Article written by 2009 DPDF Empires of Vision co-director Martin Jay in Double Exposure: Memory and Photography, edited by Olga Shevchenko.
Over the past decade, historians and sociologists have increasingly used visual materials, in particular photographs, in their work. This volume brings together historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and media and visual scholars to articulate how photography, as a practice and as a visual medium, can provide insights into national memory, collective identities, and the historical imagination. This collection allows the reader to trace parallel conceptual developments occurring in the sociology and anthropology of memory and in the history and theory of photography, and to illustrate the unique “angles of vision” these disciplines offer.
Photographic images commonly accompany historical accounts, from documentaries to family scrapbooks, and since the early days of commercial photography, pictures have been viewed as tools to capture memories. Later critical writing has challenged this equation by inverting it: photos, along with other archival practices, were often viewed as falling short of their supposed function as vessels of memory and at times even denounced as devices that distorted memories.
How does photography participate in the formation and maintenance of collective identities and shared memory discourses, from the family to the nation? Furthermore, how can we begin to conceptualize photography’s effects on the historical imagination of individuals and groups? Double Exposure endeavors to answer these questions by calling attention to the variety of contexts in which images circulate and to the narratives from which they spring and which they, in turn, shape. This is the latest volume in Transaction’s Memory and Narrative series.