CFP: Borders of the Visible: Intersections between Literature and Photography

Centro Studi Arti della Modernità
Università degli Studi di Torino
November 15 - 18, 2017
Stichtag: 30.06.2017

Roland Barthes maintained that endless plots hide behind any photograph (La chambre Claire, 1980). Photography is, in fact, one of the steadily recurrent features of today’s literary imaginary. Contemporary writers, like Georges Perec, Bruce Chatwin, W.G. Sebald, Javier Marías, Antonio Tabucchi, or earlier artists, like James Agee, have found both their subject-matter and a new kind of writing in the ways photography captures the visible—or the invisible. Vice versa, many photographers, such as Alfred Stieglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, André Kertész, August Sander, Ferdinando Scianna, found in literary language new insights enlivening their work.

For what purpose do so many writers embed photographs in their written texts? How do they choose their images, where do they gather them from? Is the function of photographs mimetic, rhetorical or symbolic? Do they represent or create anew? What kind of interaction is established between photographs and written texts? Are photographs meant to throw light on what authors leave unsaid or do they open up false tracks? And how do photographers interact with literary texts (short stories, novels, poetry)?

Describing the relation between literature and photography means investigating several kinds of referentiality that avoid mimetic representation, as Walter Benjamin, Sigfried Kracauer, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Fredric Jameson have pointed out. “Photographs are large shreds of time you can hold in your hand”, Angela Carter used to say: cutting out and trimming out the real, a photograph allows us to see the invisible. It comes as no surprise that Proust and Nabokov drew their metaphors for the interplay of mind and memory from the realm of photography.

The Conference Borders of the Visible: Intersections between Literature and Photography will investigate the many cross-currents connecting literature and photography in modernist, postmodernist and contemporary art and culture, and will include readings and special events. The conference aims to map the rhetorical forms of what is by now generally deemed as a kind of pervasive intertextuality, or ‘transmediality’, according to Marie-Laure Ryan, and to understand the reasons Why Photography Matters (Jerry L. Thompson, 2013), in a field where various media are integrated in the search for new artistic possibilities.

The Conference is organised by Centro Studi Arti della Modernità ( and sponsored by Università degli Studi di Torino, and the Departments of Studi Umanistici and Lingue e Letterature Straniere e Culture Moderne.

Advisory Board: Marco Belpoliti (Università di Bergamo), Rebecca Beasley (University of Oxford), Jens Brockmeier (American University of Paris), Andrei Bronnikov (Saint Petersburg State University), Elio Grazioli (Università di Bergamo), Alexander Etkind (European University Institute Florence), Manfred Pfister (Freie Universität Berlin), Kristupas Sabolius (Vilnius University), Rita Serpytyte (Vilnius University).

Conveners: Luigi Marfè, Giuliana Ferreccio, Roberto Gilodi, Franca Bruera, Daniela Nelva, Chiara Sandrin, Chiara Simonigh.

Opening Lecture: Photographer Ferdinando Scianna and Franco Marcoaldi.

Keynote Speakers: Marie-Laure Ryan (University of Colorado), Michele Cometa (Università di Palermo), Angela Breidbach (Universität Lüneburg), Steffen Haug (Humboldt Universität Berlin), Magali Nachtergael (Université Paris 13).

The Conference Advisory Board will consider proposals for papers on the following topics:

  • Photography and literary genres: how and to what extent did the introduction of photography help reshape the conventions of literary genres? Do photographic images assume a special significance in autobiographical, and/or life-writing (Perec), in narrative (Berger, Sebald, Auster, Tabucchi, Modiano, Bernhard), in poetry (Cendrars), in reportage (Agee), in travel writing (Bouvier, Chatwin, Celati), in historical narration?
  • Photography and historical-political narrative: does photography stand for documentary evidence, underlining truth or does it conversely endow narrative with a reality effect, construing history through rhetorical devices (Georges Didi-Huberman, Soulèvements, 2016)?
  • Literature, photography and other visual cultures (cinema, graphic novel, web writings, etc.): how is the relationship between literature and photography changing in the ‘post-photographic’ era (W.J.T. Mitchell)?
  • Photography and time: literature and photography are two mirror images of the archive, liable to ‘give a habitation and a name’ to memory’s shadows (Barthes, Sontag, Hirsch); to what extent do they preserve the past, to what extent do they transform it into something else?
  • Photography and the literary and filmic imaginary: many short stories (Cortázar, Calvino), novels (Bioy Casares, Tournier) and films (Antonioni) tell of events in photographers’ lives: what idea of photography do they convey? Which are the self-reflexive meanings one can read in their plots and characters?

Proposals of about 250 words may be submitted to convenors through, by 30 June 2017, together with a bio-bibliographical profile. Proposals will be read and evaluated by 31 August 2017. Registration fee for Participants: 30 euros; Graduate Students. PhDs, Independent Scholars: 20 euros. Presentations should be limited to 20 minutes delivery time. The conference languages will be English, French and Italian.

Conference presentations may be in turn submitted for publication in “Cosmo. Comparative Studies in Modernism”, the Centro’s online journal (ISSN 2281-6658,

Contact Info:
Giuliana Ferreccio
Chairman of Centro Studi Arti della Modernità
Università degli Studi di Torino
Contact Email:

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