Events | Ecologies of the Western Camera: Photographic Practice in Early Twentieth-Century California. Lecture by Carolin Görgen

Huntington Library | Munger Research Center | June 22, 2023 | 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (PDT)

2023 Thomas Mann Fellow Carolin Görgen (Sorbonne University) discusses the role of Californian photographers in the early twentieth century, questioning the common portrayal of western artist-explorers at the backdrop of imperialist expansion.

For the past century, Californian photographers have existed in our imaginations as environmentally aware practitioners whose majestic depictions of the western landscape have helped preserve and protect the state's fragile ecosystem. Exploring the practices of the largest camera club in the early twentieth-century U.S. – the San Francisco-based California Camera Club – this talk questions the common portrayal of western artist-explorers in a seemingly favorable climate. It draws attention to the ecological repercussions of photographic practice in California, c. 1900, by tracing the tensions between aesthetically pleasing landscape imagery and its material afterlife.

Thanks to a variety of photographic objects and manuscripts, many of which residing at the Huntington, Carolin Görgen will examine how the club’s seemingly preservationist agenda was interwoven with imperialist expansion, Indigenous dispossession, and often-violent transformation of the land. In dialogue with recent ecocriticial research, she will ask how the photographers’ dominant understanding of the Western environment was directly linked to the social fabric of the club and longstanding imaginations of Californian photography as inherently environmentalist.

The event is open to the public. No reservations needed.


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Carolin Görgen is an Associate Professor of American Studies at Sorbonne Université, Paris. After studying American Studies and Art History in the Netherlands, the US, and France, she obtained her PhD from the University Paris-Diderot and the Ecole du Louvre in 2018. Her research focuses on the photographic history of California and the American West. Her work has received support from the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Beinecke Library at Yale, the Huntington Library, and the Amon Carter Museum. She serves on the editorial board of the journal Photographica. Among many other publications, Görgen is the author of the 2021 article “Californian Women Photographers in the U.S. Archival Landscape: Toward a More Inclusive History of American Photography.” She is a 2023 Thomas Mann Fellow.

Attendance Information:

This event is free and open to the public. No reservations required. Space is limited.

You are welcomed to bring and eat your own lunch.


Munger Research Center – Seaver Classroom 1 & 2

1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108

This event is organized by the Huntington Library.

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