Photography as Knowledge (Re-)Production in Twentieth-Century East Asia

A workshop on the history of photography at Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg

17th to 19th February 2022

Call for Papers

Deadline: 4th January 2022

A hybrid workshop at Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg

This workshop aims to explore various aspects of knowledge (re)production involving photography in twentieth-century East Asia. Our construal of ‘knowledge (re)production’ is not committed to any particular definition of ‘knowledge’, and we rather emphasise the practical means by which things are made into ‘objects of knowledge’. In our case, this includes the know-how of photographic techniques and print-making, the shaping of various academic disciplines, and, more broadly, the dissemination of political information.

Needless to say, the twentieth century contains turbulent and drastic passages with two World Wars, the Cold War, and numerous protests. It also witnessed crucial artistic movements and scientific revolutions. During all these historical events, photography was mobilised for various purposes via diverse types of publications. Yet, while photography was embraced all over the world, canonised writing on photography rarely considers practices outside of the Euro-American arena. Our workshop, therefore, also functions as an intervention to historical narratives that have long been biased towards photography’s ‘core history’ and towards limited sources, often housed in colonial archives.

We invite 20-minute presentations from PhD students and post-doctoral researchers who work on 20th-century photography histories through perspectives from East Asia. While having a geographic focus, we acknowledge the significance of transcultural forces in shaping any history of photography. We thus also encourage submissions with a trans-regional focus and attempts to combat methodological nationalisms.

We are especially interested in contributions focussing on the practices of photography in relation to the following two themes:

(a) Photography as a tool integrated in various disciplines. We enquire into the interdependencies between photographs’ ontological fluidity and epistemological shifts in various fields of study. We welcome both case studies on the use of photography in different fields as well as discussions of meta-questions on the photography’s possibility to cut across types, genres, and ‘discursive spaces’. Contributions may address the following aspects:

  • The technological and material conditions of photography

  • Photography as means and method of art history and its role in art historical discourse

  • Photography’s role in shaping historical narratives and historiographies: its strengths and limitations as historical sources

  • The uses of photography in other disciplinary domains such as geography, archaeology, anthropology, etc.

  • (b) Photography as political practice and other forms of ‘knowledge’ production. The following aspects may be addressed:

  • Circulation, publication, and image sharing

  • Photography in social and revolutionary movements

  • The complexity of photographic truth in relation to journalism, reportage

  • Photography as tools and products of ideologies, such as nationalism, humanism, colonialism, and fascism.

  • Through this workshop, we strive for a synthesised history of photography: the workshop will be one of the first academic events to embrace such diverse aspects of photography with a focus on East Asia. We welcome scholars from diverse disciplines to explore the nature of interdisciplinarity in photographic researches. By doing so, we also take the ontological status of photography seriously and re-visit questions raised by Christopher Pinney: Are there many incompatible photographs, or is there a protean photography foregrounded by the changing apparatus and technics? What was happening that could not be achieved by other media? How can we account for the ‘photographic event’? Do formal elements matter? What about the materiality or immateriality of photography?

    Through the workshop format, we want to strike a balance between formal elements of academic exchange and a collaborative environment that allows for work-in-progress presentations and free dialogue. We will have keynote speeches, guest lectures, a book launch, a sneak preview of the documentary on Beijing Silvermine collection, and a library tour to one of the richest East Asian magazine collections in Europe (at our CATS campus). We plan a hybrid event with an in-person meeting in Heidelberg (COVID rules apply) and an online option via Zoom.

    Participation in the workshop is free of charge thanks to the generous support of the Graduate Academy. Limited funds are available to cover travel expenses.

    Interested participants should submit their abstracts (up to 350 words) as well as a CV by 4th January 2022 to the email address:

    Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 7th January 2022.

    Invited Guests and Keynote Speakers:

    Ayelet Zohar   Tel Aviv University

    Franz Prichard   Princeton University

    Maki Fukuoka   University of Leeds

    O.J. (Oliver) Moore   Univeristy of Groningen

    Thy Phu   University of Toronto


    Fengyu Wang M.A.
    Research Associate & PhD Candidate
    Institute of East Asian Art History

    Giulia Pra Floriani M.A.
    PhD Candidate
    Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies
    Institute of East Asian Art History

    Shixin Liang M.A.
    Research Associate & PhD Candidate
    Institute of Chinese Studies

    Yanling Li M.A.
    PhD Candidate
    Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies