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Photographs as Objects, Photographs as Thoughts. On the Materiality and the Ethics of Photography in Jewish Contexts

Mon, December 17, 1:15 to 2:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Waterfront 1 Ballroom
Tue, December 18, 12:45 to 2:15pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Waterfront 1 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Seminar


Jewish photographers belong to the most prolific documenters of the 20th century. Yet, instead of understanding this observation as an exclusive category, the participants of this seminar will ask in what way it triggers questions that enable new analytical frameworks which can broaden the understanding and the place of Jewish history and Jews in history. Two topics appear to be on the margins of the thinking about this kind of photography and are therefore often ignored: that of the “profanity” of vernacular photography and its processing as a historical object and that of the “sacredness” of photographs as carriers of a distinct kind of ethics. It will become clear that while they are very important categories in and of themselves, they also affect each other in ways that can stimulate and encourage new thoughts on photographers’ biographies, images and collections.
The participants of the first seminar session will discuss how we can and why we should broaden our analytical categories beyond the mere indexicality of the image. Anna Messner will read photographs found in a suitcase as bearers of knowledge and discuss the suitcase itself as an archive of loss and absence. Steven Hoelscher will portrait the Jewish American Journalist John L. Spivak who used photography as means of bearing witness to racism and mass incarceration in early-Depression Era Georgia. Maya Balakirsky Katz will show how Jewish photography in Soviet war animation was used to create "Jewish signatures" in the war narrative. Laura Wexler will present the “Co-Lab box and manifesto” to show how historians of photography might be able to consider the project a resource in developing their own ethics and practical stance.
In the second seminar session, focusing on the ethics of photography and photographic research and archival and curatorial work, Maya Benton will ask whether biography impacts the way photographers approach their motives and whether it influences the way we treat their photographs. Rebekka Grossmann will investigate the motivation of different Jewish photographers to travel countries in Asia and Africa. Michael Berkowitz will discuss strategies of correcting diversity issues in the study of photographs in Jewish contexts. Eventually, Daniel Magilow will show that atrocity photographs have historical value beyond their utility as documentation.

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