Research

Madeline's doctoral research at University of the Arts London Chelsea College of Arts & Design (anticipated completion in 2021) is a qualitative study that problematises the role of 'Middle Eastern' contemporary fine art photography in the early 21st century within the broader histories of photography and contemporary art. Tethered to an imaginative and contested geopolitical location, 'Middle Eastern' contemporary art photography discourse is comprised of both commercial and cultural entities. The study of how contemporary photography that is labelled ‘Middle Eastern’ is valued, contextualised and circulated is an emergent field. This research project aims to contribute to the developing critical scholarship and curatorial expertise in the discourse of contemporary 'Middle Eastern' photography by questioning how individual, religious, gendered, national and cultural forms of diversity are negotiated, circulated, contested and commodified within and beyond it. Furthermore, it aims to generate qualitative information towards a broader understanding of the conditions, mechanisms and implications by which photographic art discourses ‘emerge’ in curation from locations previously labeled peripheral to 'Western-centric' photographic art historical thought.

To begin this exploration, a survey of structures and agentic actors contextualise recent developments. Following, through the lens of three case studies, this research looks at three artists/photographers and their photographic practices: how they and their work are included, positioned, contribute to and respond to this developing discourse within specific exhibitions. Each case study examines specific sets of questions about specific curatorial endeavours: how themes emerge and circulate within and about this discourse; what are the artists/photographers’, curators’ and institutions’ backgrounds, positions and strategies; how are these exhibitions organised in space; what interpretative tools or materials are provided to audiences in these exhibitions; and what are the various receptions, if known, about these exhibitions.

In this light, we can explore several important considerations about contemporary photographic practice and its attendant discourse through exhibition making: photography as a material practice with content that can index concepts that may refer to its discourse and the ‘Middle East’ at certain and distinct moments; photography as a cultural and economic commodity that can communicate varied forms of identity to varied audiences; and photography as a representation of the artist or photographer who created it, whose identity is may be framed as a commodity.

© 2018 Madeline Yale Preston & John Rampton

Madeline Yale Preston | Photography Specialist | Arts Advisor | Consultant