13 – 14 July 2023, ISCAP-P.PORTO

Organized by the Centre for Intercultural Studies, Porto Accounting and Business School, Porto Polytechnic (CEI-ISCAP, P.PORTO) and the Centre for Languages, Literatures and Cultures (CLLC), University of Aveiro

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This conference is widely concerned with photographic representations and the uses ascribed to them. It intends to explore the meanings and implications of a vast array of approaches to photography, its uses and consumptions, in order to understand the – semiotic, cultural, social, economic, etc. – motives and values that are encoded/decoded in the content of a photographic image. The construction of people, objects, places and events captured in photography rests as much on how they are represented by the choices of the photographer as on how they are interpreted by the gaze of the beholder.

Communication processes are cultural processes, traversed by a multiplicity of codes. Behind images that common sense tends to consider fortuitous or not significant, a socially determined production of meaning is revealed. Bourdieu’s cultural arbitraries command the production-reception of meaning and contribute to the construction of what a photograph reveals. The particular forms of photographic production lead to peculiar, heterogeneous aesthetic and morphological phenomena that coordinate, within the limits of their framework, different categories: “images” in the theoretical sense of the word (iconic, analogical signs), plastic signs (colours, shapes, composition, texture) and even linguistic signs. Their interrelation produces the meanings that we learn to decipher, but their interaction with particular contexts can be a way of destabilizing the horizon of expectations of viewers, surprising, shocking or amusing them. Photographic representations put characters, objects, places and attitudes on a stage whose interpretation is then moulded by underlying cultural codes. Even the meanings of shapes, colours and light are cultural, although they might seem natural. Interpretations depend on the viewer’s knowledge and can thus vary, diverging from simple recognition and communal understanding of the putative “message” that is built beyond the image and not only with the image. There is a clear function of complementarity (Barthes’ relay function) between an image and the words that may describe it. Because, and still according to Barthes, the object is always polysemic, subject to endless interpretations. It is thus possible to speak of a productive reception of the photographic image, which implies a whole symbolic work of interpretation. Interpretation, symbolic activity, representation and creativity are all part of the process of cultural – and economic – consumption of photography.

Understanding photography within a network of cultural practices and aesthetic values sheds light not only over its representational role but also over the construction and consumption of photographic images. Just like painting or philosophy, approaches to photography follow cyclical processes of paradigm-shift, with the respective appearance of new visual aesthetics, so that a new concept of representation becomes available, familiar objects are seen under new perspectives, and innovative work techniques develop.

This conference is concerned with professionally produced photography for sale to the culture industries and related commercial purposes as much as with the representations produced by amateur practice. Certainly, family photographs are repositories of memory that help to understand how the personal and social aspects of remembering are constructed in different cultural settings. But photography is also one of the core cultural industries, according to the concentric circles model of the cultural industries (Throsby, 2008). Photos create emotions, and this attracts potential customers. Photography changed our vision of the world by providing access to never before seen places and times. It enabled images to be copied, mass-distributed and eventually globalized in the (social) media sphere. Photography sells, provides profit for the economy and likes on social media; goes viral on mobile phones and attracts visitors to museums; is both kitsch and erudite.

Photography played a key role on changing the visual culture of society and making art more accessible to the general public. Portraits ceased to be the privilege of the ruling classes and were democratised, so that the faces of common people in their everyday life also gained their right to permanency. Photography developed to become a field that not only captures the memories of cultures and people around the world, but also helps to shape these same memories. Photos may be as simple as portraits of faces and holiday memories, or as complex as the capturing of scenes that illustrate key aspects of social structures and interactions, of political order and dissent.

Common perspectives on representation ensure both the dominance of certain discourses and the emergence of alternative world-views, that contest pre-existing forms of representation, because the political context also conditions photographic production. For that reason, photography has become a powerful medium of social change, as it produces visual statements that trigger awareness and may lead to reforms, either by showing the life of disadvantaged communities or by illustrating the consequences of ecological disasters. Photography keeps history alive while capturing victories, defeats, discoveries, mistakes and landmark moments. It keeps long lost people, places, feelings and stories alive and connects us across time and space.

For all of these reasons, and more, over the last two centuries photography has proved itself to be indispensable for understanding ourselves, our societies, cultures and (parallel) universes.

Confirmed Key-note Speakers

Lucy Sante, Bard College, New York
Romi Mikulinsky, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem
Carlos Machado e Moura, Faculty of Architecture, University of Porto

Organizing Committee

Anthony Barker, CLLC – University of Aveiro
Clara Sarmento, CEI – Polytechnic of Porto
Inês Pires, CEI – Polytechnic of Porto
Ana Margarida Silva, CEI - Polythechnic of Porto