Batchen, Geoffrey

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BATCHEN, Geoffrey

PERSONAL: Born in Australia. Education: University of Sydney, Ph.D., 1991.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Department of Art History, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10016. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Art curator and professor; curator of exhibitions in Australia, Brazil, Amsterdam, and New York. University of California, San Diego, instructor; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, associate professor of art history and theory; City University of New York, Graduate Center and Hunter College, New York, NY, professor of history of photography, contemporary art, and cyberculture, 2002—.


Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.

Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.

Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance, Princeton Architectural Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of an essay to Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art, edited by Ingrid Schaffner and Matthias Winzen, Prestel (New York, NY), 1998, and to Traces of Light: The Art and Experiments of William Henry Fox Talbot, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 2001. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Camera Austria and Camerawork Journal.

SIDELIGHTS: Geoffrey Batchen is an expert on the history of photography, particularly what he terms "vernacular photography": photographs taken and viewed by average people not as art, but as a way of capturing moments, preserving memories, and contributing to the social discourse.

In his first book, Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography, Batchen traces the forty years between 1790, when some forward-thinkers began to record scenes photographically, and 1839, when the first functional photographic process was unveiled to the public in Paris. Historians generally agree that these forty years also marked the birth of the modern era, and Batchen uses the work of social theorists Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida to examine why people at that particular historical moment first wanted to be able to take photographs. "Batchen documents this period carefully, down to the anecdotal detail," Jorge Lopez commented in the Globe Online, "making Burning with Desire an interesting as well as enjoyable read."

Batchen followed Burning with Desire with Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History, a collection of essays which cover the past, present, and future (or lack thereof) of the medium. "Particularly strong," stated a Publishers Weekly critic, "is Batchen's survey of the vernacular tradition of his native Australia." He also reprises some of his arguments from Burning with Desire about the impulses behind the invention of photography and speculates on the effects that digital photography and image manipulation might have on the way that photographs are perceived. "His search in these essays for the precise ways in which photographs signify aesthetically and socially is a wild, wonderful, sometimes frustrating, often intellectually demanding ride," Jon Hughes wrote in Antipodes.

In Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance, Batchen examines the use of photographs to remember deceased or absent loved ones during the one hundred years from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Many of the pieces Batchen examines are from his own collection, much of which he acquired on the online auction site eBay. "What impresses the modern reader," remarked Metro Online contributor Rick McGinnis, "is how precious photographs once were," when people put on their best clothes to sit for a picture and prints were displayed in elaborate frames of precious materials. But in Forget Me Not, Batchen seeks to do more than catalogue this disappearing aspect of photography; in the "thoughtful essay" that comprises the textual portion of the book, Batchen "challenges the assumption that photography is, in itself, an effective aid to memory," as Eric Linderman explained in Library Journal. "We tend to think of photographs and memories as synonymous," Batchen explained in an interview with William Kornblum posted on the City University of New York Web site, "but most of the better commentators on photography have in fact argued the opposite—that photographs displace, replace, or even destroy memory (that they replace the emotional thrills of involuntary memory with the dull certainties of history)."



Afterimage, July-August, 2002, Jina Chang, review of Traces of Light, p. 19.

Albuquerque Journal, August 19, 1999, Ellen Berkovitch, "About Art," p. 6.

Antipodes, December, 2002, Jon Hughes, review of Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History, p. 209.

Aperture, summer, 2001, review of Each Wild Idea, p. 77.

Isis, March, 1999, Geraldine Wojno Keifer, review of Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography, p. 142.

Library Journal, May 15, 2001, Debora Miller, review of Each Wild Idea, p. 116; April 15, 2004, Eric Linderman, review of Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance, p. 78.

New York Times Book Review, October 19, 1997, Sarah Boxer, review of Burning with Desire, p. 38.

Publishers Weekly, March 12, 2001, review of EachWild Idea, p. 76.

Technology and Culture, July, 1999, Patricia Johnston, review of Burning with Desire, p. 702.


City University of New York Graduate Center Web site, (October 22, 2004), "Geoffrey Batchen;" William Kornblum, "On the History of Photography: A Talk with Geoffrey Batchen."

Conducting Bodies: Affect Sensation and MemoryConference Web site, (October 22, 2004), "Objects the Trigger Memory Retrieval."

Globe Online, (October 22, 2004), Jorge Lopez, review of Burning with Desire.

Metro Online, (July 19, 2004), Rick McGinnis, review of Forget Me Not.

MIT Press Web site, (October 22, 2004), "Geoffrey Batchen."*