Date of Degree

2-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

Siona Wilson

Committee Members

Romy Golan

Anna Indych-López

Karen Strassler

Subject Categories

Cultural History | Modern Art and Architecture | Photography | Sociology of Culture | Theory and Criticism

Keywords

Photo-club culture, global art history, International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP)

Abstract

This dissertation examines the global photo-club culture of the 1950s through the work of the International Federation of Photographic Art (Fédération internationale de l'art photographique, FIAP), founded in 1950. By 1965 FIAP united national associations of photo clubs in fifty-five countries across Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The regular exhibitions and publications of FIAP provided a unique platform where photographers living in the “second” and “third worlds” were welcome to present their work on equal grounds with their peers from the “first world.” FIAP, I posit, created a nonprofit, egalitarian, and open system of image production and circulation among photo clubs that aspired to align with the idealism of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, I contend that the photo-club culture of the 1950s overlapped remarkably with the field of professional magazine photography and photojournalism. Thus FIAP, I argue, succeeded in mobilizing a transnational and heterogeneous community of photographers by appealing to a shared idealism that transcended geopolitical and professional boundaries at a time of deep political and socioeconomic crisis. The work of these photographers, documented in seven FIAP yearbooks published between 1950 and 1965, offers a cross-section of postwar photography consisting of multiple regional perspectives and idiosyncratic visual styles that resist applying one unified periodization or single stylistic hierarchy. My analysis of this cross-section, with a focus on examples from Argentina, Brazil, East and West Germany, India, and Taiwan, aims to disrupt the established narrative of the Eurocentric art history of photography. Instead, I propose a global and decentralized history comprising several coexisting narratives, each of them relevant within their local and regional context independently of whether they fit into the storyline of Western art history or not. Relying on the sociology of art and postcolonial theories, I emphasize the cultural diversity and local specificity of the multiple photographic practices that coexisted in photo-club culture. The systemic power imbalance in the field of photography during the 1950s, I posit, was one of the reasons why the efforts of FIAP and most photo clubs had been forgotten as we look back on that decade from our vantage point. Among the dominant forces in the field were the influence of Life magazine, the monopolization of photojournalistic production by Magnum cooperative, and the worldwide circulation of the exhibition and photobook The Family of Man. Operating in this context, FIAP and photo clubs offered “second” and “third world” photographers an alternative and more accessible avenue toward advancing their social standing and elevating the cultural role of photography within their societies.

The dissertation opens with a panoramic view on the profound influence the UN had on FIAP. It proceeds with a sequence of gradually closer middle shots, first focusing on magazine photographers as a professional group and then identifying humanist photography, which also had a notable presence in FIAP yearbooks, as the leading visual style of the time. The next close-up is the international photography trade fair in Cologne, Photokina 1956, which gave an unprecedented public platform for photo-club exhibition design, strategies, and politics. The narrative concludes with macro-level close-ups of two outstanding advocates of photo-club culture and FIAP: Lang Jingshan, a Chinese refugee photographer working in Taiwan, and the São Paulo-based photo club Foto Cine Clube Bandeirante.

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