Bringing Tokyo to the Sackler Library: Japanese Photobooks On Display

The Japanese Photobook and the Sackler Library Display

Above: Ninagawa Mika. Tokyo from Utsurundesu series (since 2018). Models: AMIAYA. (Exhibition poster for Tokyo: Art and Photography. Ashmolean Museum, 2021) Copyright Ninagawa Mika, courtesy the artist and Tomio Koyama Gallery

 

Accompanying the Ashmolean Museum’s exhibition Tokyo: Art & Photography (29 July 2021 – 3 January 2022) a book display at the Sackler Library presents Japanese photobooks, books on Japanese photography and related exhibition catalogues. Over the coming weeks some of the Japanese photobooks held by the Sackler are on display (in the Ground Floor rotunda) for readers to take a closer look.

Works in the Bodleian Libraries’ collections (in particular, the Sackler Library and the Bodleian Japanese Library, or BJL) range from the 1965 book Why Mother Why, which features iconic photographer Hosoe Eikoh’s works, to multi-media artist Tokyo Rumando’s exhibition booklet from 2020. In her first European museum solo show, Tokyo Rumando presented her self-portrait photographs and films.

 

Takano Ryudai photobooks on display at the Ashmolean Museum. Credit: Dr Lena Fritsch

Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has dominated the international camera industry through companies such as Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Sony or Pentax (previously Asahi). Supported by these companies, responsible for creating some of the best cameras, lenses and films in the world, photo galleries such as Fuji Salon or Canon Salon have hosted short-term exhibitions. Amateur photography clubs promote competitions, exhibitions and periodicals. Asahi Camera, founded in 1926 by the Asahi Newspaper Company, is the voice of the All-Japan Association of Photographic Societies (AJAPS, Zennihon Shashin Renmei) and is the country’s oldest photography magazine. It presents photographs, evaluations of equipment and exhibition reviews. Another popular magazine, Nippon Camera, has existed since 1951. The internet now provides access to images and texts, but until recently, photo magazines were a crucial source of information on photography, including works from overseas. Photography in Japan has developed into a web of camera companies, clubs, galleries, publishers, magazines and online platforms. More than an important industry, it also is a socio-cultural system based on countless photographers and camera fans, creating a vast number of high-quality images. This ‘photography world’ is a parallel system to the ‘art world’ in Japan, which has also produced important photographic works.

Range of Photobooks on display at the Tokyo exhibition. Credit: Dr Lena Fritsch

 

Moriyama Daidō’s photobooks (Record, edited by Mark Holburn; and Daido Moriyama: the World through my Eyes, edited by Filippo Maggia)

The photobook has become central to the development of Japanese photography, particularly since the post-war years. Considering Japan’s long tradition of making high-quality paper and books, as well as the lack of photography exhibition and storage space in densely populated Japanese cities, the popularity of the photobook is not surprising. Even today, for many photographers the photobook remains the ultimate format in which to present their works. Iconic photobooks by Fukase Masahisa, Araki Nobuyoshi or Kawada Kikuji continue to inspire younger artists worldwide. Over the last 30 years there has been a growing interest in Japanese photography, both within and outside of Japan, which has resulted in an increasing number of exhibitions. Japanese photobooks have also become sought-after internationally.

Tokyo has been a major motif in Japanese photography, ranging from Kimura Ihei’s post-war documentation to Moriyama Daidō’s dynamic snapshots of his Shinjuku neighbourhood, Araki Nobuyoshi’s diaristic Ginza photographs and Ninagawa Mika’s colourful images of her urban life. The number of photographs is endless, and Tokyo as a motif and shooting location is as varied as the city itself. While ‘truly copying’ the outside world (as the Japanese term for photography ‘shashin’ suggests), Japanese photography has developed from a ‘realist’ approach in the early post-war years to a free form of expression often intertwined with photographers’ lives and subjective experiences. Tokyo in photography has had many faces and no doubt it will continue to change, develop and re-imagine itself in the future. Perhaps the most engaging photographs of Tokyo, however, will continue to be linked to the photographers’ lives and inner visions.

