Institute of Historical and Cultural Anthropology

Photography and Folklore. On the scholarly reception of a visual medium

Funding Projekt der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
PI Prof. Dr. Gottfried Korff
Research Associate Dr. Ulrich Hägele
Duration 03/2000 - 02/2002

Over a period of more than one hundred years, interfaces developed between folklore in the museum, as an academic discipline, and as a provider of scientific photography, which will be the focus of this study. Accordingly, the project focuses on the following interlocking fields of research and mediation characteristic of German folklore Museum, University, Museum and Illustrated Publications. The objects of study are essentially the photographic collections of the national folklore museums in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as the photographic illustrations in the most important folklore journals and illustrated folklore publications.

The aim of the project is to analyse the way folklore deals with photographic sources: How did folkloric photography begin? Who took photographs and what was photographed? What influences did the "Verfotografierung" of folk culture have on the subject? What national differences can be described in German-language folklore? What role did photography acquire in research and teaching and what significance does it have within the framework of folkloristic iconography?

German-language folklore today uses photographs mainly in archives, museums, exhibitions, teaching and methodically employs them in variations for preservation, illustration and as a source. The research project sets itself the task of analysing, in a first step, both the objectives of the three national folkloristic periodicals ("Zeitschrift für Volkskunde" / "Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde" / "Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde") with regard to the role of photography and the intention of the photo collections affiliated with the national folkloristic museums - the three museum institutions in Berlin, Vienna and Basel were closely linked to the respective periodicals in terms of personnel or location. The question arises whether, within the preservation in the museum archives, two variants of dealing with photography can again be identified: One, which with antiquarian interest seeks to save objectivations threatened with disappearance, and a second, which has the intention of museum inventorying and thus already implies a didactic-scientific use.

Firstly, using photographic sources, the connections between photographic representations of folk culture and the thematic accentuation of folklore on the elements of the canon will be examined. Furthermore, it will be asked whether, and if so, which themes have been incorporated into the folkloristic repertoire through the medium of photography. Conversely, it is also conceivable that themes have disappeared from the folkloristic spectrum over time due to a lack of photographic opportunities.

The period under investigation is the time between 1890 and the present. The following are to be analysed: visualised themes, constellations of motifs for collecting photographs, application practice in the research fields, integration and significance of the medium in folkloristic publications. The question is how the link between subject and medium functioned and functions in national and international comparison. Did this result in increased possibilities of identification with the past? To what extent did photographic images contribute to the idyllic transfiguration of rural living conditions? How are regions constructed with photographs oriented towards cultural material goods and "topoi"?

Warburg's iconology is used as a methodological basis for research into a possible iconography of folklore. Accordingly, in addition to the original photographs archived in the national folklore museums of Berlin, Vienna and Basel, the study is also devoted to reproduced photography. For this purpose, the respective folkloristic journals, which also date back to the founding phases of the museums in question, are consulted. In addition, the illustrated publications of the so-called author-light photographers will be examined.

The research project does not aim to write the history of folklore photography, nor to clarify the collection history of individual museums. Rather, it aims to discuss the reception of photography against the background of the history of the subject within the framework of an iconography of folklore: What constellations of motifs were and are responsible for collecting photographs? Which themes are visualised with the camera? How is photography used in research? What are the functions of photography in folkloristic publications? How does photography transmit folkloristic views?