The Itinerant Languages of Photography

From its inception, photography has been about the incessant circulation and exchange of images. The meaning and cultural relevance of a photographic image thus changes constantly. Through 85 photographs from public and private collections in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the United States, The Itinerant Languages of Photography explores the movement of photographs across time and place, offering a transnational history of photography that draws new attention to the work of both well-known masters and more emerging figures.

The project takes its point of departure from the idea that photography, as a set of different practices and technologies, resists being fixed in place—that the photograph assumes its full meaning only after it has been reproduced and displaced. Tracing historical forms of traffic and displacement in photography over time, the project focuses on four different manifestations of itinerancy—photographs, revolutions, subjects, and archives—each of which considers a different aspect of photographic movement.

The scope of the undertaking is mind-boggling, bringing together artists, intellectuals, and archives from three continents and as many centuries. Given its academic pedigree, the book is densely intellectual. The accompanying essays presuppose familiarity with the writings of Roland Barthes, Italo Calvino, Walter Benjamin et al. And yet, the overarching theme of photography's reproducibility and constant re-dissemination feels immediately relevant in our digitally-dominated, image-saturated era. 

The Itinerant Languages of Photography is certainly not for the faint of heart or short of attention, but it is a timely and important effort, worthwhile for anyone seriously interested in the intellectual questions of the medium.

—Alexander Strecker

The Itinerant Languages of Photography
Eduardo Cadava and Gabriela Nouzeilles
Publisher: Yale University Press
Hardcover: 240 pages


Editor's Note: An exhibition of the same name is on view at the Princeton University Art Museum from Sept. 7, 2013, through Jan. 19, 2014. The exhibition features artists such as Manuel and Lola Alvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joan Colom, Graciela Iturbide, Susan Meiselas, Marcelo Brodsky, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, and Joan Fontcuberta.