Pictorial Historians: Making Photographs into Memories, Stories and Narratives (1880s-1930s)

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2017-05-23

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Peer reviewed

Abstract

This talk was invited in anticipation of the opening of the exhibition "The Henkin Brothers: A Discovery: People of 1920s-30s Berlin and Leningrad." Delivered to curators, practitioners, students, academics and members of the public, I based my talk on an earlier research paper that I published in 2015: Pasternak, Gil, “Taking Snapshots, Living the Picture: The Kodak Company’s Making of Photographic Biography,” Life Writing 12(4), Special Issue: Self-regarding: Looking at Photos in Life Writing, 2015: 431- 446. Similar to the paper, my talk at the Hermitage Museum explored how between the late 1880s and the early 1930s photographs had gradually come to be understood as memory capsules, vessels of short stories, and bearers of coherent narratives. It looked into the way in which George Eastman and the Eastman Kodak Company encouraged early twentieth-century camera users to think of snapshots as pictorial biographies. Analysing a wide selection of articles from the Kodakery, one of Kodak’s most popular magazines in the first half of the twentieth century, I demonstrated that the company endeavoured to secure its prominence in the photographic market by encouraging members of the public to integrate picture-taking into everyday life, and regard photographs as self-contained repositories of biographical details. This discussion linked to the exhibition that was then to open in July 2017 as the display features snapshots captured rather casually by brothers Evgeny and Yakov Henkin who moved separately to Berlin (Evgeny) and Leningrad (Yakov) right after the October Revolution. The pictures chosen for the exhibition were mainly intended to demonstrate how daily life had gradually changed in Leningrad as the Soviets were gaining prominence in Russia, and how the streets of Berlin had also turned into politically charged spaces when the Nazi party was rising to power in Germany. My talk and the exhibition drew attention to the fluidity of photographs, visualising how often snapshots captured for private use turn over time into valuable documents of biographical and historical significance regardless of the purpose they might have been expected to play at the time of their production.

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Keywords

Pictorial histories, Snapshots, Story-telling pictures, Photograph albums, Kodakery, Kodak, Pictorial biographies, Visual histories, Life writing

Citation

Pasternak, G. (2017) Pictorial Historians: Making Photographs into Memories, Stories and Narratives (1880s-1990s). Invited public talk at The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Russia), 23 May 2017

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Research Institute

Media Discourse Centre (MDC)
Institute of Art and Design