Photographs, Colonial Legacy and Museums in Contemporary European Culture (PhotoCLEC)

Project Participants

This project asks “what is the role of the photographic legacy of colonial relations in the identity of a fluid and multi-cultural modern Europe and its global relations?”
 Through the prism of photography, PhotoCLEC is concerned with colonialism and the way contemporary European cultures configure their pasts for the benefit of their futures. It is a detailed comparative study of the aims, strategies and efficacy of institutional practices as museums attempt to position colonial photograph collections in ways relevant to contemporary European societies and their futures. Importantly it asks how do differently constituted colonial experiences translate into differently nuanced visual legacies and how do these visual legacies resonate through differently shaped post-colonial experiences? As such it addresses an extensive yet largely neglected body of European cultural history, rooted in and outside Europe, which is actively moving across cultural boundaries, making new meanings in newly configured national and transnational communities in a global environment..
The collaborative nature of the project is central to the formulation of the research question itself, which will be explored through linked ethnographies of museum practices and strategies across the partner countries. It involves linked projects in three European countries with very different colonial experiences to compare and contrast their visual legacies in contemporary societies. UK and The Netherlands were major colonial powers but with different ‘styles’ of colonial engagement and different patterns of de-colonisation and post-colonial engagement at home and abroad. Norway, though not a colonial power in the territorial sense, was engaged with extensive ‘colonial-derived’ activities e.g. exploration, science and missions, and has colonial-style issues over Sami histories, adding an important and expansive dimension to the project. These histories have collectively left extensive visual legacies in the institutions of the three countries, patterned by different institutional approaches in universities, local authorities and government institutions.