Japanese Photobooks and photographs of Tokyo at the Ashmolean Museum. Credit: Dr Lena Fritsch

The Sackler Library’s book display seeks to provide a ‘taster’ of the diversity of Japanese photography, featuring well-known names, such as Araki and Moriyama, as well as younger female practitioners who are less well-known internationally, including Nagashima Yurie, Tonomura Hideka, and Tokyo Rumando. I hope that the display will inspire staff and students alike, reflecting both the quality of Japanese photography and the importance of the photobook as an artistic object in its own right. The work of many of these photographers has not yet been researched enough. The display runs during the course of Michaelmas term 2021, and beyond, and we invite you to take a closer look at the books!

Dr. Lena Fritsch
Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Ashmolean Museum

Sackler books on show in the Ashmolean exhibition

The Sackler Library has lent three publications to the Ashmolean exhibition:

Kimura Ihei. Tokyo: Fall of 1945. Tokyo: Bunka-sha, 1946

Sohei Nishino. Tokyo. Tokyo: Amana, 2015 (A diorama photographic map Tokyo)

Tsuzuki Kyoichi. Satellite of Love: Vanishing Beauty of Japanese ‘Love hotels’ . Tokyo: Asupekuto, 2001

Preparing the Display: My Personal Perspective as a Graduate Library Trainee

Sackler Library poster for the Japanese Photobook display

 

When I was asked to put together this display, I – of course – jumped at the opportunity. Since opening up to more readers (post-Covid), and reinstating its New Books Display, the Sackler Library is gradually returning to the bustle of its pre-Covid years. The Ashmolean’s advertising for the Tokyo exhibition is hard to miss: visitors to and passers-by the museum can see Ninagawa Mika’s bright photograph of two young women bowing their pink fringes towards each another, one of them adorned by a dazzling ‘Gucci’ clip (see above). I pass the Ashmolean poster daily, on my walk to work, and it never fails to catch my eye. Welcoming new and returning readers to the Sackler Library with a connected display seemed perfect timing. This post is a small insight into the process of setting up my first book display, and all I learned along the way.

Tokyo photobook display, Sackler Library

I set about gathering the list of Tokyo photobooks held by the Sackler Library, compiled by the Ashmolean exhibition’s co-curator, Dr Lena Fritsch. Once all the books were assembled, I quickly learned that Japanese photography does not comprise only colour images of vibrant scenes of Tokyo’s nightlife as represented in the exhibition’s poster. Leafing through For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, I found countless greyscale shots. Without colour, the pictures are still remarkably expressive.

Spread from Oh! Shinjuku from For a new world to come: experiments in Japanese art and photography, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

One of my preferred spreads from For a New World to Come is Shomei Tomatsu’s Oh! Shinjuku series (1969). These images show scenes of student protestors and railway passengers alongside moments from Tokyo nightlife. One of the most famous photos in the series, of a protestor clashing with the police, particularly stands out. Apparently, students had told Tomatsu about the protest (and the protestor’s) location, allowing the photographer to capture the moment. Through creating this display, I learned about the ‘are-bure-boke’ style: here, pictures are grainy or out-of-focus, just like Tomatsu’s shot. Its blurry look really captures the fast-moving pace of 1960s Tokyo: the student seems to glide through the air, showing you don’t always need bright colours to grasp the chaos of a place in time.

Looking at these images, you can see lots of parallels with other displayed books. We also have the works of Daidō Moriyama. In his introduction to Daido Moriyama (Tate, 2012) Simon Baker describes Moriyama as ‘one of Japan’s most important and influential photographers and photobook makers’, capturing the world since 1964. Inside, the book is undeniably varied – with a colour photography selection towards the end. Still, you cannot miss the familiar, blurred greyscale images throughout the book. In 1968, Moriyama joined a group called Provoke, and their eponymous magazine, where are-bure-boke was the trademark style. So, even by skimming photobooks, you can see a typical documentation style for 1960s Tokyo. As a staff member with no formal training in art history, there is something very satisfying about identifying themes and trends with a layman’s eye!

