Reinventing Documentary Photography in the 1970s

Jo Spence & Terry Dennett

Late-breaking: Thank you for your interest in Reinventing Documentary Photography in the 1970s. Reservations for the symposium are nearing capacity, so if you haven’t already registered we can’t guarantee seating.

Organized by Sarah Miller and Drew Sawyer, in collaboration with the Zimmerli Museum and the Developing Room, this interdisciplinary symposium seeks to question standard narratives around the reemergence of documentary photography during that tumultuous decade. It brings together a range of international art historians and curators, who have rarely had to opportunity to exchange research and ideas on this topic. Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Center for Cultural Analysis and the Office of the Dean of Humanities (Rutgers).

In the United States, scholarship on documentary during the long 1970s has tended to focus on two poles: the curatorial practices of John Szarkowski at The Museum of Modern Art and those artists that he supported, and Allan Sekula’s and Martha Rosler’s strident critiques of modernism’s embrace of the genre. Taking Jorge Ribalta’s recent exhibition, Not Yet. On the Reinvention of Documentary and the Critique of Modernism, at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid as a launching point, the symposium will widen the conversation to explore the multiple ways that documentary was rethought and contested in the 1970s, in both critical discourse and artistic practice. This symposium will bring together art historians and curators from Europe, who have been rewriting these histories over the past several years, with emerging and established art historians in the United States, who are only just beginning to look into these diverse practices. The symposium aims to propel new scholarship on these artistic practices and the critical discourses they generated, and provide a broader context for American histories of documentary during the period.

Registration is required but free of charge. Please click on the "requirements" tab for more information.

Schedule notes:

Please note that the symposium begins Thursday March 23 at 6:00pm with a keynote talk, reconvenes on Friday the 24th at 9:30am and runs until 5:30pm.
Additionally, the keynote talk on Thursday will be preceded by a reception in the Zimmerli lobby at 5:00 pm. The galleries will remain open until 6:00, allowing attendees to view the current exhibitions.


Thursday, March 23
5:00 - 6:00pm
Reception in Zimmerli Museum Lobby

Jorge Ribalta - Keynote Talk: Not yet. On the Reinvention of Documentary and the Critique of Modernism

Friday, March 24

10:00 - 10:50am
Huffa Frobes Cross: Various Representational Tasks: The Documentary Strategies of Martha Rosler, Fred Lonidier, Phel Steinmetz and Allan Sekula, 1972-1976
David Campany: Studying Tigers in the Zoo

Short Break

Siona Wilson: Look Back in Anger: Jo Spence's Subjective Documentary
Solveig Nelson: On the Legacies of Civil Rights Reportage in Early Video Art of the 60s- and 70s, from ‘street tapes’ to Multi-Channel Video Performances

Discussion of all morning speakers

Lunch (at museum for speakers, and at restaurants nearby for attendees)

Robert Slifkin: A Scandal in Bohemia: Forensics, Postmodern Photography, and the Ends of Liberalism
Katherine Bussard: “Beyond the Documentary Approach:” Arthur Tress’ Open Space in the Inner City
Heather Diack: Between States

Discussion of afternoon speakers


David Hartt: Artist’s talk & facilitated discussion


Center for Cultural Analysis (CCA)
Zimmerli Art Museum
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation