Professor Elizabeth Edwards

IAS Fellow at University College, Durham University (Pemberton Fellow – January-March 2012)

Professor Elizabeth Edwards is an historical and visual anthropologist who has worked extensively in the field of cross-cultural photography, and on the relationship between photography, history and anthropology. She trained initially as an historian at the Universities of Reading and Leicester before moving sideways into anthropology and to photography through her interest in alternative historical forms.

For many years Edwards was Curator of Photographs at Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford and also Lecturer in Visual Anthropology at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, where from 2002 she was co-founder and convener of the M.Sc in Visual Anthropology. During this period she published some of the foundational work on the history of anthropological photography, notably the edited volume Anthropology and Photography 1860-1920 which is still a standard text across many disciplines. In 2010 she co-edited Photographs, Anthropology and History: Expanding the Frame which explored the methodological and theoretical development of studies of anthropological photography in the intervening years. In the interim she published key works which have also become standard, notably Raw Histories: Photographs Anthropology and Museums which offered a rethinking of relations in colonial and anthropological photography and its institutional practices.

In 2005 she moved as Professor and Senior Research Fellow to the University of the Arts London, in order to work more closely with practitioners, a relationship which has been a major influence on her more recent work of the phenomenological experience of the act of photograph and its place in the understanding of photographs. She has recently taken up the post of Research Professor and Director of the Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University, Leicester – new inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary space for the exploration of the cultures of photography.

Edwards’ major interest is in the social practices of photography and material encounters with photographs, from patterns of collecting to history of science. She has forged innovative work especially in the field of the material and the multi-sensory photograph, for instance her edited volumes Photographs Objects Histories (2004), Sensible Objects (2006) and paper ‘Photographs and the Sound of ‘History’ (2005). Related to this is her other major contribution in bringing anthropological methods to the history of photography more generally, notably her forthcoming monograph The Camera as Historian: Amateur Photographers and Historical Imagination 1885-1918. She is currently working on projects on photography and evolutionary theory, and continuing her work on materiality and haptics of photography and on the history of collections. She is also leading PhotocLEC, a European HERA-funded project with partners in The Netherlands and Norway, on the photographic legacy of the colonial past in a postcolonial, multicultural Europe.

She has undertaken numerous consultancies, served on the boards of many journals including History of Photography, Visual Studies, Photography and Culture, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Material Religion and Visual Anthropology Review and reviews for many international research councils. In 2009 she was Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte where she worked on the interface between amateur photographers and scientific ideas. She is currently Vice-President of the Royal Anthropological Institute.