Cover of Daido Moriyama, edited by Simon Baker. 2012. Tate Publishing

When I was organising the display I came across more than 1960s photography. For example, Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows (2015) includes works 1976-2007; her work is fascinating, ranging from shots of apartments to close-up images of human hands and skin. I decided to group photobooks covering a longer span of time together, for readers who want to delve deeper into the world of Japanese photography and see how it has evolved over time. (These groupings have now merged, as readers view and rearrange the books on display.)

The display also includes books normally housed in our offsite facility. Readers familiar with the Bodleian Libraries’ collections will know that we hold many, many books. Despite the plethora of libraries around Oxford, we cannot keep all of them in our onsite collections and a vast number are stored offsite. Books returned temporarily to onsite include, for example, other publications on Moriyama, as well as other artists’ photobooks.

Once all the books had arrived safely at the Sackler, I began putting up the display. With the exception of giving a helping hand during my work experience at a primary school, this was almost entirely new territory. Fortunately, the photobooks contain beautiful, powerful and intriguing images, which guided me in arranging the display. After a period of adjusting the table arrangements, the display was good to go.

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Still Life. 2001

 

When I was deciding where to place the books, there were two especially important points for me. Firstly, I knew I wanted to have a spread of books open: the display is, after all, about photography! Choosing which spread to have open was more difficult: I turned page after page, looking for the most (to me) compelling images. I eventually chose two photos from Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Still Life, which show four young boys in conversation, and a striking woman sitting back and staring the camera down. To me, her gaze almost invites you in to look further at the books. (That said, our readers have enjoyed looking at the display since it went on show, and one of them subsequently changed the pages to display a sleeping cat. This is, of course, entirely welcome in the library. Our books are for readers to handle.)

Tokyo Rumando. The Story of S, 2020

Secondly, although all our books are available pick up and consider, I wanted Tokyo Rumando’s 2020 exhibition booklet to be particularly accessible. This is the most recent work on display, and by lesser-known female artist. I particularly wanted to encourage display browsers to engage with newer artists, to bring home how the world of Japanese photography world has evolved to present day. If you flick through her booklet, her work is a captivating story of female empowerment: between shots of women of all ages, clothes, and poses, she emerges as one of my new favourite creators. I hope everyone considering the display finds it as insightful as I did.

Izzie Salter
Graduate Library Trainee, Sackler Library

 

 

 

 

References

Gyewon Kim. ‘Paper, photography, and a reflection on urban landscape in 1960s Japan’. Visual Resources 32:3-4 (2016): 230-246

Sarah Boxer ‘Japan Torqued, Melted, Reconfigured’. New York Times 12 September 2004

Reading List

Eikō Hosoe and Mark Holborn. Ordeal by Roses: Photographs of Yukio Mishima. New York: Aperture, 1985

Black Sun: the Eyes of Four: Roots and Innovation in Japanese Photography. Edited by Mark Holborn. New York: Aperture, 1986

Daido Moriyama: Record, edited by Mark Holborn. London: Thames and Hudson, 2017

Daido Moriyama, edited by Simon Baker. London: Tate, 2012

Daido Moriyama: Tales of Tono Translated by Lena Fritsch. London: Tate, 2012

For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979. Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2015

Daido Moriyama: the World through my Eyes. Edited by Filippo Maggia. Milan/London: Skira/Thames and Hudson, 2010

Lena Fritsch. Ravens & Red Lipstick: Japanese Photography since 1945. London: Thames and Hudson, 2018.

