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

“A Democracy of Images? The Accommodation/Assimilation of Amateur Imagery in the Museum”

Moschovi, Alexandra and Galani, Areti (2009) “A Democracy of Images? The Accommodation/Assimilation of Amateur Imagery in the Museum”. In: Private Eyes - Amateur Photography and Collective History, 12-13 November 2009, University of Copenhagen. (Unpublished)

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


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 centerpiece 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". Similarly, a current project in the London Transport Museum, invites Flickr users to contribute their own photographs of London suburbs to feature in the forthcoming exhibition Suburbia, which "will tell Londoners stories of the shaping of their city". 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. Even so, we are currently witnessing a curatorial fascination with the amateur vernacular. So what is it that makes today's amateur photography so appealing to museums?

This paper proposed that amateur photography, included in the museum through conventional or Web 2.0 channels, may be seen as a means for challenging the dominant museological narrative and promoting what Andea Witcomb calls "unstable museum interpretations". The paper explored this hypothesis, focusing on the re­definition of existing tensions in the museum, such as the changing relationship between producers and consumers of meaning and the emergence of the 'prosumer'; the shifting of boundaries between amateurism and art making; and the renegotiation of authored discourse through the deployment of polyvocal and kaleidoscopic narratives.

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Additional Information: Speakers: Mette Sandbye (University of Copenhagen, DK); Margaret Olin (Yale University, US) Touching Photographs: Photographic Exhibitions and September 11, 2001; Sigrid Lien (Bergen University, NO) What’s the meaning of it all? Place and the Rhythm of Life in Norwegian Emigrant Photography in Spring Grove, Minnesota; Louise Wolthers (National Art Gallery, DK), The Artist as Historian: Witnessing a Colonial Past; Jane Rowley (Independent curator and researcher, DK), Reel Families: Recasting the Past; Pauline Ann Hoath (Bergen University, NO), A Young Soldier’s Account; Mette Haakonsen (University of Copenhagen, DK) The Revival of Visible Memory. On Amateur Photography in Danish Cemeteries; Annebella Pollen (University of Brighton, UK) ’Britain’s own family album’: Participation, Commemoration and the ‘intimate public’ of the One Day for Life photographic archive; Christopher Pinney, (University College London, UK) Zoom: The Anxiety of Photography in India; Sarah Pink (Loughborough University, UK), Amateur Documents? Amateur Photographic Practice, Collective Representation and the Constitution of Place in UK Slow Cities; Anna Dahlgren (The Nordic Museum, SE), The Photo Album as Site; Amalia Bonné (University of Copenhagen, DK), Tracing Normative Ideals of Childhood through the Photo; Jonas Larsen (University of Roskilde, DK), The Life of Digital Photographs: the Case of Tourist Photography; Mikko Villi, (University of Art and Design Helsinki, FI); Distance as the New Punctum: Camera Phone Communication and Temporary Loss; Martin Lister (University of West England, UK), Where is my Camera? Joanne Garde-Hansen (University of Gloucestershire, UK); Towards a Concept of Connected Memory: The Photo Album Goes Mobile; Mette Mortensen (University of Copenhagen, DK) When Amateur Footage Sets the Agenda in the News; Tobias Raun (University of Roskilde, DK), Screen-births. Transgendered Videoblogs on YouTube; Abigail Glogower (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, US), How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Image: Self as Document and Broadcast; Karin Wagner (Chalmers University of Technology, SE) The Transient yet Permanent Image.
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, prosumers, polyvocality
Depositing User: Alexandra Moschovi


Item ID: 2758
Official URL:

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ORCID for Alexandra Moschovi: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2012 14:24
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2019 15:33