Returns - Towards a photographic criticism: [or, the case of the Berliner Bild-Bericht and the North and South American grain elevators]

Catalina Mejia Moreno

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    While the idea of a canon made up of buildings and/or architects is widely accepted, studied, and revisited within architecture, this thesis identifies the phenomenon of a ‘photographic canon’ of images of buildings, constructed and characterised by their repeated dissemination in publications, lectures and exhibitions. Using two exemplary sets of canonical photographs – the Berliner Bild-Bericht prints of Mies van der Rohe’s and Lilly Reich’s German Pavilion in Barcelona (1929), and the photo-reproductions of North and South American grain elevators from the late nineteenth century used by Walter Gropius in 1911 and 1913 – this thesis is composed around four key questions: 1. What are the processes, material practices, and relations of power through which this photographic canon is constructed? 2. What alternative photographs and differencing processes can be identified, and how do they draw attention to the normalisation and repetition of the canonical photographs? 3. What is the agency of photography when revisiting these two cases years later? 4. Which research methods and practices reveal, draw attention to, question and disrupt the normalisation of continued repetition of the photographic canons?

    Though returning to the canon, this study uncovers and makes use of alternative and overlooked photographic material, and it develops the possibility of ‘photographic criticism’ as a method of interpretation. To do so, the thesis considers the photographic image as an object of different guises – as a lantern slide (Chapter Three), as a 35mm slide (Chapter Four), as a retouched photograph (Chapter Six), as a photographic wallpaper (Chapter Seven), and as a photographic snapshot (Chapter Eight) – to explore the multiple but specific, unique and singular contexts to which these are mobilised – as ‘drawings’, as projected images, as large-scale exhibitions and as archival images – and the different possibilities these materialisations provide for architectural criticism and interpretation. The thesis establishes new and alternative insights by paying attention to intricate encounters with the material, and by inserting the researcher’s own subjectivity into performative re-interpretations of the various photographic events in which they surfaced. To make these alternatives visible requires new forms of criticism that may be applicable to the interpretation of the photographic canon in art and architecture beyond the two examples explored here.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Newcastle University
    • Lloyd Thomas, Katie, Supervisor, External person
    • Dorrian, Mark , Supervisor, External person
    Award date27 Mar 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2019


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