The World Pictures:
Universal Exhibitions & Photography

Guest lecture by Prof. Dr. Alejandra Uslenghi (Northwestern University)
Response by Dr. Friedhelm Schmidt-Welle (Ibero-American Institute Berlin)

Tuesday, 12 September 2023, 6 pm c.t.
UdK Medienhaus, Grunewaldstr. 2-5, 10823 Berlin

World Fairs were highly constructed events that sought to represent the entire world in a single fairground, resourcing to all kinds of visual technologies and media in creating an exhibitionary complex and massive spectacle informed by industrial-era theories of progress and the rhetoric of imperialism. The theatrical display of art objects, images, and material culture reinforced the representations of cultural otherness as well as hierarchical classifications that sought to make the modern capitalist world intelligible to a modern mass audience. Photography, since the first London 1851 Exhibition, accompanied the expansion of this visual culture phenomenon as it itself developed in multiple forms and practices; photography was at the core of the exhibitions’ forms of visualization, an object of display itself, and it served to document and perpetuate the legacy of the fairs. This presentation will examine the diverse roles photography played within the exhibitions putting in perspective the crafting of images for documentary registers of alterity and racialized subjects; the use of photographs in the production of frameworks of intelligibility in territorial surveys and extractivist practices; as well as the deployment of photography in the creation of counter-archives that allowed for epistemic resistances to these regimes of visibility. In an arch that covers historically several key exhibitions both in Europe and the Americas — Centennial Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876; the Paris exhibitions of 1889 and 1900 when the first international congress of photography took place — we interrogate the photographic archive of World’s Fairs and its contested cultural meanings.

Dr. Alejandra Uslenghi is Associate Professor in Latin American literature and culture and Comparative Literary studies at Northwestern University. She specializes in modernist literature and visual culture, with an emphasis on the history of photography, and critical theory and philosophy of the image. She has also researched the visual phenomenon of world fairs both in Europe and the Americas. She is the author of Latin America at fin-de-siècle Universal Exhibitions: Modern Cultures of Visuality (Palgrave, London and New York, 2016); the editor of Walter Benjamin: Culturas de la imagen (Eterna Cadencia, Argentina, 2010) and co-editor of La cámara como método. La fotografía moderna de Grete Stern y Horacio Coppola (Eterna Cadencia, Argentina, 2021).  Her essays on 19th-century visual culture have appeared in Revista Estudios Hispánicos; Revista Hispánica Moderna and more recently in the volume Latin American Literature in Transition, 1870-1930 (Cambridge University Press, 2022). Her essays on modern photography have been published in Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies and newly in The Routledge Companion to Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Latin American Literary and Cultural Forms (Routledge, London, 2022). Professor Uslenghi also regularly contributes essays to contemporary Latin American artists and photographers' projects, such as Oscar Muñoz. Invisibilia (Phoenix Art Museum and Hirmer Publishers, 2021); Gonzalo Elvira. Leer el sueño (Centro de Arte de Burgos, 2022) and has written for art catalogs, such as Art – Latin America. Against the Survey (edited and curated by James Oles, Davis Museum and University of Texas Press, 2019) and Who says, Who shows, What counts: Thinking about History with the Block's Collection (Northwestern University, 2021).