Geoffrey Batchen: Seminar and Book Launch - Negative/Positive: A History of Photography

When:  Wednesday, February 17, 2021, 01:10pm

Where:  Zoom

Category:  Center for Cultural Analysis

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One of the distinctive characteristics of photography is that most analogue photographs are positive prints that have been made from a negative. Nevertheless, the negative is almost always regarded as a secondary entity in discussions of photography, if it is discussed at all. Looking at work by a range of practitioners, including William Henry Fox Talbot, Man Ray, Dorothea Lange, Richard Avedon and Andreas Gursky, this seminar and book launch will discuss a history of the negative, tracing some of the ways that history complicates our understanding of the photograph.

About Geoffrey Batchen

Geoffrey Batchen is Professor of the History of Art, Trinity College, Oxford University.

He is a specialist in the history of photography, with a particular interest in the early history of the medium. But he often brings the initial decades into conversation with the present, and especially with contemporary art practices. As Batchen explains of his approach to photography’s history, “Roland Barthes once described photography as a ‘revolution in human consciousness.’ My research has explored various aspects of this revolution, with a particular interest in the way that photography mediates every other aspect of modern life, whether we're talking about sex or war, atoms or planets, commerce or art.”  

His first book began at the beginning, with the question of photography’s origins, exploring the conditions of possibility which allowed the medium to be conceived at the end of the eighteenth century. Always attracted to what lies at the margins of the discipline, he focused his subsequent work on examining so-called vernacular photographic practices, opening the field to a consideration of ordinary and banal photographs (such as snapshots, commercial photos, and objects like photographic jewelry) but also to indigenous and local photographies found in cultures other than my own.

More recently, he has been concerned with the reproduction and dissemination of photographic images, and thus with second-order photography, such as the wood engravings made after daguerreotypes that were printed in the Illustrated London News in the 1840s and ‘50s, or the half-tone images that dominated the world’s press in the twentieth century.

His recently published book, Negative/Positive, traces the role of the negative in photography’s history, from its invention until now, another aspect of the medium usually ignored in traditional histories. The tracing allows him to ponder the binary nature of the medium even while offering another global account of its history. 

The event is free and open to the public via Zoom. For a Zoom link and readings, please RSVP at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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