Gil Pasternak wins grant of over £500,000 for digital heritage project

Dr Gil Pasternak of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has secured a grant of over £500,000 for a project exploring the role of digital media in defining cultural heritage.

Dr Pasternak, Senior Research Fellow in Photographic History, will lead the DigiCONFLICT research consortium consisting of a team of researchers from DMU, the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Linköping University in Sweden.

The grant was awarded by the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage (JPICH), which is part of the European Commission, and fits with the European Union’s Year of Cultural Heritage taking place during 2018.

The project will run between 2018 and 2021 to explore how national and ethnic communities around the world have used digital heritage to define and preserve their cultural assets and sense of morality.

With their research mainly considering case studies from Sweden, Israel and Poland, the three partner institutions will focus on oral history, multimedia museums and photography as the most commonly used media employed in digital heritage.

They will also commission other scholars, curators, archivists, digitisation officers and librarians from around the world to write related essays to give the project a bigger spread of data.

“We will be looking into the realities that have been established around digitisation and digitalisation practices,” Dr Pasternak explained.

“Digital heritage has largely become a lynchpin of educational and ideological efforts. As such it allows us to explore how established nations, culturally diverse societies and ethnic minorities transform around its making and dissemination.

“We will be looking at what happens to historical narratives, moral values and national and personal identities when politicians, policymakers, third-sector professionals and community members come together to turn tangible and intangible cultural products into digital data.”

Originally from Israel, now British, and of Jewish and Polish heritage, Dr Pasternak feels the subject matter of the project is of significance to individuals and societies alike. But he also believes that the current global interest in the impact of politics on national and personal identities makes this the perfect time to embark on this project.

He said: “At the moment we are living in a time when it is plainly visible how culture and cultural differences have become key political benefits as well as challenges in many countries.

“We will be looking into the way that majority and minority communities turn to digital heritage in order to claim and reshape spaces, histories and various social rights.

“Digital heritage is a medium that confronts the past and the present with each other, so our research will have both historical and contemporary value.”

Dr Pasternak believes that this research project will be of great scholarly and social use and that it links directly to DMU’s research strategy, which aims to focus on research with a strong societal impact.

He added: “This project is of great significance and importance because digital heritage now has immense influence on the way people learn about themselves and about each other. Inasmuch as it can help build bridges between cultures, it may as well be used to marginalise, even destroy others.

“It’s incredibly tough to secure a grant in arts and humanities nowadays, let alone a large grant like this. The DigiCONFLICT consortium and I consider it a great achievement to have been awarded this grant.
“But what is much more important is that success like this should in my view reinstate a sense of confidence in the mission of scholars who still believe education can make a positive difference in society.”

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Smile! The Nation’s Family Album | BBC Four 16 March 2017, 9pm

From snapping with a smartphone to sharing on Facebook, photography is playing an unprecedented role in documenting and experiencing our lives.

Later this week I will be part of a new BBC film exploring what family photographs say about Britain’s post-war social history.

Smile! The Nation’s Family Album will tell the story of the family photo album, from the early days of Box Brownie photographs to modern stories being told via Instagram accounts.

As a large portion of my research studies the social and cultural work family photographs have been made to do in various intimate and public environments in recent history a BBC producer who was interested in asking similar questions about family photography in post-war Britain came across my work while researching for the film. In April 2016 he contacted me to discuss some initial ideas he had about the kinds of photographs and photographic trends that he wanted to explore.

Following our conversation, the BBC appointed me as an academic consultant for the show. Since then until the film was ready to go on air I worked with various BBC researchers and producers to identify themes, other field specialists, and relevant scholarly materials.

As part of the process I gave them information about the ways in which issues concerning social class, gender identity, cultural background and technological advance affect the production, uses and perceived meanings of family photographs.

Among the stories shared in the resulting film are the role of Kodak in creating an industry of popular photography, and the impact of the digital revolution.

Smile! The Nation’s Family Album is structured around personal experiences of specific British families, each of which used a different type of camera to capture the majority of their family photographs at distinct moments in British history. These examples demonstrate how the development in photographic technology combined with local social history influenced the types of photographs they were able to capture, and therefore also the stories they were able to tell about themselves, their family and friends, their beliefs, interests, aspirations, and life in the UK more broadly.

The film also investigates how digital technologies give camera users more and more control over the production and postproduction of photographs by bringing the full photographic process home. Exploring family photography in a reality in which photography has been plugged to the internet, the film shows that as families find it gradually more and more challenging to get together in physical space, the incorporation of cameras into smart technologies assists in bringing the family together in virtual space.

In the era of smart technologies, family photographs no longer merely function as memories of the past, but they instead become active participants in the formation of our present experiences and in shaping the dynamics of family life.

Smile! The Nation’s Family Album will be shown on BBC Four on the 16th of March ’17, at 9pm.


See additional information on:

BBC Media Centre

De Montfort University

Five game-changing cameras that turned us into photographers


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“The Devil of the West” and “the Satan of the East”: Studying Photography in Shifting Academic Landscapes

Discovering Peripheries 201631 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.