Nobuyoshi Araki. Araki: Tokyo Lucky Hole. Cologne/London: Taschen, 1997

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Still Life. Birmingham: Icon Gallery, 2001

Emphatic and Uncompromising: Kitai Kazuo’s Photography. Tokyo: Yumiko Chiba Associates, 2019

Provoke: between Protest and Performance, Photography in Japan 1960/1975. Edited by Diane Dufour & Matthew S. Witkovsky. Gottingen: Steidl, 2016

Hiromi Tsuchida. Fukushima: 2011-2017, Tokyo: Misuzu Shobō, 2018

Shomei Tomatsu. Chewing Gum and Chocolate. Edited by Leo Rubinfien & John Junkerman, New York: Aperture, 2014

Naito Masatoshi: Another World Unveiled. Edited by Tetsurō Ishida & Satomi Fujimura. Tokyo: Tōkyō-to Shashin Bijutsukan, 2018

Sato Tokihiro: Presence or Absence. Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 2014

Nagashima Yurie and a Pinch of Irony with a Hint of Love. Tokyo Museum of Photographic Art, 2017
Amanda Maddox and others. Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015

Yutaka Takanashi. Toshi-e / Towards the City. New York: Errata, 2010

Hitomi Watanabe. Tōdai zenkyōtō 1968 1969.Tōkyō : Shinchōsha, 2007

The Founding and Development of Modern Photography in Japan. Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 1995

Japan’s Modern Divide: the Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto. Edited by Judith Keller and Amanda Maddox. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013

Hiroshi Hamaya. Senzō zanzō: shashin taiken 60nen. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1991

TOP Collection: Tokyo Tokyo and TOKYO. Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Tokyo: Case Publishing, 2016

Emerging from Pandemic Purgatory

Taylor Institution Library, View from St Giles’
Above: Taylor Institution Library, View from St Giles’

This post originally appeared on the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainee Blog and is republished with permission of the author.

*****

Sadly, for many of us, the last eighteen months have seen the cancellation, curtailment and delay of countless celebrations, including birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and achievements. At the very least, we’ve been forced to relocate those festivities online and connect with family and friends via laptops and phone screens in a kind of digital limbo.

Re-emerging into the real world from this pandemic-induced Purgatory, I recently returned to Oxford, a city that I’d previously called home for many years. My arrival overlapped with many of the restrictions of the last year and a half being (cautiously) rolled back. As the new Graduate Trainee at the Taylor Institution Library (known colloquially as the ‘Taylorian’), my first week saw the steady disappearance of one-way systems, sign-in slots and restricted access for readers to many of the library’s more intimate spaces.

Taylor Institution Library, Aerial View
Above: Taylor Institution Library, Aerial View (2008)

Like the Bodleian Libraries more broadly, many institutions and historical personages have also found their usual cycles of anniversaries and commemorations disrupted by lockdown measures and restrictions on large gatherings. Excitingly, the prospect of more freedom for staff and readers at the University of Oxford has coincided with another cause for celebration: the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the great Italian poet and philosopher. As a result, the Taylor Institution Library, Weston Library and the Ashmolean Museum have prepared three exhibitions of works from among the libraries’ and museum’s many and varied holdings, which provide visions of, and insights into, the author’s most famous work, the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia). Works from the Taylorian’s collections are included in the Ashmolean and Weston displays. The Taylorian exhibition, ‘Illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy’, meanwhile, also draws upon the collections of the Sackler Library, Oxford’s principal research location for the study of visual culture. Alongside my regular duties at the library (with which I’m slowly familiarising myself), I’ve been fortunate enough to join Clare Hills-Nova (Librarian in Charge, Sackler Library, and Subject Librarian for Italian Literature and Language at the Taylorian) and Professor Gervase Rosser, curatorial lead on all three Oxford Dante exhibitions, in their preparations for the display of prints, manuscripts and illustrated books spanning the seven hundred years since Dante’s passing.

Taylor Institution Library, University of Oxford
Above: Taylor Institution Library, University of Oxford (Architect C. R. Cockerell, 1841-45)

The photos provided here offer a window on the range of texts and images that were chosen for the Taylorian exhibition and the process that went into preparing them for public display. I came into that process after Clare and Gervase had agreed on the works to be included and their gathering from the Taylorian’s rare books and manuscript holdings and other library locations was complete. The exhibition handlist includes an introduction to the works on display as well as a list of works they considered for inclusion.

Together, Clare and I spent an afternoon preparing the exhibition space – among the already impressive holdings of the library’s Voltaire Room.

