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Museums & Galleries History Group Annual Lecture

Join Professor Elizabeth Edwards for a lecture on the presence of photographs in museums, following the MGHG annual general meeting.

Following the annual general meeting (for MGHG members only) at 16.30, refreshments will be served from 17.00. The lecture will begin at 17.30.

Collections, Non-Collections and Ecosystems: Case notes on photographic cultures in the Museum – Professor Elizabeth Edwards

What do photographs ‘do’ in museums? This paper considers the presence of photographs in museums as an ecosystem. This ecosystem is characterised, Edwards suggests, by shifting relationships between formal ‘collections of photographs’ and the museum’s photographic ‘non-collections’ which saturate its practices. 

In tracing the history of these relationships, Edwards will consider how hierarchies of photographic value have been established, maintained and challenged over time. Drawing on recent work on the history of photographic cultures at the V&A, she considers the dynamic institutional performance of photographs across four key overlapping spaces of gathering and dissemination – the ‘guard-book’ albums, the library, the curatorial departments and through illustrated publications for the public. 

The V&A provides a particularly pertinent set of ‘case notes’, having developed an extensive relationship with photographs since the 1850s, one of the first museums to do so. Using anthropological concepts and methods to interrogate the matrix of photographic practice, accumulation and purpose, she suggests thinking about what photographs ‘did’ and are ‘doing in museums can illuminate the epistemic values that shape them, and as such, constitute a vital yet overlooked strand in the histories of museums.

Ticket prices

  • Free for MGHG Members
  • £10 for non-members
  • £7 for students and Science Museum/V&A members of staff