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Exposing Minorities: Domestic Photography and Cultural History in Post-Communist Poland, 1989-1996

21 March 2016, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London

In 1994 the Jewish-Polish Shalom Foundation announced a photographic contest whose intention was to reconstruct the sociocultural histories of Polish-Jews who lived in the geographical region of Poland before, during and after the Second World War. Calling upon members of the public to submit their annotated domestic photographs for inclusion in the project, the Foundation’s initiative emerged shortly after the 1989 collapse of the communist regime in Poland, and alongside similar projects whose aim was to salvage Poland’s multicultural histories – histories the communist government had largely erased. Whereas existing scholarly literature in the field of photography studies tends to frame domestic photography with reference to the social behaviors prevalent in democratic states, I considered the Foundation’s project as a case study that sheds light on domestic photographic practices in a country that did not see democracy before 1989. My talk drew on research I carried out along with Marta Ziętkiewicz (the Institute of Fine Art at the Polish Academy of Sciences), and the findings presented intended to diversify some of the meanings and functions often associated with domestic photographic collections in current studies in the field.

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CFP Discovering “Peripheries”: Photographic Histories in Central and Eastern Europe

Society “Liber pro arte” in collaboration with the Polish Association of Photography Historians and the journal Dagerotyp is organizing an international conference under the title, Discovering “Peripheries”: Photographic Histories in Central and Eastern Europe. The conference aims to explore the wealth of photographic practices in the region now commonly referred to as the former Communist bloc. As, generally speaking, photography in this part of the world has been understudied, the conference intends to promote discussion on its cultural, social and political characteristics in contexts such as national and state ideology, art, museums, education, business, everyday life, and journalism.

The two-day event will be held on 31 May-1 June 2016 in Warsaw, Poland.

The organizers welcome applications from all disciplines and career stages for 20 minutes papers. Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent by 15 February 2016 to

For further information visit the conference webpage.

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Taking Snapshots, Living the Picture: The Kodak Company’s Making of Photographic Biography

Life Writing

My article on Kodak and photographic biography has been published and you can access a PDF version of the document by following this link:

Pasternak, Gil, “Taking Snapshots, Living the Picture: The Kodak Company’s Making of Photographic Biography,” Life Writing, 2015

In this article I explore how George Eastman and the Eastman Kodak Company encouraged early twentieth-century camera users to think of snapshots as pictorial biographies. Analysing a wide selection of articles from the Kodakery, one of Kodak’s most popular magazines in the first half of the twentieth century, I demonstrate that the company endeavoured to secure its prominence in the photographic market by encouraging members of the public to integrate picture-taking into everyday life, and regard photographs as self-contained repositories of biographical details. To this end, Kodak framed the speedy pace of life that characterised the practice of being in the industrial world as a reality that allegedly weakened the human eye and mind’s ability to process the experience of life itself. Introducing the idea of the camera and picture-taking as the ultimate cures for this purported human deficiency, Kodak provided camera users with advice that helped to cement an understanding of photographs as surrogates of both the changing human body and individual subjects’ experiences in time and space. As in popular culture, and sometimes also in academia, photographs are still widely regarded as pictorial biographies, I argue that considering the popular photographic industry’s role in shaping photographic practices and photographs’ perceived meanings can help clarify the relationship between photography and life-writing.

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Photographic History Research Centre Annual International Conference 2015

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Conference hashtag #PHRC15

Call for Papers

The 2015 PHRC Annual International Conference will address the complex and wide range question of ‘photography in print.’ The conference aims to explore the functions, affects and dynamics of photographs on the printed page. Many of the engagements with photographs, both influential and banal, are through print, whether in newspapers, books, magazines or advertising. We would like to consider what are the practices of production and consumption? What are the affects of design and materiality? How does the photograph in print present a new dynamic of photography’s own temporal and spatial qualities? In addition, photography can be said to be ‘made’ through the printed page and ‘print communities’. What is the significance of photography’s own robust journal culture in the reproduction of photographic values? How has photographic history been delivered through the printed page? What are the specific discourses of photography in the print culture of disciplines as diverse as history and art history, science and technology?

Photography in Print continues the theme of previous PHRC conferences, which have explored photographic business practices and flows of photographic knowledge. We would, therefore, like to invite abstracts for papers on these important themes of photography in print. We welcome papers not only on the printed media itself but also on its contextualising processes (e.g. techniques, reception, work practices, design and social impacts). We also welcome interdisciplinary studies from, for example science, history, anthropology, and mass-media. Papers might consider the following key topics but, of course, are not limited to them:

  • Photographic Press
  • Journals and Magazines
  • Photographic Books
  • Writing about Photography (historiography)
  • Photography’s printed ephemera
  • Printed photographs and social as well as technical change

Papers are welcome from all career stages. The PHRC can offer three small bursaries of £100 to help Ph.D. students with travel and accommodation expenses. Please indicate when submitting your abstract if you would like to be considered.

Abstracts of no more than 200-300 words should be sent to: by December 1st 2014.

Conference website

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