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

“Trans/forming Museum Narratives: The Accommodation of Photography 2.0 in Contemporary Exhibitions”

Moschovi, Alexandra and Galani, Areti (2010) “Trans/forming Museum Narratives: The Accommodation of Photography 2.0 in Contemporary Exhibitions”. In: Transforming Culture in the Digital Age: International Conference in Tartu, 14-16 April 2010. Estonian National Museum, Estonian Literary Museum, University of Tartu, Tartu, pp. 187-193. ISBN 978-9949-417-59-9

Item Type: Book Section


In spring 2002, the Museum of Modern Art in New York held an “experimental” exhibition about the city of New York under the title ‘Life of the City’. Aiming to “explore the richness, diversity, and power of the tradition of photography in New York”, on a par with the architecture, landscape and buzz of the city, the 150 exhibits that furnished the first part of the show were drawn from the museum’s masterpiece collection. Next to the artworks proper, in an installation continuously changing throughout the duration of the exhibition, featured photographs contributed by New Yorkers and visitors who responded to the museum’s open call. Yet, the arresting centrepiece –of the show was the projection of a constant stream of professional and amateur photographs collected by the post-September 11 project, ‘Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs’ that was initiated, its instigators claimed, “as an alternative way of looking at and thinking about history” proposed “by the people for the people”. Without credits, titles or other information, taken by “everybody and anybody”, such un-authored imagery contradicts, by its very nature, the museum’s traditional canons of connoisseurship and ownership.

It is, however, within the changing digital media landscape, which has given rise to online social networks, citizen journalism and knowledge crowd-sourcing, that museums increasingly look at social media as a means to diversify their activities and to reach new audiences. In this context, museums such as the London Transport Museum and Tate Britain have favoured the familiar and ‘democratic’ medium of photography in combination with online image sharing applications to address these challenges and to increase their relevance to their target audiences. The exhibitions of ‘How we Are’ in Tate Britain in 2007 and ‘Suburbia’ in the London Transport Museum in 2009, have used Flickr not to publicise their content but to enable a process through which everyday users were able to contribute to the exhibition – an approach also explored in their forthcoming exhibitions.

We are currently witnessing a curatorial fascination with the amateur vernacular, generated and published through social media applications. So what makes today’s amateur imagery so appealing to museums? One might argue that the ‘amateurism’ of the immediate and accessible Web 2.0 photography affords the museum with a more credible and authentic record of the real that mediates life in a manner that professional imagery cannot. It may allow, therefore, the expansion of the dominant museological narrative by promoting what Andea Witcomb calls “unstable museum interpretations”.

This paper explores this hypothesis, focusing on the re-definition of existing tensions in the museum, such as the changing relationship between producers and consumers of meaning and the emergence of the ‘prosumer’; the diffusion of boundaries between canon, centre and periphery; and the renegotiation of authored discourse through the deployment of polyvocal narratives and participatory practices.

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Uncontrolled Keywords: Digital culture, Web 2.0, social networking media, cultural heritage, museum narratives, cultures of display, participatory curatorial practices, public engagement, crowd sourcing, public-generated content, vernacular photography, prosumer
Depositing User: Alexandra Moschovi


Item ID: 2757
ISBN: 978-9949-417-59-9
Official URL:

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ORCID for Alexandra Moschovi: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2012 13:30
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2019 15:33