31 May 2016, “The Devil of the West” and “the Satan of the East”: Studying Photography in Shifting Academic Landscapes, my keynote lecture for the international conference, Discovering “Peripheries”: Photographic Histories in Central and Eastern Europe, Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland, Warsaw, 31 May – 1 June 2016
The study of photography in “western academia” is today more prolific than it has ever been in the history of photography. While, however, since the 1970s scholars in this environment have published a relatively large body of work about the photographic histories, practices, and cultures of numerous human geographies, the existence of sparse literature on central and eastern European photography remains one of the history of photography’s many curiosities. In this keynote talk I will trace the development of the study of photography as we know it in the so-called west against the shifting academic landscapes that have helped shape it since the 1970s’ flourishing academic interest in photography. Attending to the earlier complex relationship between photography and academia in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, I will first show that scholarly work on western photography and central and eastern European photography was equally scant before the 1970s. Analyzing the historiography of photography studies since then, I will argue that the emergence and expansion of photography studies in “western academia” has been under the influence of research methodologies whose underpinning agendas (Frankfurt School cultural politics and the 1960s and 70s sociocultural revolutions in the “west”) often render central and eastern European photography irrelevant to their aims.