Negative Thinking

Link to join the seminar on Teams 

As its title suggests, Geoffrey Batchen’s latest book, Negative/Positive: A History of Photography, begins with the negative, a foundational element of analog photography that is nonetheless usually ignored by historians. Batchen uses this thematic focus to offer a representative, rather than comprehensive, history of the photographic medium. The fact that a photograph is split between negative and positive manifestations means that its identity is always simultaneously divided and multiplied. The interaction of these two components was often spread out over time and space and could involve more than one person, giving photography the capacity to produce multiple copies of a given image and for that image to have many different looks, sizes and makers. This book traces these complications for both vernacular and canonical photographs. But it also considers a number of related issues crucial to any understanding of photography, from the business practices of professional photographers to the repetition of pose and setting that is so central to certain familiar photographic genres. Ranging from the daguerreotype to the digital image, the end result is a kind of little history of photography. But it is also a reflection on the politics of photographic discourse, where the negative is frequently treated as an other and pejoratively associated with the feminine and blackness. This paper will explore some of these issues, looking at particular examples as a way of initiating a debate about how we might henceforth evaluate the cultural significance of photographs. 

Geoffrey Batchen is the Professor of History of Art at the University of Oxford.

This seminar was originally scheduled for 12 November.

Pitt Rivers Museum Research Seminar in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology, Michaelmas 2021

Online on Teams (the link is above)

Fridays, 12pm-1.30pm (Weeks 1-3 and 5-8)

Convened by Elizabeth Hallam and Clare Harris