Unpacking the library to make a history of photography

The Pencil of Nature (1844-1846), by William Henry Fox Talbot, is likely to be the first photobook ever published – historians debate whether it is this one or Photographs of British Algae (1843-1853), by Anna Atkins, but it is the first to reproduce the photograph of its author’s library, in A Scene in a Library, and the page of a book, in Facsimile of an Old Printed Page.

As Carol Armstrong sees it, A Scene in a Library represents a collection of books presenting 1themselves simultaneously as a library and within a library. By reproducing and staging the library within the book, Talbot puts in place a mise en abyme, that highlights photography’s reproductive nature and opens the Pandora’s box of an inventory, well-suited with the encyclopaedic desire, individual and collective, to spread and assemble images of the world, and the book as the must fitting format to archive them.

Our presentation intends to focus on Portugal’s photographic historiography, to examine the way a photobook culture, and especially its consecutive migrations from a library, are able to structure and build up a history of local photography. In order to do so, we have elected two subjects for analysis, which articulate and make such connections explicit:

1. A collection of prints made through a library and its use in a history of photography on film;

2. The exhibition and circulation of a photobook, as a way to firm up the edition of a history of


Year 2012
Type Conference Proceeding
Publication Helsinki Photomedia 2012 – Images in Circulation
Publisher Aalto University School of Arts
Local Helsinki
Language En