Critique/Desire/Practice: Photography and Beyond, selon Joel Snyder
Desires, so Joel Snyder wrote in a noted critical review from 1999, “cannot emerge prior to a network of specific practices—to the contrary, they are elicited by these practices.” Snyder was then commenting on the application of Michel Foucault’s ideas; but that conjunction of philosophically informed critique and attention to specificity speaks centrally to his own work. Tenured professor in the University of Chicago’s Department of Art History since 1990 (having taught at the university since 1970), Snyder is renowned as a world-leading expert in nineteenth-century photographic history whose analytic acumen has inflected the pages of Critical Inquiry as contributor and editor for some four decades. Yet, the attention to practices underscored in that 1999 review also highlights a crucial dimension of Snyder’s approach and enduring influence. An accomplished photographer himself, Snyder has long practiced and instilled in his students ways of integrating intellectual rigor with the maker’s passionate knowledge.
To celebrate his work, “Critique/Desire/Practice” draws together Snyder’s former doctoral students and his long-time collaborators for a two-day symposium. Our aim is neither hagiographic nor to replay the debates on photographic indexicality in which Snyder has been immersed for decades. Instead, we treat his approach as a means by which to consider the history of pictures most broadly, above all, the questions they pose about relations between concrete practices (in the darkroom, the laboratory, the museum, the studio) and the ways we think (about photographs, scientific knowledge, historical narratives, the nature of perception). This conference opens out some of the main lines of investigation in Snyder’s work, seeking to develop the unusually fertile perspectives it contains. As the provisional schedule of speakers and session chairs below indicates, we anticipate that these could include the historiography of photography, the practice of criticism, photography’s crossings with new media, and landscape representation.
Photo caption: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Parabola Optica (Optic Parable), 1931, Gelatin silver print. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Gift of Joel Snyder, 1981.83