2005-06: Archaeologies of the Standpoint
This project began in 2006 when four postgraduate students were employed as part-time researchers, to ‘excavate’ the Conway’s fascinating and varied photographic collections. Their particular theme was responses to the ‘persistence of antiquity’ in photography and photograph collections. The students’ work culminated in two highly successful and popular lunchtime seminars.
In 2007, we repeated the exercise, with four postgraduates (happily representing the range of periods covered by the Courtauld) once again unraveling some of the intriguing stories behind the images and their acquisition. We were able to take advantage of the presence of Whitney Davis as Visiting Professor in the spring term, and the subject of his lectures, ‘Archaeologies of the Standpoint’, offered a framework for the students’ research. Indeed, Professor Davis provided very helpful guidance from the outset. The theme was especially appropriate for the study of photographs, for it involves, amongst many other things, the standpoint and perspective of the photographer, whose presence behind the camera is always implied in the image.
In March 2007 the four Research Assistants gave a brilliant presentation of some of their work to a lunchtime seminar: Rachel Wells used images of Florence alongside A Room With a View to examine the standpoint of the Forsterian tourist; Nicole Lawrence explored the ‘tourist standpoint’ of the ‘A59 photographer’ – really two highly skilled and widely-travelled amateurs of the early twentieth century; Noa Turel examined photographs of war-damage originally from the Macmillan Committee and considered the ‘unveiling’ of the cathedral in Cologne through bombing; and Stuart Whatling presented a virtuoso reconstruction (or deconstruction?) of the Conway Library’s own 1981 photographic campaign at Chartres.
The Research Assistants presented their findings from further excavations of the Conway collections at a second lunchtime seminar that took place in June. Rachel Wells continued her consideration of E.M. Forster’s writing, examining his treatment of the coincidence between standpoint and viewpoint in relation to Miss Rona Read’s collection of photographs from the 1890s; Nicole Lawrence used ‘bird’s eye’ views of cities, particularly Paris, as the focus for a consideration of ‘the aerial perspective’; Noa Turel’s presentation explored the aesthetics of photographic documentation of war damage; and Stuart Whatling discussed the ‘paratexts and parerga’ of the brown manila mounts to which the Conway photographs are attached.