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Chosen portraits, subjected portraits

Portraits choisis, portraits subis

The relations of power and domination in portrait photography (1840-2000)

Les rapports de domination aux prismes de la photographie (1840-2000)

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Published on Monday, August 31, 2020


L’idée force est de croiser des phénomènes de domination (sans limites géographiques ni temporelles) à la technique du portrait photographique (1840-2000). Comment ce type d’image personnelle et, dans certains cas, intime peut-il être marqué (dans ses thèmes ou mises en scène) par des contextes de colonisation, d’occupation, par des rapports de classe, d’âge, de handicap, de race, de genre, par des logiques de classement sécuritaire ou nosographique ou par tout lien de subordination ou de stigmatisation ?


Taking place at the University of Namur (Belgium) in May 2021, this conference will focus on the study of power relations through the prism of photography.


The goal of this academic event is to engage simultaneously with the phenomenon of domination (understood here without any kind of time or space limit) and the technique of portrait photography (1840-2000). How is this kind of personal, if not private, image influenced/affected – in its themes or mise-en scène – by colonial or war contexts, by class, age, race or gender relationships, or by any other relation of subordination or stigmatisation? To which extent can the photographic portrait be interpreted as a visual expression of domination and/or as an “instrument and mirror of hegemonic power, capable of classifying, disciplining, fixing, and coding” (Grandin 2004 : 84)?

Considering that the photographic portrait brings together a photographer and a sitter in a given context, and that it, at times, assembles within the same frame the “dominant” and the “dominated”, those images appear to be historical sources that can potentially reveal hierarchised relations, but also identity imposition or (re)positioning. Indeed, “however hard the photographer tries to exclude, the camera lens always includes” (Pinney 2003 : 7). The central question is to identify who dictates or frames the image: based on the context, is it the benefactor, the photographer or the sitter who, although objectified, is not necessarily deprived of all initiative? Photography has the double power to “mak[e] visible not only to dominant visual ideologies, but also their subversive appropriations” (Corronil 2004: 4), the latter of which potentially referring to the concept of secondary adjustments developed by Goffman (1961). It is the researcher’s responsibility to tackle this essential aspect of visual sources.

Our decision to study specifically the photographic portrait in diverse contexts aims at contributing to two fruitful research developments: firstly, to fully integrate photography as a (res)source for (colonisation, gender, war, medical) history and, secondly, thanks to the variety of case studies, to deal in depths with critical epistemological and methodological issues specific to portrait photography arising when one attempts to explore its full potential. Within the frame of this conference, portrait photography is understood as any black-and-white or colour photography representing one or more persons, having been expressly placed in front of a camera. Often deprived of any kind of metadata, old portraits can be intriguing and the interaction with anonymous faces and bodies can simultaneously fascinate, trouble or even shock because of their visual semantics. Moreover, photography is a textured and fertile source (Pinney, 2003:6) in the sense that it contains both what it intends to capture and what it missed. Beyond the attractiveness and the richness of photographic material, our intention with this conference is to make a step forward into the scientific treatment of such sources. 

The papers should focus on image analysis. The contextualisation of photographs would serve as an indispensable analytical tool, but should not become the finality of the presentations. Each contributor would aim at studying the photographic expressions of domination relations, at precisely identifying their visible (or less visible) elements, as well as the specific forms that these can take based on context. In this perspective, the questions are plentiful: who has taken the initiative of the photographic act? Who and what are the pictures for? What are the concrete visual markers of domination/subordination? How is photography influenced by and/or participating to setting up the logic of domination? What are the main representations of a given group? Is it possible to identify visual signs of resistance to domination? What were the consequences of the portraits for the sitter(s)? What was the usage of these photographs? Have some portraits been (re)used for any other purposes than the one they were meant to?

This conference is for historians and social scientists with a strong interest for the use of photographic material as sources for their research. This includes specialists of visual studies, historians of photography, or specialists of domination contexts inclined to work with photographic documents.

How to apply?

The deadline for sending paper proposals (2500 signs, including spaces) and a short bio-bibliography

is the 15th of October 2020.

Both should be sent to the following email addresses: alexandra.deheering[at]unamur.be ; anne.roekens [at]unamur.be

The applications (as well as the presentations) can be written in French or English.

If possible, please provide two copies of the portraits that you would like to use for your presentation.


  • 15 October 2020 : Deadline for sending paper proposals and bio-bibliographies.

  • 15 November 2020 : Feedback to the authors.
  • 30 April 2021 : Deadline for sending a first version of the paper.
  • 26 et 27 May 2021 : Conference « Chosen Portraits, Subjected Portraits ».

