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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

“Changing Places: The Rebranding of Photography as Contemporary Art”

Moschovi, Alexandra (2008) “Changing Places: The Rebranding of Photography as Contemporary Art”. In: Photography between Poetry and Politics: The Critical Position of the Photographic Medium in Contemporary Art. Leuver Gevaert (7). Leuven University Press/Cornell University Publications, Leuven, pp. 143-155. ISBN 978-9058676641

Item Type: Book Section


Long neglected as a second-rate art, photography was accommodated in the art museum in the late 1970s, a development that coincided, chronologically and ontologically with the advent of postmodernism. This belated institutionalisation, triggered, no less, by the structural changes the museum itself was undergoing at the time, ushered in a reassessment of photography across the board. By the late 1980s, the modernist construct of (art) photography, singularly defined by the qualities unique to the medium itself, was overshadowed by an expanded lens-media field now widely termed “the photographic”.
The use of an adjective (“photographic”) instead of a noun (“photography”) not only signifies the referential character that contemporary lens-based practices have to photography but also points to the hybrid nature and “anything goes” liberalism of this novel category. Moving from the photograph to the indexical, still or moving, image, it accommodates under the same umbrella an array of media, formats, materials and sources: from Berndt and Hilla Becher’s industrial typologies and Walker Evans’s American Photographs, to Robert Smithson’s photographic documentation of site-specific works, Gregory Crewdson’s trompe l’oeil tableaux, Sam Taylor Wood’s video work and Wolfgang Tillmann’s heroine-chic magazine photographs.
But is there really an (postmodern) anomie in the photographic that effectively contests the old checklist values of the museum and the seat of photography as modernist art? Or, is it simply the profile of institutionalised photography, an ingenious way for museums to make use of the photographic material they have sporadically amassed over the last few decades, just another gimmick to meet the art market’s need for innovation and novelty by fetishising (once again) common experience? Can the photographic really lay claims to becoming the “most democratic of all arts”?

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Additional Information: This chapter originates from the homonymous 20-minute presentation at the 33rd Annual Conference, Association of Art Historians, Contestations, University of Ulster, Belfast, N. Ireland (April 2007), However, this is a significantly revised and expanded version that includes archival research conducted after the aforementioned presentation. A revised version of this paper was presented as “A Sudden Gust of Photophilia?: The Rebranding of Photography in the Museum,” in Modern Greek Studies lecture series, Hellenic Studies Department, Princeton University, Princeton, U.S.A. (February 2009) . Ideas about photography's expanded field of operations informed the peer-reviewed collaborative (with Antigoni Memou)session “Relocations: Photography Within, Across and Outside the Museum since the 1970s”, 34th AAH conference Location: The Museum, the Academy and the Studio, Tate Britain and Tate Modern, London, 2008 programme available at and . The discussion on the amateurization of photographic practice and its subsequent accommodation in the museum was further explored in collaboration with the museologist Areti Galani in the following international peer-review outputs: i) Alexandra Moschovi and Areti Galani (authors), “A Democracy of Images? The Accommodation/Assimilation of Amateur Imagery in the Museum,” in Private Eyes: Amateur Photography and Collective History, University of Copenhagen and The Danish Council for Independent Research in Humanities, Copenhagen, Denmark (November 2009), programme available at ; ii) Alexandra Moschovi and Areti Galani (authors), “Trans/forming Museum Narratives: The Accommodation of Photography 2.0 in Contemporary Exhibitions”, co-author A. Galani in Transforming Culture in the Digital Age, Tartu: the Estonian National Museum, the Estonian Literary Museum and Tartu University (April 2010), papers available in pdf format at ; iii) Alexandra Moschovi and Areti Galani (convenors), “‘Your Photographs on our Walls’: Public- Generated Photography in Art Exhibitions”, 38th AAH conference, Open University, Milton Keynes, 2012,
Uncontrolled Keywords: Photography, the photographic, medium-specificity, post-medium condition, postmodernism, cultural democracy, prosumers, vernacular, amateurization, cultures of display, museum narratives, digital culture, network communications, interactivity
Depositing User: Alexandra Moschovi


Item ID: 2702
ISBN: 978-9058676641
Official URL:

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ORCID for Alexandra Moschovi: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 29 Feb 2012 10:08
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2019 15:33