What to do with all these photos? – An exhibition series about countering images with images

Lucia Halder

Palavras-chave: archive; museum; exhibition; decolonization; visual culture

Participação: on-line

Images tell stories. But who selects, archives, and presents them? How do they shape or distort memory? What if the “old” narratives are no longer valid or should never have been – but the images are still there? And how do new ones enter the world?

Almost 200 years after its invention, photography has become a global medium. Never before have so many images been produced and distributed as today. In the beginning, however, photography was closely linked to colonialism and the emerging science of anthropology. Photography promised objectivity and authenticity. And that was very much in keeping with the efforts of the time to capture, document, map and classify the world and its inhabitants. In the emerging anthropology, the first ethnological image archives collected strictly formalized so-called 'type' images and highly problematic photographs of physical anthropology - the degradation of an individual to a type on the basis of physical characteristics. The motifs, the iconography of this period are still effective in various forms, for example in touristic images or advertising. In these images stereotypes have become entrenched that still produce clichés and prejudices today.

What to do with all these photographs? Letting them slumber in the archives and not showing them is out of the question. Simply displaying, however, it is also, in order not to reproduce colonialist and often racist stereotypes. Neuroscience tells us how firmly images can anchor in the human brain. Words therefore may not be powerful enough to critically examine them in a museums’ context. In my contribution to this years’ Counter Images Conference I would like to present one possible approach, currently in process at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne (Germany): to counter images with images. To visually comment on and edit old images, maybe to dig up and exhibit images that have not been shown historically and to give space to new images.

The exhibition series Counter Images | Gegenbilder, which critically examines the historical photo collection of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, aims to open up space for new perspectives, to stimulate reflection, and to give up interpretive authority. Counter Images | Gegenbilder is a growing platform for a collective, multi-perspectival l engagement with the medium of photography and the photo collection. Stereotypes and traditional narratives are questioned, colonial entanglements of the photographic collection and of museum practice pointed out.

In my lecture, I would like to present the conceptual foundations of the series, show the first exhibition (on display until May 31st 2022), and provide insight into the opportunities, challenges, and limitations of the project. Furthermore, I would like to discuss questions of representation, accessibility and participation together with a critical audience.


LUCIA HALDER, M.A. (*1981) - CURATOR/VISUAL HISTORIAN/ CURATOR FOR PHOTOGRAPHY, RAUTENSTRAUCH-JOEST MUSEUM – CULTURES OF THE WORLD, COLOGNE - Appointed member of the German Society for Photography | Chairwoman of the History & Archive section (since 03/2022) Member of ICOM Lucia Halder is a German curator and visual historian. She studied history and art history at the Universities of Konstanz, Tübingen, Bologna and the FU Berlin. From 2008-2010 she worked as research assistant at the House of History of the Federal Republic of Germany, afterwards as a freelance historian and curator. Lucia Halder is the representative for the photographic collection of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum – Cultures of the World in Cologne. Photographic history as well as contemporary positions that seek a dialogue with historical themes and narratives are the focus of her work. Halder is an editorial member of the blog www.visual-history.de and chairwoman of the history and archives section of the German Photographic Society (DGPh).