Organising committee

  • Alexandra de Heering – FNRS/UNamur, Namur, Belgium
  • Chantal Kesteloot – CegeSoma/Archives de l’Etat, Brussels, Belgium
  • Bénédicte Rochet – UNamur, Namur, Belgium
  • Anne Roekens – UNamur, Namur, Belgium
  • Xavier Rousseaux – FNRS, UCLouvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Scientific committee

  • Ilsen About – CNRS, EHESS, Paris, France
  • Manuel Charpy – Invisu, CNRS-INHA, Paris, France
  • Chantal Kesteloot – CegeSoma/Archives de l’Etat, Brussels, Belgium
  • Amandine Lauro – Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
  • Audrey Leblanc – EHESS, Paris, Université de Lille, Lille, France
  • Benoît Majerus – Université du Luxembourg, Luxemburg
  • Xavier Rousseaux – FNRS, UCLouvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  • Patricia Van Schuylenbergh – MRAC, Brussels, Belgium
  • Pieter Verstraete – KULeuven, Leuven, Belgium

Reference bibliography

  • About Ilsen & Denis Vincent, Histoire de l’identification des personnes, Paris, La Découverte, 2010.
  • About Ilsen, « Identités automatiques. Le photomaton et l’encartement des individus », in Chéroux Clément, Stourdzé Sam (dir.), Derrière le Rideau. L’Esthétique Photomaton, Arles, Photosynthèses, 2°12, p. 263-271.
  • About Ilsen, Pernot Mathieu & Sutre Adèle (dir.), Mondes tsiganes. Une histoire photographique, 1860-1980, Arles, Actes Sud, 2018.
  • Brunet François, La photographie. Histoire et contre-histoire, Paris, PUF, 2017.
  • Burke Catherine & Ribeiro de Castro Helena, “The school photograph: portraiture and the art of assembling the body of the schoolchild”, in History of Education, 36 (2007), pp. 213-226.
  • Burke Peter, Eyewitnessing. The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence, London, Reaktion Books Ltd, 2001.
  • Ceyhan Ayse & Piazza Pierre (dir.), L’identification biométrique. Champs, acteurs, enjeux et controverses, Paris, Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’Homme, 2011.
  • Charpy Manuel, « La bourgeoisie en portrait. Albums familiaux de photographies des années 1860-1914 », in Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle, no 34, 2007-1, pp. 147-163.
  • Charpy Manuel, « Les aventuriers de la mode. Les Sapeurs congolais à Paris et l’usage de la mode en migration (1890-2014), in Modes, codes vestimentaires et pratiques culturelles, Hommes & migrations, 2015, pp. 25-33.
  • Chéroux Clément, Vernaculaires : essais d’histoire de la photographie, Cherbourg-Octeville, Le Point du Jour, 2013.
  • Cole Simon A., Suspect identities: a history of fingerprinting and criminal identification, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001.
  • Corronil Fernando, “Seeing History”, in Hispanic American Historical Review, 84:1, February 2004, pp. 1-5.
  • Didi-Huberman Georges, Invention de l’hystérie : Charcot et l’iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière, Genève, 1982.
  • Edwards Elizabeth, Raw Histories : Photographs, Anthropology, and Museums, New York, Berg, 2001.
  • Dussel Inès, “The visual turn in the history of education. Four comments for a historiographical discussion”, in T. Popkewitz (Ed.), Rethinking the history of education. Transnational perspectives on its questions, methods, and knowledge, New York, 2013, pp. 29-50.
  • Edwards Elizabeth, Photographs, objects, histories. On the materiality of the image, Routledge, 2004.
  • Edwards Elizabeth, “Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image”, in Annual review of anthropology 41, 2012, pp. 221-234.
  • Goffman Erving, Asylums. Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates, Anchor Books, 1961.
  • Grandin Greg, « Can the Subaltern Be Seen? Photography and the Affects of Nationalism », in Hispanic American Historical Review, 84:1, February 2004, pp. 83-111.
  • Naggar Carole, Chim : Children of War, New York, Umbrage Editions, 2013.
  • Pinney Christopher & Peterson Nicolas (Eds.), Photography’s Other Histories, Duke University Press, 2003.
  • Sekula Alan, “The Body and the Archive”, in October, vol.39, 1986, pp. 3-64.
  • Tucker J., “Entwined Practices: Engagements with Photography in Historical Inquiry”, in History and Theory, Issue 48, December 2009, pp. 1-8.
  • Willis Deborah and Krauthamer Barbara, Envisioning Emancipation. Black Americans and the End of slavery, Temple University Press, 2014.

The conference will take place at the University of Namur (UNamur, Belgium) and is organised by the HiSI (History, Sound, Images) research group.


  • Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres Département d'histoire, 1 rue Grafé
    Namur, Belgium (5000)


  • Thursday, October 15, 2020


  • photographie, domination, genre, subaltern studies


  • Anne Roekens
    courriel : anne [dot] roekens [at] unamur [dot] be
  • Alexandra de Heering
    courriel : alexandra [dot] deheering [at] unamur [dot] be

Information source

  • Anne Roekens
    courriel : anne [dot] roekens [at] unamur [dot] be


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Chosen portraits, subjected portraits », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, August 31, 2020, https://doi.org/10.58079/157w

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