November 10, 2017

Apparitions: the photograph and its image

Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington

View of Apparitions: the photograph and its image, Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi. Photo: Shaun Matthews.

Curated by Geoffrey Batchen and his Honours students

By bringing together a range of media, Apparitions: the photograph and its image examines the dissemination of photographic images during photography’s earliest decades. This dissemination, usually in the form of engravings or lithographs derived from photographs, allowed photographic images to be reproduced in large numbers and circulated around the globe. Among other things, an examination of this process draws attention to the oscillation between material and immaterial states of being that complicates the identity of the photographic medium to this day. Although usually associated with the advent of digital technologies, this exhibition demonstrates that efforts to exploit a distinction between a photograph and its image have preoccupied practitioners since the 1830s. By placing this invention of the photographic image into an extended history, Apparitions traces its association with the political economies of industrialisation, capitalism and colonialism, as well as with the advent of an illustrated press. Among the items on display are photographs taken by the English inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot; early English and French daguerreotypes (photographs made on silvered sheets of copper); the earliest photographic images to be made in Africa and Italy and of Māori and Australia’s Aboriginal people; engravings from the first book to be illustrated by photographic images; and a series of prints made after the only photograph ever taken of the Duke of Wellington. In short, although confining itself to the mid-nineteenth century, Apparitions presents photography as something always in flux; a continual transmutation of materials, forms, meanings and uses that has irrevocably transformed our relations to time and space.

This exhibition is the end result of an Honours seminar taught by Professor Geoffrey Batchen in the Art History programme at Victoria University of Wellington, with eight students involved in its curating and in the production of an accompanying scholarly catalogue. Batchen, who specializes in the history of photography, previously co-curated Dark Sky for the Adam Art Gallery. His recent books include Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph (Prestel, 2016) and More Wild Ideas: History, Photography, Writing (China Nationality Art Photograph Publishing House, 2017).

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue: Apparitions: the photograph and its image, edited by Geoffrey Batchen, Adam Art Gallery, Wellington, 2017 (ISBN 978-1-877309-40-3). For more information and to purchase the publication visit:

The Adam Art Gallery is the art gallery of Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand. It is a forum for critical thinking about art and its histories as well as the professional structure within which the Victoria University Art Collection is managed. The gallery’s programmes aim to test and expand art form and disciplinary boundaries and create new opportunities to bring artists together and generate fresh conversations. The gallery is a remarkable architectural statement designed by the late Sir Ian Athfield, one of New Zealand’s foremost architects.

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