Projects & Events 14-12-2017

Symposium: The Individual, The Political and The Photobook

From the series ‘Margins of Excess’ © 2018 Max Pinckers

On Thursday, February 1st, 2018, FOMU hosts ‘The Individual, The Political and The Photobook’, a day filled with inspiring talks and discussions about the role of the contemporary photobook in the so-called documentary genre. This international symposium is organised by Stefan Vanthuyne within the framework of the Belgian Platform for Photobooks, a research project at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, with the support of the research groups Thinking Tools and ArchiVolt.

Photobooks today, through thorough attention to design, image selection and sequence, have become a perfect medium for complex and layered visual stories. In what has become a noticeable trend, more and more photographers experiment with the book in terms of both form and content to push the ideas and boundaries of the documentary genre. A highly subjective, sometimes autobiographical approach appears to be key to all of this, turning the individual experience into the political – and vice versa.

In the catalogue of the ‘Photobook Phenomenon’ exhibition, critic and curator Gerry Badger writes how many contemporary protest books are intensely personal. “The documentary record of the struggle becomes “my diary of the struggle” in a perhaps small but crucial shift of emphasis.” Many are also retrospective in nature, Badger notes, “engaging with history and recent protest issues to demonstrate their relevance to the present.”

Recent photobooks by Laura El-Tantawy and Dragana Jurisic illustrate these observations perfectly. Both artists returned to their home country – Egypt and former Yugoslavia – during and after a time of upheaval and conflict; El-Tantawy in the midst of the turmoil, Jurisic in retrospect. The results are deeply-personal contemplations on history, identity and home.

Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena believes the photobook opens up a space to explore the possibilities of narrative, especially in documentary photography. Similar ideas nourish the work of Belgian photographer Max Pinckers and Spanish multi-disciplinary artist Laia Abril, who through the book medium continue to challenge conventions and expectations of the documentary genre.

Having worked in small communities and on the frontline of international conflicts, British artist Mark Neville feels it is no longer sufficient to hang a picture on the wall or to reproduce it in a newspaper. Looking for ways to subvert the traditional role of social documentary practice, Neville gives his books back to the members of the community he photographed or disseminates them to policy makers and experts.


09u30: Welcome

  • 10u00-10u15: Introduction by Stefan Vanthuyne (Belgian Platform for Photobooks)
  • 10u15-11u00: Gerry Badger / Keynote
  • 11u00-11u45: Laura El-Tantawy / Artist talk
  • 11u45-12u30: Dragana Jurisic / Artist talk

12u30-14u00: Lunch

  • 14u00-15u15: Conversation between Laia Abril, Max Pinckers and Alejandro Cartagena (moderator: Stefan Vanthuyne)

15u15-15u45: Break

  • 15u45-16u30: Mark Neville / Artist talk
  • 16u30-16u45: Round-up

(Programme and speakers are subject to changes)

Practical information

Thursday, February 1st, 2018, 10h00 – 17h00
FOMU, Waalsekaai 47, 2000 Antwerp.
Reserve your seat on the FOMU-website.


Symposium (basic) € 15.00
Symposium -26 € 10.00

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With the generous support of FOMU and the Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.

‘Women of Tahrir’ from ‘In the Shadow of the Pyramids’ © Laura El-Tantawy 2005-2014

YU: The Lost Country © Dragana Jurisic

On Abortion © 2016 Laia Abril

Santa Barbara Return Jobs To US © Alejandro Cartagena

Greenock Telegraph newspaper article about The Port Glasgow Book Project © 2004 Mark Neville