The workshops aim to promote and sustain a conversation amongst the growing community of trans-generational scholars engaged in new research in visual studies across different disciplines and media, and especially in history and photography.
Each year the SARChI Chair hosts an international workshop which includes a keynote lecture, panels of established scholars, and postgraduate participation. The workshops aim to promote and sustain a conversation amongst the growing community of trans-generational scholars engaged in new research in visual studies across different disciplines and media, and especially in history and photography.
In 2016 the Chair organised the Visual Gateways workshop at the District Six Museum in Cape Town. Professor Jennifer Tucker of Wesleyan University gave the keynote lecture entitled: ‘Picturing Modernization: The Technological Image in Humphrey Jennings’s “Pandaemonium” project (1938-1950)’. Professor Tucker is the author of Nature Exposed. Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science (2013).
The 2017 workshop took as its theme The (Visual) Subject. The keynote lecture was delivered by Professor Krista Thompson of Northwestern University, author of Shine: the visual economy of light in African diasporic aesthetic practice (2015). The lecture was entitled ‘“I was here, but I disappear”: Ivanhoe Martin and the effect of photographic disappearance in Jamaica’.
In 2018 the workshop was concerned with the ways histories are written and assembled, and the materials used to narrate or analyse the past of the African continent, and the relationships between them. African history is dominated by texts and oral-based accounts. Images (particularly photographs) open another kind of discussion because they organize time and space differently. What analytical opportunities does this open to us? Do photographs constitute a kind of historical unconscious, on the edge of history?
2019 workshop, Other Lives of the Image:
What survives in the image, often in spite of all, is often conceived in terms of afterlife. This workshop goes further to propose that there are multiple other lives at work that encourage new thinking around aesthetics, history and the present. This has implications for re-reading and repositioning many images, especially photographs that have been locked into certain kinds of framings, meanings or formats, often arising from genre conventions, institutional practices or technological constraints.
After two years of working under Covid-19 conditions, the Visual History workshop reconvened in 2022. Transience and the Image considered the ways the impulse to make images is profoundly related to historical change, fleeting time and substance, as well as the desire to record, express, or even ‘capture’ what is passing. South African photographer Santu Mofokeng invoked such desires in the idiom of chasing shadows. Photographs both stabilise and destabilise, they are related to change but also effect change. Beyond intentions and expectations, the micro-temporalities of photographs have the capacity to inscribe the contingent and the aleatory, memorably theorised as the optical unconscious.
In March 2017 a dedicated workshop on The Portrait and the Subject was organised to facilitate ongoing doctoral research with historic and contemporary photographic archives and circuits in the African continent. The workshop included presentations by postdoctoral fellow Aubrey Graham on the persistence of ‘studio-like’ contemporary portraits in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo; by doctoral fellows Rui Assubuji and Nokuthula Zinyengere on portraiture in Mozambique and Zimbabwe respectively; and by faculty member Marijke du Toit, co-author with Jenny Gordon of Breathing Spaces. Environmental Portraits of Durban’s Industrial South (Durban: UKZN Press, 2016). Breathing Spaces recently won the UWC Arts Faculty Research Incentive Award for best creative publication.