Camera Work is an American journal dedicated to art and photography published by Alfred Stieglitz in New York between 1903 and 1917. Fifty regular quarterly issues and three special numbers were printed in editions of 1,000 copies and distributed to varying numbers of subscribers. Even though Camera Work has become an icon of photographic history, it has never been properly investigated with advanced methodological and technological approaches. This is certainly due to photographic historians’ verdict of pictorialism—the style propagated in the pages of Camera Work as epitomizing art photography—as an outmoded “ism.”
The research project Camera Work – Inside/Out: Past, Present and Future of an International Medium of Art and Photography at the Institute of Art History of the University of Zurich aims to identify and develop innovative tools of the digital humanities in order to thoroughly investigate Camera Work in an international context and on a global scale. A group of researchers is building expertise in advanced digitalization and its research use in cooperation with the University Library of Heidelberg. The aim is to develop technically and structurally sophisticated tools for further in-depth research on the topic of Camera Work and to work out concepts for a related virtual laboratory as a dynamic work environment for future research and virtual exhibitions.
Currently, the research group is quantifying and structuring all volumes of Camera Work in a dynamic database to create a comprehensive and detailed visualization of the journal’s texts and images. The complete content including images, texts, and advertisements is being catalogued in a systematic effort to analyze the international structure of Camera Work—namely, the networks of persons, pictures, and materials that were involved in the international transfer of knowledge, and the history of exhibitions and collections connected with Camera Work. All essays, reviews, poems, and other forms of text in the journal, will be searchable as individual bibliographic entries within an international library system for the very first time. Furthermore, every effort is undertaken in order to carefully represent the look of the photogravures, mainly printed on Japanese tissue and mounted on textured papers, and to register the current condition of the original object.
The long-term goal of this project is to create a basis for investigating the international importance and function of Camera Work in the field of theory and history of photography of the 20th and 21st century. Central issues will include questions concerning the types of paper, layout, and printing techniques used and the journal’s position in the context of a globally active art and photography scene.
To discuss these and other questions, the research group at Zurich initiated the Camera Work Colloquium (CWC) in 2016 to present lectures, workshops, panel discussions, book presentations and more on the topic of the journal. The CWC participates in the international debate around theoretical approaches concerning art, photography and, more importantly, the overlapping of diverse media, subjects and theories of art in a global context. All events are open to the public unless stated otherwise.