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“Representing the British and American Nations in Contemporary Photography of Women and Women Photographers’ Works” March 2012
full name / name of organization:
Centre de Recherche sur les Identités Nationales et l'Interculturalité (CRINI) Faculté des Langues et Cultures Etrangères Université de Nantes
Workshop, 22nd March 2013
“Representing the British and American Nations
This one-day conference is an opportunity to take part in an interdisciplinary event gathering researchers engaged in the study of photography, women, gender, cultural and visual studies, art theory and history. Photography of women and women photographers’ works will be considered in their various uses – whether it is to document, to record historical events, social changes, anthropological features; to depict landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, crime scenes; as contemporary art or as a marketing tool, etc. – picturing and voicing out Americanness and Britishness and exploring the potentialities of photography to define or reframe the nation.
In accepting Benedict Anderson’s postulate that “communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined,” (Imagined Communities, 1983), the visual representation of the nation in photography is critical in the understanding of belonging. This first conference will be interested in observing the interrelationship between national identity and representations of women as well as the role of women image-makers engaging in understanding/perceiving/formulating the nation. How may photography build/modify/deconstruct the nation and a related sense of belonging? How can feminine/feminist photography contribute to/deconstruct this sense of belonging? How is the nation represented in these pictures of/by women (iconicity, resonances, women as over- or de- aesthecized subjects/objects/models/muses, etc.) and for whom (the other, the world, the citizen, the self)?
Assumptions of photographic truth and the very (im)possibility of representation are often questioned, as photographic representation is partial, fragmented, and perhaps illusory. The focus of this conference will be on the very ambiguity of the photograph itself, the medium/environment within which it is located, the image-maker’s conscious/unconscious intent and the various contexts which lead to multiple readings as photography is constantly open to experimentation. It is a creative and technological mode of representation that male or female pioneering photographers in the US and the UK have mastered, raising vibrant issues such as the formation of gender and its intersections with sexuality, race, class, nationality.
Every photograph that confronts us is a polysemous, dynamic image and has its own integrity but it can also be re-interpreted through new connections and juxtapositions related to the viewer’s experience, to his memory and sense of national identification/gender belonging, which serves as a filter through which visual information is understood (viewer response approach).
The social, political and historical contexts participate in the constructing and reading of the nation as articulated through representations of women. With the evolution of women’s role in the public sphere, is women’s embodiment of domesticity and the female body as allegory of the nation still prevalent and defining? Have other images of the nation through the embodiment of women emerged during specific moments and under certain conditions: the counter culture of the 60s, the conservative years of Reagan and Thatcher, “Cool Britannia” or post 9/11 and the “War on Terror”, etc.?
The orientations suggested here are non-exhaustive and should only be starting points. Proposals may be diachronic (charting short or long term trends), synchronic (focusing on case studies whether they are serial photography or single-image photography to illustrate wider concepts in various disciplinary fields), or comparative (especially to emphasize shared features which characterise UK and US photography).
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