City-Photography-Modernity. Visualising Antwerp and São Paulo throguh the lenses of Edmond Fierlants (1819-1869) and Militão Augusto de Azevedo (1837-1905)

Date: 21 December 2018

Venue: Stadscampus, Hof van Liere, W. Elsschotzaal - Prinsstraat 13 - 2000 Antwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 10:00 AM

Organization / co-organization: Faculty of Social Sciences

PhD candidate: Gustavo Racy

Principal investigator: Prof Paolo Favero

Short description: PhD defence Gustavo Racy - Department of Communication Sciences


The current research focuses on the nexus between photography, modernity, and the city. Building on a critical exploration of the opus of two mid-nineteenth century photographers – Edmond Fierlants from Antwerp, and Militão Augusto de Azevedo from São Paulo – the study aims to provide a theoretical and methodological dialogue between the field of visual culture and philosophy, especially through a Benjaminian materialist perspective. Inquiring into the origins of photography as a simultaneous product and producer of modernity, the study aims at offering a decentred perspective gathered from two cities which, during the moment in question, could be considered peripheral to the great capitalist metropolises. By addressing a relation dear to visual culture, anthropology, history, urban studies and philosophy anew, the study’s embedded interdisciplinary character aims at expanding, also, the materialist tradition which legacy is attested, still today, in the areas in question.

From a re-evaluation of the emergence of modernity to the inquire on the invention of photography, and from there to the analysis of the works of Fierlants and Azevedo, the research draws a historical perspective focused on the importance of vision and the growing centrality of photography. In this perspective, the revolution caused by photography brings attention to the role played by the apparatus in the context of the nineteenth century as, attached to the ruling ideology, progressively turns photography into the main representative of an epistemology grounded on the belief in verisimilitude, realism and truth embedded in visual representation.

In this, the need to think the relation between technologies of representation and pictorial traditions, in connection to epistemology and theories of knowledge becomes of prime importance as this articulation shows, ultimately, how photography, exemplified in the cities documented by Fierlants and Azevedo, plays an important role in the ways we perceive the world that surround us. In this, photography shows to be tightly connected to political ideologies, exemplifying how visual technologies may set forth progressive or regressive potentials of our ways of seeing and representing the world.

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