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The Spaces of Photography

Mirjam Brusius

Revisiting the Spaces of Victorian Photography Archives

When encountering photo collections, we are confronted with a bulk of material mainly deriving from the medium’s industrial and scientific applications, vernacular genres, and colonial surveys, in which aesthetic aspects feature only as a single piece in a puzzle. This project started out as a case study of the photographs of the Victorian scientist and pioneer of photography William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877), now known as a major protagonist in early Fine Art photography. But Talbot had in fact multiple photographic practices in mind that related to science, exploration, and antiquarian scholarship more than ‘high art’ in the strictest sense. Taking the question ‘Who turned Talbot into an artist?’ further, this project argues that not only the actual photographs, but their detachment from their original archival context, their circulation on the art market, and their display across different types of museums and institutions determine the disciplinary framework for studying early photographic specimens, whether scientific, industrial, or colonial.

Photography and Networks of Knowledge in the Middle East

This project intends to help shift the centre of gravity in the history of photography – traditionally a Eurocentric field – eastwards by researching photographic centres such as Tehran and Istanbul in the 19th century and their impact on the Middle East and Europe. These spaces were characterized by continuous migrations in all directions, leading to deep cultural, artistic, and scientific exchange in which photographs played a crucial role. In a further step, the project will also look at philosophical, political, and theological decrees on photography and hereby reveal the limits and provincial nature of ‘Western’ theoretical models in the history of photography.

Related publications



Fotografie und museales Wissen: William Henry Fox Talbot, das Altertum und die Absenz der Fotografie (Berlin, 2015).

The Absence of Photography: William Henry Fox Talbot (forthcoming, under contract with The University of Chicago Press).


Edited Books, Special Issues

with T. Dunkelgrün (eds.), Photography, Antiquity, Scholarship, Special Issue, History of Photography, 40/3 (2016)

with K. Dean and C. Ramalingam (eds.), William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography (New Haven/London, 2013)


Articles in Journals

with T. Dunkelgrün, ‘Editorial’, History of Photography, 40/3 (2016), 227–31 [peer review]

‘Photography’s Fits and Starts: The Search for Antiquity and its Image in Victorian Britain’, History of Photography, 40/3 (2016), 250–66 [peer review]

‘Los múltiples objetos de William Henry Fox Talbot’, Investigación y Ciencia (Spanish Edition of Scientific American), 459 (Dec. 2014), 46–7

‘Experimente ohne Ausgang: Talbot, Fenton und die Fotografie am British Museum um 1850’, Fotogeschichte, 31/122 (2011), 13–22

‘Impreciseness in Julia Margaret Cameron’s Portrait Photography’, History of Photography, 34/4 (2010), 342–55 [peer review]

‘Beyond Photography: William Henry Fox Talbot’s Notebooks in the Talbot Collection at the British Library’, Electronic British Library Journal, Article 14 (2010), 1–31

‘Inscriptions in a Double Sense: The Biography of an early Scientific Photograph of Script’, Nuncius: Journal of the Material and Visual History of Science, 24/2  (2009), 367–92 [peer review]


Articles in Books

‘Royal Photographs in Qajar Iran: Writing the History of Photography between Persian Miniature Painting and Western Technology’, in T. Sheehan (ed.), Photography, History, Difference (Hanover, NH, 2014), 57–83 [peer review]

with C. Ramalingam, ‘Introduction’, in M. Brusius, et al (eds.), William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond photography (New Haven/London, 2013), 1–24 [peer review]

‘From Photographic Science to Scientific Photography: Talbot, Decipherment and the Application of Photography at the British Museum around 1850’, in M. Brusius et al (eds.), William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography (New Haven/London, 2013), 219–44 [peer review]

‘Re-inventing Sinai: Biblical Myth, Photographic Imagination and the Arrival of Tourism’, in A. Hosni (ed.), Go Down, Moses: A Book on South Sinai (Cairo, 2010), 21–9

‘Unschärfe als frühe Fotokritik: Julia Margaret Camerons Frage nach dem Maß der Fotografie im 19. Jahrhundert’, in I. Reichle and S. Siegel (eds.), Maßlose Bilder: Visuelle Ästhetik der Transgression (Munich, 2009), 342–58



Review of: S. Sheehi, The Arab Imago: A Social History of Portrait Photography (Princeton, NJ, 2016), Critical Inquiry, 45/2 (2018), 545–6

Review of: A. Behdad, Camera Orientalis: Reflections on Photography of the Middle East (Chicago, 2016), Burlington Magazine, 160 (Aug. 2018), 705

Review of: exhibition catalogue: Tate Britain, ‘Salt&Silver. Early Photography 1840–1860’ (London, 2015), Fotogeschichte, 35/137 (2015), 59–60

with C. Ramalingam, conference review of: William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography, University of Cambridge (24–26 June 2010), H-Soz-u-Kult, 11 May 2011

Review of: H Bredekamp, B. Schneider and V. Dünkel (eds.), Das Technische Bild: Kompendium zu einer Stilgeschichte wissenschaftlicher Bilder (Berlin, 2008), British Journal of the History of Science, 42 (2009), 611–2

‘Noch einmal von vorne: Drei neue Publikationen zur frühen Fotografie’; Reviews of: G. Batchen, William Henry Fox Talbot (London/New York, 2008), K. Jacobson, Odalisques & Arabesques: Orientalist Photography 1839–1925 (London, 2007), and R. Taylor, Impressed by Light: British Photography from Paper Negatives, 1840–1860 (New Haven, 2007), Rundbrief Fotografie, NF Heft 61 (March 2009), 19–23

‘Kunst, Nicht-Kunst’; review of exhibition catalogue, P.H. Emerson, National Media Museum, Bradford, Fotogeschichte, 27/104 (2007), 73–4


Journalism, Outreach, Blog essays

The many Inventions of Photography’, The Guardian, 22 Dec. 2014

William Henry Fox Talbot and the Variety of the Photographic Archive: Exploring Oxford’s Photography Collections’, History of Art at the University of Oxford: A Blog about History of Art and Visual Issues, 19 Dec. 2014

‘Erfindung der Fotografie: Eine Fata Morgana’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nr. 293, N 3., 17 Dec. 2014

Related Events and Presentations

‘Around the World in 8 Papers: Itineraries for a History of Photography beyond the Western Canon’, organizer, Study Day, University of Oxford, 2016

‘Julia Margaret Cameron: Victorian Networks, Empire and the History of Photography Today’, Symposium, Bodleian Libraries, 2016.

‘William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography’, Conference co-organized with Katrina Dean and Chitra Ramalingam, CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 2010