Photography is central to the ways in which the past is recounted, in public institutions such as museums as much as in private settings. Yet the histories of photographs themselves, and how they are implicated in the stories as well as the telling, are often neglected.
In order to develop a richer understanding of historical photographs, this lecture uses the framing idea of the 'invitation'. To conceive of the photograph as an invitation is to pay attention to the agency it enfolds and its performative qualities; the forms in which photographs circulate; the paths along which they travel and the human connections they facilitate. In this lecture, this perspective shapes Professor Newbury's approach to the work of photographic history and the curation of historical photographs.
The approach is developed through a case study of a photographic collection made in South Africa in the early 1950s, exploring its social biography, and in particular the project of returning the collection to Cape Town in a recent exhibition. The ambition was to begin the process of reconnecting the photographs to the city in which they were made, asking what it means for South African audiences to look at the photographs now. Or, to put it another way, renewing and reworking an invitation to think about the South African past in the post-apartheid present.