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Durham University

Centre for Visual Arts and Culture

Previous Events

Photography and the concept of cultural translation: salvation or problematic?

15th July 2014, 16:00 to 17:30, Kingsley Barrett Theatre, Calman Learning Centre, Durham University

The concept and metaphor of ‘translation’, as an approach to practices and effects, has become increasingly widespread across a range of disciplines: archaeology, history, anthropology, cultural studies and, of course, the field of translation studies itself, in a symbiotic flow of key concepts.

Convenors: Professor Elizabeth Edwards (IAS 2012), Professor Jonathan Long (Durham)

Conference Panel forming part of the Durham Institute of Advanced Study conference on Transfusion and Transformation: the Creative Potential of Interdisciplinary Knowledge Exchange, July 15th – 17th 2014

The panel takes place 4pm – 5.30pm on Thursday 15th July in the Kingsley Barrett Theatre of Durham University’s Calman Building.

The concept and metaphor of ‘translation’, as an approach to practices and effects, has become increasingly widespread across a range of disciplines: archaeology, history, anthropology, cultural studies and, of course, the field of translation studies itself, in a symbiotic flow of key concepts. T

This panel will bring together a group of interdisciplinary scholars to consider the act and object of photography as an form of cultural translation that moves a set of experiences – the war zone, the ritual event, the everyday – from one space of understanding to another.

The panel asks for whom, and under what circumstances can photographs be seen as acts of translation? How does this intersect with our understanding of ‘representation’? To what extent is photography assumed to be a universal language? To what extent is photography, as an act of translation, assumed, that is at the same time, to transcend that translation in the global flow of representations/ images? To what extent does photography claim or challenge universal categories of comprehension? Does it assume unproblematic and mutually exchangeable accessibility? What is its cultural shaping in the act of apprehension? How is the act of translation disrupted by moments of incomprehension?

Contributors will be asked specifically to bring recent thinking in translation theory to new thinking on photographic analysis to explore synergies and problems. Is ‘cultural translation’ an exhausted metaphor that assumes the universality of photographic meaning, or does it open a space in which the analysis of the cultural work of photographs can be enriched and refigured by thinking through the act of translation itself?

It is significant how many ‘trans-‘ words cluster around attempts to understand the social and cultural efficacy of photography – not only translation itself but transaction, transcription, transfiguration, transubstantiation, even transgression. Linguistic models have had a profound influence on photographic analysis in the past few decades. Translation promises to enrich photography studies because it adds a dynamic, diachronic, and dialogic dimension to our understanding of photography and the multiple acts of interpretation to which it perforce gives rise.