Taylor Institution Library, Voltaire Room
Above: Taylor Institution Library, Voltaire Room (ca. 2010)

A provisional placement of the exhibits according to the chronological layout agreed by Clare and Gervase gave us a sense of how the various prints, manuscripts and books would fit within the display cases.

Working with a number of old and rare editions – including some of the oldest books that I’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand during my time in Oxford – required careful handling and the use of foam rests and ‘snakes’ (long, cotton-wrapped metal ‘beads’ designed to hold open books). Clare has a background in conservation, so provided an experienced eye and guiding hand throughout the process.

Open exhibition display case pictured with box of foam rests
Above: Preparing the display cases

After this initial test-run of the display cases, I was tasked with assisting in the preparation of a bibliography to provide visitors to the exhibition with a comprehensive list of texts on display, and those consulted during the curation process. This not only gave me an excellent opportunity to re-familiarise myself with the Bodleian Libraries’ SOLO (‘Search Oxford Libraries Online’) catalogue, but required some further detective work to collect the full details of some of the more obscure texts included in the exhibition.

Although I’m familiar with this kind of work from my time researching and writing Russian history, and searching for texts catalogued in various forms of transliterated Cyrillic, the preparations for this exhibition included consideration of works in Italian, French and German too. Exploiting the automatic citation tool provided on the SOLO also exposed the potential drawback of relying on technology alone. Each of these languages inevitably has its own bibliographic conventions for the formatting of references (authors, titles, publishing info, etc.), not all of which are captured by auto-generation of citations. Obviously, I still have plenty to learn on that front being based in one of Oxford’s key research centres for modern languages and linguistics!

Open display case with selection of illustrated books
Above: Testing the layout of the exhibits within the display case

The whole process also brought home how inconsistent and incomplete some of the catalogue descriptions are within the Bodleian Libraries’ older collections and more unique items. This is quite the mountain to climb for those librarians faced with such a vast (and ever expanding) number of books, journals, periodicals and other ephemera in every language under the sun.

One particular exhibit of note is shown below:

Title page of Italian edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy dedicated to Empress Elizabeth Petrovna of Russia
Above: A copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy dedicated to Empress Elizabeth Petrovna of Russia (daughter of Peter the Great). Published in Venice, Italy in 1757

It was wonderful to find such a striking connection between the history of Imperial Russia and Dante’s life and work!

The second set of photos below provides a view of the final layout for each display case. Supporting information to be included alongside the works was still being prepared at the time of taking, but a sense of the diversity of images and lasting influence of Dante’s work on artists, writers, print-makers and publishers across the world is evident already.

 

Students, faculty and staff from across the University are welcome to visit the Taylorian’s exhibition during library opening hours, from the beginning of Michaelmas term through December 2021. The parallel exhibitions marking Dante’s centenary celebrations are on display for a similar period: Ashmolean Museum (17 September 2021 – 9 January 2022) and Weston Library (8 September 2021 – 14 November 2021), which will give everyone interested in the life, history and influence of Dante the opportunity to explore the wider collections of the University.

Further Oxford Dante events, ranging from concerts to film screenings, to lectures and (of course!) at least one book launch celebrating the 700th anniversary are planned for autumn 2021.

Having now had an insight into the complexities involved in preparing, curating and displaying materials from our impressive Dante collections, the chance to come face-to-face with these exhibits sounds like Paradiso itself!

If you want to know more about Dante-related holdings in Oxford, please check out the Taylorian’s earlier blog posts in this regard (linked below):

Listening to Dante: An Audio-visual Afterlife

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts, Part I

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts: Part II

Malcolm L. G. Spencer

Graduate Trainee, Taylor Institution Library

Like @ Sac! Disability History Month 2019

Sackler Library Book Display

The theme for the 2019 Disability History Month festivities in the United Kingdom is ‘Disability: Leadership, Resistance and Culture‘. To explore some important questions opened up by this focus, this reflection proposes three encouragements to further teaching and student research in disability history: displays of books held by the Bodleian Libraries at both the Sackler Library and the Continuing Education Library throughout Disability History Month (22 November to 22 December 2019); a presentation for the Disability History Workshop (Friday 22 November 2019, 9:00-13:00 in the History Faculty — all members of the University are welcome to attend the workshop and join us for lunch [please sign up here]); and an Oxford Reading Lists Online (‘ORLO’) site collating digital links to scholarship and media about how disability history is evidenced through design, visual cultures and historic environments.

