Rochester didn't invent photography, but it's one of the key places that popularized it. "And I think it remains true today that we're among the places on the planet that are leading the way to the future as well," says Bruce Austin, director of Rochester Institute of Technology's RIT Press.
Later this month, RIT Press and RIT's Wallace Center will host a three-day academic conference that will bring people from respected institutions from around the world to talk about photography. The conference, titled "PhotoHistory / PhotoFuture," takes place Friday, April 20, through Sunday, April 22, primarily at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Henrietta. It's expected to become a biennial event. (The local Photographic History Society had presented the PhotoHistory Symposia every three years since 1970; when it became necessary for the Society to give up the event, RIT stepped in).
Conference participants are coming from institutions from 15 states and nine nations, including The Getty, The Smithsonian, National Geographic, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Nederlands Fotomuseum, the National Library of Scotland, and the University of Basel, Switzerland.
The program includes two days of scholarly presentations and panels, receptions, and exhibitions. It also includes an exhibit and sale of contemporary books and photography. And on the closing day, April 22, there'll be an Antiquarian Photography Show and Sale – open to the public – in the hotel's Grand Ballroom from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Books, vintage photographs, vintage photography equipment, and photography accessories will be on sale. Tickets to the Antiquarian show and sale are $6.
The conference was designed to attract a broad range of presenters and attendees, including photographers, librarians, archivists, and academics. But it's also designed for anyone interested in the fun, odd nuances of modern photographic applications, such as using the camera as a tool for making "flash graffiti."
It's an opportunity to look back at how photography shapes the public's understanding of the past and present and to think about where expanding photographic technology and its uses will take humanity next. One panel, for instance, will explore the history of social movements, demonstrations, and uprisings as chronicled through photojournalism.
Individual speakers will present research papers, and panels will explore topics ranging from the understanding of traditional subjects such as portraiture (from the famous to the anonymous) and landscapes (capturing the beauty of terrain, photography's influence on westward expansion, the documentation of land trusts), to current interdisciplinary approaches to photography and projections about photography's future applications.
The George Eastman Museum will host a reception on Saturday night, and the Memorial Art Gallery offered museum passes to the first 100 conference registrants.
Last year's call for research papers yielded more than 100 submitted proposals, which Austin says shocked and delighted him. "Nobody knows us, nobody knows what this conference is," he says. And yet, the scholars chose PhotoHistory / PhotoFuture to debut their research.
The conference is close to capacity; register at rit.edu/twc/photohistoryconference.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect an inaccuracy -- the MAG has offered museum passes to the first 100 conference registrants, which can be used any time.