CONF Apr 11, 2024

The Photographer’s Assistants (Leicester/online, 17-18 Jun 24)

Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK / online, Jun 17–18, 2024
Registration deadline: Jun 13, 2024

Prof Gil Pasternak

There have always been unacknowledged or under-acknowledged forces that operate around photography. Some of them are human, like family members, camera assistants, darkroom personnel, curators, editors and the like. Others are non-human, like algorithms, chemicals, equipment of various sorts and transportation. The explosion of AI has pushed the field of photography studies to once again consider the practices surrounding photographs, but has at the same time neglected existing assistants like the skills force, the editors, image technicians, programmers, curators, and historians that enable and narrate photographic making. In the face of so many assistants, the primacy of the photographer as a central person through whom we understand photography recedes.

Organised by the Photographic History Research Centre (PHRC) at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK, in this 2024 conference, speakers will consider the role and agency of human and non-human assistants in the making, collecting and dissemination of photographs. The papers to be delivered will employ diverse methodological perspectives that not only enlarge the notion of the photographic assistant, but also consider the role of those assistants (or that assistance) in the formation of photographic practices, images, archives and histories. While doing so, papers will consider topics related to themes like:

- Technological, physical or chemical photographic assistants
- Catalysts like War and Conflict, the Environment, and Race as assistants to photographic practices
- Non-human assistants
- Senses as photographic assistants
- History of assistants and their changing roles
- Agency of the Assistant
- Issues of authorship
- Practice as a collaborative endeavour
- Supply lines and transportation

Provisional Conference Programme
MONDAY 17 June 2024
9.15–9.45 Registration and coffee
9.45–10.00 Welcome
10.00–10.45 Keynote Lecture – TBA
10.45–11.15 Discussion

Panel 1. Authorship and the Assistant
11:15–11:30 Elena Cooper (University of Glasgow) – The Photographer’s Assistants through a Legal Historical Lens: Copyright, Photography and Industrial Relations in the Late Nineteenth Century
11:30–11:45 Zsuzsanna Szegedy-Maszák (Hungarian National Museum) – Creators of Halftones: A Moment in the Spotlight
11.45–12.00 Fiona Kinsey (Victoria Museums / La Trobe University) – Sensing in the Dark: The Role of Kodak Australasia Factory Workers in The Making of a Photograph
12.00–12.30 Discussion

12.30–14.00 LUNCH

Panel 2. Non-Human Assistants
14.00–14.15 Juliana de la Pava (Humboldt University) – Animal agencies and bones turned into photographic memories
14.15–14.30 Diana Kamin (Fordham University) – Prompt Engineer: The Index Card as Assistant
14.30–14.45 Nina Lager Vestberg (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) – Search and Self-Service: Assistance, Automation, and Agency in Post-Digitized Picture Research
14.45–15.15 Discussion

Panel 3. Women’s Work
15.15–15.30 Anja Hysvaer Langgaat (Norwegian Museum of Cultur- al History) – “The Housewife Shift”
15.30–15.45 Katerina Korola (University of Minnesota) – “My Life was the Darkroom”: Women’s Work and its Environment at the Filmfabrik Wolfen.
15.45–16.00 Pippa Oldfield (Teesside University) – Assistants in Cellophane Skirts: ‘Hula Girl’ Photo Concessions and Female Agency in Wartime Hawai’i
16.00–16.30 Discussion
16.30–18.00 Reception (For online guests, 16.30 - 18.00 we welcome you to meet one another on Teams)

18.30 Conference dinner

TUESDAY 18 June 2024
9.00 Registration and coffee
9.15–10.00 Keynote Lecture:
Michael Pritchard (The Royal Photographic Society) – Educating the Photographer’s Assistant
10.00–10.30 Discussion

10.30–10.45 Comfort Break

Panel 4. Point of Sale
10.45–11.00 Kris Belden-Adams (University of Mississippi) – Recovering the Decisions of ‘Invisible’ Authors of Commercial Composite Class Portraits with Artificial Intelligence
11.00–11.15 Jen Grasso (University of Brighton) The Photobooth Technicians Project
11.15–11.30 Michelle Henning (University of Liverpool) – Push the Kodak!
11.30–12.00 Discussion

12:00–13.30 LUNCH

Panel 5. Political Environments
13.30–13.45 Elizabeth Edwards (PHRC/Oxford) – The Photographers’ Architectural Assistant: Rev. Thomas Perkins’ Handbook of Gothic Architecture (1897)
13.45–14.00 Idil Cetin (University of Oslo) – Photographic Manuals and Photographic Communities. The Case of Yesayi Garabedian
14.00–14:20 Discussion

14.20–14.30 Comfort break

Panel 6. The Assistant Pool
14.30–14.45 Ella Ravilious (PHRC/Victoria and Albert Museum) – From Sèvres Vases to Solar Flares: Photography and the Royal Engineers, 1851-1900
14.45–15.00 Sam Hawksford White (University of Hull) – ‘Records on the Land’: Agency, Evidence and Erosion in 1930s America
15.00–15.15 Damian Sutton (Coventry University) – ‘At work with the Baillie’: Reconfiguring assistantship and creative authorship in the Scots migrant community around Alexander Gardner
15.15–15.45 Discussion

15.45 Close of Conference

As in recent previous years, we offer a hybrid conference, allowing speakers and delegates to participate remotely or on site.

For registration and more information about the programme, please visit the conference webpage:

CONF: The Photographer’s Assistants (Leicester/online, 17-18 Jun 24). In:, Apr 11, 2024 (accessed Jun 19, 2024), <>.