Photography and Museums of Mutuality: A Metaphor

Elisavet Kalpaxi

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


    This paper suggests that photography can provide a useful metaphor to discuss current institutional frameworks for wider cultural/geographical inclusiveness and dialectical schemes in art museums.

    The inclusion of photography in museum art collections has been a slippery ground, throughout modernism. Photography’s operation as a modern technology, a document (of performance, museum items, or realities in the world), and as a creative apparatus able to produce art objects appreciated in their own right, has often resulted to a number of complex propositions. Arguably, it is this complexity that also allowed photographic images to be appreciated for their formal qualities and their function as indexes to artists’ increasing pre-occupation with the social and political spheres.

    Arguably, photography’s presence in art, in the past fifty or more years, was defined by the work of artists that used photography to challenge art institutions and address issues of identity, and also by the increased discursive interest in the social functions of art. Three recent developments illustrating photography’s eventual de-marginalisation in art, the aggressive collection of photography by art museums, the appointment of photography curators, and eventual inclusion of photography exhibitions in art museums such as the National Gallery in London in 2013 (referring to photography meant to be art, but also reportage, advertising) have been perceived as institutional liberalism. However, this integration is also seen to neutralise photography’s inherent tensions. Art as a discourse for the analysis of all photography coincides with the parallel decline of the authority of semiotics, narratology, psychoanalysis and post-Marxist critique in photography theory, a turn symptomatic of the digital age which, as Katrina Sluis and Daniel Rubinstein suggest, ‘can do without the persistent questions about representation that fascinated writers on photography for decade’ (2008). Similarly, current discussions on museums’ wider inclusiveness, can be seen to conceal inherent tensions relating to the origin of the museum and its inherently elitist nature as a site of power.

    Through examples starting from Walter Benjamin’s ideas on the impact of photography on art institutions, this paper intends to explore curatorial strategies and concerns as being intrinsically linked to digital technologies and networked cultures, and suggests that current trends seem to illustrate a tension between embodied subjectivities, globalising and de-centring forces in late/advanced capitalism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-19
    Number of pages19
    JournalStedelijk Studies
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2019


    • Photography, museums, mutuality, global, public agency, inclusion, documents, Benjamin, Malraux, identity politics


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