Particular Portraits: People with albinism in art- and fashion photography
The paper investigates the construction of a ‘type of human’ by visual means. The object, in the strict sense, is portraits of people with albinism, which have in recent years been turning up in international art- and fashion photography. The paper is based on a social-constructivist premise, according to which albinism is not simply a ‘natural’ condition which exists independently of cultural meanings and practice. Like every form of human difference, albinism, too, has a history in which changing and novel interpretation processes can be observed. Accordingly, the portraits addressed in the paper will be treated as an expression of a recent reinterpretation of albinism as an aesthetic quality in the field of art. As images of people with particular bodies, they span a field from alterization to normalization that can be traced back to the display of ‘albinos’ in cabinets of curiosities and showgrounds. The aim of the paper is to investigate the portraits as materialized practices of un/doing difference. In this, one focus is on analyzing how they are designed and used, compared to visual representations of people with hypopygmentation in older or alternative frameworks (freakshows, anthropology, medicine, social activism); another focus is on analyzing the relation between seriality and singularity which appears in different ways in this corpus of material and which, given the historical role that has been played by the serial photographic process in the exclusion of particular bodies, should be critically questioned. Theoretical approaches will be adopted from Disability Studies with a Cultural Studies orientation, and from a comparative study of practices of human differentiation.
Respondent: Martin Zillinger (Köln)