However, a material study of these neglected and anonymous objects can help us reconstruct the history of the players involved in their production, to identify the different stages of their realization, and, finally, their influence on social imagery. The postcard is just one example. Photographic earthenware, stained glass, and many other mass-produced objects (mugs, t-shirts, smartphone cases, etc.) could be investigated this way. Drawing on industrial history, this call for papers aims at a social and cultural history of photographic producers. Its guiding idea is to go beyond a master-narrative solely focused on photographers or on the aesthetics of photographs, and instead, to outline new perspectives based on commonly disregarded materials (trademarks, advertisements, sales catalogs, legal deposits, professional magazines).
The entire issue – including book and exhibition reviews, as well as the presentation of a historical source – will focus on the producers of photographs from the 19th to the 21st centuries.
Articles may address this notion in specific case studies or by following an expansive approach (prosopographical, theoretical or methodological). Particular attention will be paid to contributions that cover neglected regions of the world and analyze non-Western practices. By promoting a historicized approach, the contributions may fall within the three topics listed below:
The professions of the photographic industry: identities, genres, relations of domination
Representations, invisibilizations, and social imaginaries of photographic production
The establishment and development of cooperation networks: which spatial and temporal scales?
Drawing inspiration from cultural history, ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 2007 ), and sociology of work and professions, this part will focus on the individuals, companies, institutions, and associations that intervene in the design, manufacture and/or financing of photographs intended for circulation in the public sphere. Examples are publishers, photo-engravers, printers, retouchers, artistic directors, graphic designers, and iconographers, along with agencies and sales representatives. Through their positioning in relation to the public’s expectation, how do they help shape the cultural and social significance of photographic images?
To answer this question, the analysis of trajectories will be at the center. By focusing on changes in professional expertise at the level of a workshop or a company (a photographer's studio developing into a publishing house, a printing company extending its activities to photo-engraving, an engraver turned retoucher), or on the transition from amateur practice to professional engagement, it will shed light on the emergence and evolution of these professions. In this way, porosities between fields of activity that are most often distinguished (publishing, photography, audiovisual, media, documentation, cinema, printing, finance or industry, etc.) may (re-)surface and (re-)shape our understanding of producer communities.
This field of inquiry also calls for contributions related to gender studies, postcolonial studies, and, more generally, contributions which study social hierarchies. From this perspective, authors are encouraged to investigate the gendered construction of the professions that contribute to the production of photographs (Léon, 2020) or the “female personnel”1 in factories. The positions occupied by women in the production of postcards (coloring, shaping, etc.) would, for example, provide an ideal case study. Authors are also encouraged to question the role of colonized populations in the production of photographs of imperial domination (Junge, 2019), through the prism of a sociology of professions in colonial contexts (Jezequel, 2011).
This second part builds on the first one. Its primary aim is to question the representation or the invisibilization of the players who intervene in the production of photographs (operators, printing workers, bookbinders, sales representatives, etc.), be it in their business or in the workplace. The underlying question is as follows: how does the representation or the under-representation of these professions affect the social perceptions we might have of them?
While some pioneering figures in commercial photography, such as Félix Nadar or Disdéri, have fueled the imaginary related to the figure of the photographer in the mid-19th century, the manufacturers at the heart of photographic companies around 1900 are rarely represented. Their physiognomy remains quite often unknown to us (examples are Michel Berthaud (“Berthaud frères” then “Imprimerie photographique Berthaud”), Antonin et Étienne Neurdein (“Neurdein frères”), Isaac dit Georges Lévy et Moyse Léon (“Léon et Lévy”)). This lack of representation raises many questions. Is the staging of oneself no longer necessary when one claims to be a company manager, or an employer of multiple technicians? What does the absence or existence reveal of such representations, social status and functions claimed by industrial photographers?
In the same vein, drawing on François Brunet’s idea of photography as based on euphemizing human intervention in the making of images (2000), it is important to question how and why these producers have been marginalized to this day (in discourses, in images, and therefore, in public space), and what the mechanisms, strategies, and effects of such phenomena of disappearance are. We may also wonder, in synchrony or in diachrony, about the phenomena of anonymization of the various players contributing to the production of the distributed photograph (erasure of the signature, disappearance of credits), as well as the conflicts that they may generate (copyright issues, user rights).
Focusing more specifically on interactions between photographic producers, this third part calls for contributions dedicated to the structuring and evolution of cooperation networks at different spatial and temporal scales. In this context, the production sites of images and objects (workshops, factories, and offices rather than the more widely studied studios1) could be analyzed as a space for cooperation and/or as the node of a larger network. What determines the location, configuration, organization, and integration of these workspaces in certain cities, at certain sites, or on certain communication routes? How do producers take these factors into account and how does this affect their specialized activities and productions? And, finally, is it possible to identify some specificities of forms, techniques, know-how, or usages through the prism of production spaces?
By shifting the focus from the locations themselves to their interconnectivity, we may envisage network-building relative to the production, as well as the circulation of images and photographic objects. We may ask ourselves what the effects of such an investigation into traditional geographic, chronological, and technological divisions would be. Furthermore, we could look at the commercial partnerships of photographic producers to better understand their role in technology transfers, as well as in the development of visual cultures. Similarly, the practical modalities of their interactions could be analyzed over time or at different moments in the history of photography.
This third part therefore invites contributors to examine the history of national and international unions, which bring together or distinguish image producers according to their profession. Those organizations set the standards of their practice and their images, but also regulate their relationships with the players who drive the fields of application of their expertise (Meizel, 2016). The study of unions thus comes down to question how cooperation networks are structured (notably specialization, hierarchization among them), and how their economic model and market strategies have evolved in specific socio-cultural environments (McCauley, 1994). Eventually, this leads us to the larger question of how these combined phenomena participate in the attribution of differentiated values to the photographs put into circulation.
Submission deadline: April 30, 2021
Committee response date: Mid-May 2021
(including guidelines for possible corrections if the proposal is selected)
Presentation and discussion of texts edited by contributors during a study day at the INHA, Paris: June 25, 2021
Publication in Photographica No. 4: Spring 2022
Articles should be submitted in French or English.
They should not exceed 30,000 characters (spaces and notes included).
They should also be anonymised.
Co-authored articles are welcome.
Suggested illustrations (15 max.) with captions and credits can be joined. Article submissions will be evaluated in double-blind peer-review. They may be accepted, accepted with modifications, or refused.
In a separate document, please include name, e-mail address, position, and institutional affiliation (university, research unit), along with a list of publications for the author(s).
Submissions should be sent to: redaction[at]photographica-revue[dot]fr
For further questions / inquiries, please contact: contact[at]photographica-revue[dot]fr
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