Book Display, Sackler Library. Until 22 December 2019. (Image: Erin McNulty)

 

As a historian of nineteenth- to twenty-first century design, it would be hubristic to extend my suggestions for prospective researchers in disability history much beyond in this period. That said, it is important to celebrate, as the 2013 BBC podcast series ‘Disability: A New History’ by Peter White advised by Professor David Turner of Swansea University eloquently did, the burgeoning field of historians assessing the documentation of medieval and early modern charitable institutions through the lens of disability history. Isabel Holowaty, Bodleian History Librarian, is collaborating with History Faculty colleagues in these earlier periods to develop a Disability History research guide (‘LibGuide’) addressing a wider chronological scope. 

Enabling Histories of Design for Disability

Culture operates as both leadership and resistance. This discussion delves first into advocacy by disability activists witnessed in oral histories and archives. A brief stroll through some of the wealth of historical scholarship about designed objects and environments for disability ensues which hopes to facilitate new research.

Primary Sources: Advocacy

J. Robert Atkinson, founder of Universal Braille Press, holding two Braille books in Los Angeles, Calif., 1929. Los Angeles Times Photograph Collection, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

Three eighteenth- and nineteenth-century voices helped to identify the core thematics of this meditation: William Hay MP (1695-1755), Thérèse-Adèle Husson (1803-31) and Hyppolite van Landeghem (fl.1860s). Parliamentarian for Glyndebourne and Christ Church man, William Hay contested problematic Enlightenment equations of moral virtue with physical health and beauty in his 1754 essay ‘On Deformity’. Despite his use of the uncomfortable contemporary terminology of ‘deformity’, referencing an earlier essay by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Hay embraced his own bodily difference as an ‘advantage’, as he perceived it, because his spinal condition and stature activated his aptitude for education and sensibility. Author of numerous children’s novels, Thérèse-Adèle Husson underlined the importance of attending to and capturing the perspectives of creative self-advocates. The hand-written manuscript of Husson’s extraordinary autobiography, Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France, was sent to the Director of the Quinze-Vingts Hospital for the Blind, Paris in 1825, remaining neglected until recuperated by Professor Zina Weygand of the Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Métiers Paris in 2004 (Une jeune aveugle dans la France du XIXe siècle). Husson’s testimony of living with disability amidst a climate of social turmoil and resistance was translated by Weygand and Catherine Kudlick of San Francisco State University and is available as an e-book here. The polemical Victorian rhetoric of Hyppolite van Landeghem’s 1864 treatise on ‘Exile Schools’ has perhaps led to the neglect of the text’s evocation of the tensions between disempowering charity, isolation and community in designed environments for disability, a theme writ large in its ungainly title: Charity Mis-applied. When Restored to Society, after Having Been Immured for Several Years in Exile Schools, the Blind and the Deaf and Dumb Are Found to Be Incapable of Self-support. Why? The Question Considered and Answered.

These themes of advocacy, practice and representation also resonate in the archival traces of twentieth-century civil rights activists who played a vital role in securing the legislative requirements and commercial incentives that underpin design for disability. The commitment of Edward V Roberts (1939-95) to secure equity of intellectual and physical access to education and work was achieved through both civil disobedience and municipal council motions that implemented disabled-student university accommodation, ‘curb cuts’ throughout the road network and the formation of the first Center for Independent Living (Berkeley, California), all documented in the archives of the University of California at Berkeley. In the United Kingdom, Paddy Masefield OBE (1943-2012) is just one of many advocates documented in the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) at Buckinghamshire New University. His energy in advising government and cultural institutions generated ground-breaking apprenticeship and employment initiatives, as well as the foundation of influential and remunerative annual prizes to promote creativity for disability. The Masefield Award promotes ‘outstanding communication through art by a disabled person’.

