Conference | Darkrooms and representations: histories of photography, film and exploration

Coronavirus closure

Visitor notice: All Royal Museums Greenwich sites are currently closed to visitors, but you can still join us for online events and search our digital collectionsFind out more

Essential information

Date and time: 
2 & 3 April 2020
£80 | £60 concession | £50 speakers
National Maritime Museum
Queen's House

The role of photography and film has often been relegated to that of illustration, yet its uses - as a visual record, in scientific research, education and travelogues – have been varied and at times ingenious. 

From experimentation with technologies in extreme environments (telephoto lenses, glass plate negatives, flashlight photography, chrono-photography, photomicrography, cinematography) to the practices that have emerged through ethnographic studies, meteorology, astronomy, oceanography, cartography and the documentation of wildlife, the mediation of photography and film has made otherwise inaccessible geographies visible.

Yet, this ‘window’ on to the world is constructed, it is made using materials and techniques which tell a story: from a physical trace of the environment to a record of scientific and cultural practices.

This interdisciplinary conference examines the history of maritime exploration through film, photography and photographers, scientific techniques, artistic practices and in the mediation and display of museum collections for exhibition: from photographic materials and technologies to the darkroom practices that shape visual representations and underpin or counter voyage narratives.

There is a history of the materials, technologies and practices that lie beneath the surface of each image and its making.

For an account of how cameras and photographic materials should work, we can consult technical handbooks. However, in extreme environments - characterised by excessive temperatures, humidity, light and darkness - such technologies sometimes stop working and require the practical and innovative adaptations of explorers, researchers and artists.

This conference brings together presentations from scholars, curators and collection managers alongside scientific researchers and artists who have worked on Antarctic and Arctic Residences, wildlife, documentary photographers and archivists who engage with the questions of controlled storage environments, researcher access, the exhibition of materials and the making of their digital simulacra.


Thursday 2 April 

9.30am - 10am Registration and refreshments in the Propeller space

10am - 10.05am Welcome, opening remarks

10.05am - 11.30am Panel 1: Social Histories: amateur film, photography and the archive (Lecture theatre)

Chair: Veronica Johnson

  • Professor Jeffrey Geiger, University of Essex. ‘Colour Photography, Film, and Modern Cosmopolitanism in the Pacific.’
  • Dr Vanessa Jackson, Birmingham City University. ‘Historiography through the remediation of photographs on social media.’
  • Angélique Bonamy, Associate Archivist – Film & Sound at the National Railway Museum, UK. ‘Amateur Photography, Film and the National Railway Museum, York.’

11.30 - 12 noon Cofee and tea in the Propeller space

Panels 2 and 3 are in parallel 

12noon - 1.30pm - Panel 2: Film Form: artifice and imitation (Lecture theatre)

Chair: Lawrence Napper

  • Dr Eirik Frisvold Hanssen, National Library of Norway. ‘Imitating the Inhabitable: Artificial Antarcticas in Scott of the Antarctic (1948) and Amundsen (2019).’
  • Dr Liz Watkins, University of Leeds.
  • Dr Mario Slugan, Queen Mary University of London. ‘Travelogue as Fiction: The Case of E. Burton Holmes.’

12noon - 1.30pm - Panel 3: Experiments in technologies and representations (Meeting Room)

Chair: Paula Muhr

  • Katarina Andjelkovic, Ph.D., M.Arch.Eng. ‘Genealogies of interactivity from panorama drawings to panoramic photography: tracing the cartographic representation.’
  • Dr Lilyana Karadjova, photo historian and photographer, National Academy of Arts, Bulgaria. ‘Experiments with lenses and optical instruments as a source of representational codes of transparency.’
  • Dr Patti Gaal-Holmes. Arts University Bournemouth. ‘Narrations of discovery from the mobile darkroom & specimen laboratory on the Valdivia deep-sea expedition (1898/9, Germany).’

1.30pm - 2.30pm Lunch in the Propeller space

2.30pm - 3.30pm Keynote lecture: Bryony Dixon, Curator of Silent Film, BFI National Archive. ‘A Journey Back to Sub-Zero’. (Lecture theatre)

Chair: Liz Watkins

3.30pm - 4pm Coffee and tea in the Propeller space

4pm - 5.30pm - Panel 4: Politics and ideologies of exploration (Lecture theatre)

Chair: Alex Grover, Royal Museums Greenwich

  • Dr. Gisela Parak, German Maritime Museum. ‘Ships as Communication Vessels: (Photographic) Travels into the Melanesian Sea.’
  • Dr James R. Ryan, V&A Museum. ‘Imperial Landscape: Exploring the British Empire with and without the camera.’
  • Ximena Kilroe. Curatorial Assistant, American Federation of Arts. ‘Mama Casset: Studio Portraits as Collaborative Protests in Colonial Senegal, 1943-1960.’