Recent Scholarship: Histories of Design for Disability

‘Accessible Icon’ re-designed with self-advocates by Tim Fergusson Sauder, Brian Glenney and Sara Hendren 2009-11 http://accessibleicon.org/

Famous designers and powerful cultural institutions have engaged with design for disability in multiple ways. A vodcast of the keynote lecture for the Annual Design History Conference convened at the Department for Continuing Education in 2014, ‘How Disabled Design Changed the History of Modernismby Professor David Serlin of the University of San Diego, captures perspectives and case studies from disability history which remain rarely considered within most University curricula. How often does Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent’s 1948 commission for an accessible Usonian-hemicycle house from Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) figure in modern architectural histories?

Objects and Exhibitions

Displays of collections of work by disabled practitioners have promoted both empowerment and stigma. Art produced by mental health patients collected by the art historian and psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn (1886-1933) at the University of Heidelberg was both admired in Surrealist circles and denigrated in the 1938 Nazi Degenerate Art exhibition. In her Learning from madness: Brazilian modernism and global contemporary art, Kaira M. Cabañas of the University of Florida has revealed how in this interwar period the psychiatrists Osório César (1895-1979) and Nise da Silveira (1905-99) and the art critic Mário Pedrosa (1900-81) also championed the generative relationships between their disciplines collaborating and exhibiting the artwork of mental health patients in Brazil. The exhibition ‘Design for Independent Living’ at the Museum of Modern Art in 1988 brought innovative design for disability emerging in Scandinavia, the United States and the United Kingdom to a wider audience. The MoMA 2012 exhibition ‘Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000’ celebrated pedagogic toys at the heart of the special education systems devised by Friedrich Fröebel (1782-1952) and Maria Montessori (1870-1952). As the researchers and Royal College of Art student participants interviewed by Chris Ledgard for his 2015 BBC podcast ‘The Art of Walking Into Doors’ suggested, the complex relationships between dyslexia, dyspraxia and acuity in three-dimensional design are only just revealing themselves. In 2018, ‘Access + Ability’ organized by Cara McCarty and Rochelle Steiner and then ‘The Senses: Design Beyond Vision’ organized by Ellen Lupton and Andrea Lipps at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York demonstrated these innovative design strategies and debates have now entered the digital age.

The Sackler Library book display also includes exhibition catalogues which show the vibrant presence of makers and museum audiences with disabilitity across the globe. The braille-embossed cover of the bi-lingual catalogue for the 1969 Sculpture for the Blind exhibition held at the South African National Gallery, Cape Town and the 1983 Please touch: animal sculpture exhibition at the British Museum exemplify how curatorial and museum interpretation teams have been engaging with under-represented communities for many years. The affirmation of the word ‘Unlimited’ used in the title of exhibitions both at the Edinburgh City Art Centre in 1981 and at the Southbank Centre in 2012 signals institutional activism. Richard Sandell’s, Jocelyn Dodd’s and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s thoughtful 2010 anthology, Re-presenting disability: activism and agency in the museum, considers strategies for enhancing such cultural leadership through museum interpretation strategies and collections. The quiet activism of the 2018 ‘Museum Benches’ project devised by the designer Shannon Finnegan critiques the limited accessibility actually afforded in cultural institutions, reminding us much still remains to be done. Digital app projects such as ‘LOLA’, conceived by Seth Truman and the non-profit technology firm Tech Kids Unlimited, engage with and for autistic children. In the ‘House of Memories, National Museums Liverpool are raising awareness and creating collaborative networks between people living with dementia, care professionals and museums, demonstrating the direct social impact of culture so easily under-recognized and under-funded in the ongoing age of austerity.