5.30pm - 5.45pm Short break and walk over to the Queen's House 

5.45pm - 6.45pm Keynote Lecture: Dr Lawrence Napper, King’s College London. ‘Vessels of Memory: Filming and Remembering the First World War Naval Battlefield.’ (Great Hall, Queen’s House)

Chair: Liz Watkins

6.45pm - 7.30pm Reception (Orangery and South Parlours, Queen’s House)

Friday 3 April 

10am - 11.30am Panel 5: Documentary Photography and Film: theory and practice research (Lecture theatre)

Chair: Patti-Gaal Holmes.

  • Richard Nicholson, photographic artist. ‘Illuminating the Darkroom - Reflections on the End of Film.’
  • Michael Vince Kim, photographer. ‘Is there a Place for Lyricism in Documentary Photography?’
  • Dr Veronica Johnson, National University of Ireland Galway. ‘Irelands coastal wildlife: the career of documentary filmmaker Éamon de Buitléar.’

11.30am - 12 noon coffee and tea in the propeller space

Panels 6 and 7 are parallel 

12 noon-1.30pm Panel 6: Exploration: mountains, materials and archives (Lecture theatre)

Chair: Mark Pharaoh.


  • Assistant Professor Victor dos Reis, University of Lisbon. ‘Three Stereoscopic Visions of the Formigas Islets by Francisco Afonso Chaves (1857-1926).’
  • Dr Jan Faull, Royal Holloway, University of London. ‘1924: a good year for expeditionary films.’
  • Jeremy Michell, Senior Curator, Royal Museums Greenwich. ‘The Photographic Collection at Royal Museums Greenwich: ‘with a peep into the Polar basin’ (and apologies to E. A. Inglefield).’

12noon - 1.30pm Panel 7: Science and Art: visualising the unseen (Meeting room)

Chair: Katarina Andjelkovic.

  • Agnes Villette, Winchester School of Art. ‘Puffer fishes and radioactive cameras: photography and nuclear science.’
  • Rachel Hill, Goldsmiths University of London. ‘“Oft of One Wide Expanse:” Interplanetary Probes and Exoplanetary Visualisations.’
  • Paula Muhr, Institute of Art and Visual Studies, Humboldt University in Berlin. ‘“We Have Seen What We Thought Was Unseeable”: Constructing the First- Ever ‘Direct’ Image of a Black Hole.’

1.30pm - 2.30pm Lunch in the Propeller space

Panels 8 and 9 are parallel 

2.30pm - 4pm Panel 8: Innovations: photography, film and polar exploration (Lecture theatre)

Chair: Eirik Hannsen.

  • Mark Pharaoh, Mawson Centre South Australian Museum. ‘“According to Hoyle”: Official Photographer Frank Hurley’s Re-writing the of the Rules on the Mawson Aurora Expedition 1911-14.’
  • Jan Anders Diesen, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Inland University College, Norway. ‘The cinematic race for the South pole.’
  • Anne Lydiat Wainwright, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society London. ‘In the Wake of the American Arctic Explorer Louise Arner Boyd (1887-1972).’

2.30pm - 4pm Panel 9: Photographic Materials, Images and Politics (Meeting room)

Chair: Jeffrey Geiger.

  • Associate Professor Kevin Foster, Monash University. Prescribing Authenticity: Australian Photography in the Second World War and the Misrepresentation of the South West Pacific Campaign.
  • Dr Leonida Kovač, University of Zagreb. ‘A (Self)-Portrait of the Vanishing Memory.’

4pm - 4.30pm coffee and tea in the propeller space

4.30pm - 5.30pm Keynote Lecture: Geir Kløver. Director, The Fram Museum. ‘The Nansen Photographs: Images from the First Fram Expedition.’ (Lecture theatre)

Chair: Jeremy Michell.

5.30pm - 5.35pm Closing remarks 

Top image: Negative G4267, Unidenitifed Inuit man with a kayak, Greenland, taken by Captain E.A. Inglefield, 1854, © Inglefield Collection, National Maritime Museum.