As a canon of histories of design for disability emerges, scholarly research has constellated around the themes of symbolic representation, universal design and sensorial history. In her Designing disability: symbols, space and society, Elizabeth Guffey of Purchase College, State University of New York has examined the graphic design and historical agency of the ‘International Symbol of Access’. Aimi Hamraie of Vanderbilt University in Nashville assessed the theoretical and practical complexities of attempting to build according to ‘Universal Design’ principles (Building access: Universal Design and the politics of disability). Graham Pullin of the University of Dundee (Design meets disability) explored a set of design case studies for sensoriality, mobility and communication. In their Culture – theory – disability, Anne Waldschmidt, Hanjo Berressem and Moritz Ingwersen of the University of Cologne brought together the methodological challenge of calibrating social and cultural models of disability across the senses. Bess Williamson of the Art Institute of Chicago focused on how innovation in everyday industrial design was spurred on by accessibility activism in post-war America (Accessible America: a history of disability and design). Further book chapters and journal articles linked into my ORLO list afford thought-provoking case studies of design typologies from invalid and wheel chairs, hearing aids, ‘talking book’ shellac record discs, ‘disabled’ GI Joe and Barbie dolls and therapeutic amateur craft.

Visual Culture and Representation

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90). Garden, St Paul Hospital, December 1889. Oil on canvas: 71.5 x 90.5 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

A vast spectrum of representational positions from empathetic portraiture to horror film stereotyping or graphic-novel fantasy can be investigated through visual culture. Art History has delved deep into the analysis of the portraits of court ‘jesters’ by Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez (1599-1660) and mental health by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824). The pathetic fallacy expressed by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) in his nature studies undertaken whilst a patient at the St Paul Asylum in Saint Rémy have become part of our cultural mythology. The perceived porous boundary between creativity and physical-cognitive diversity has dominated the choice of subjects for biographical films about artists, from iconic subjects such as Van Gogh, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Camille Claudel (1865-1943) and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901) to the ‘discovery’ of Séraphine Louis of Senlis (1864-1942) and Christy Brown (1932-81). The intersectionality of design and film histories has enhanced the analysis of the 1932 film ‘Freaks’ directed by Tod Browning (1880-1962). Banned by the British Board of Film Certification ‘because it exploited for commercial reasons the [sic] deformed people that it claimed to dignify’ the film, as been argued by Angela Smith, can be read as enacting resistant counter-narratives within the interwar eugenicist context of its production.

Spaces: Isolation/Community  

Disability history inhabits a plethora of historic environments. In her Medicine by design: the architect and the modern hospital Annemarie Adams of McGill University argued for the agency of hospitals’ architectural design in shaping modern medical treatments, sociability and technologies. Clare Hickman (Therapeutic landscapes) of the University of Chester established landscape design as a historical therapeutic practice within medical institutions. Leslie Topp of Birkbeck College University of London demonstrated the foundational place of Viennese sanatoria in histories of design for cognitive diversity (Freedom and the cage: modern architecture and psychiatry in Central Europe, 1890-1914). Robin Jackson’s Discovering Camphill focussed on how the special needs educational environments of the transnational Camphill Movement originated in Aberdeen in the 1930s. Claire Edington (Beyond the asylum) of UC San Diego opened up colonial and global perspectives in her analysis of mental illness in French Colonial Vietnam. Design cultures of place impacts upon well-being, often subjugating and isolating, at times creating a sense of belonging and community.  

Disabled soldiers making toys at General Hospital Number 3, Colonia, New Jersey in 1917-8. US National Archives and Records Administration 45498513

 

Postgraduate research: MSt in the History of Design Dissertations and Conference Papers

Sustaining the leitmotif of design for disability across the syllabus for the MSt in the History of Design has facilitated exciting postgraduate research. Student essays have uncovered business histories of glass-eye manufacture in Germany (Liz Dotzauer MSt HoD 2013) and prosthetics in Britain (Richard Hefford-Hobbs MSt HoD 2019) during the First World War as well as the identity politics of visual cultures around running blades and Paralympians in the twenty-first century (Bry Leighton MSt HoD 2017). The Design History Society awarded Karen Price (MSt HoD 2017) a student grant to research her dissertation, which investigated archives and collections in the Orkney and Shetland Islands to assess the mental health amidst conflict evidenced through exhibitions of Second World War Servicemen’s toy craft [https://www.designhistorysociety.org/blog/view/report-dhs-student-travel-award-by-karen-price]. This project (and all MSt in the History of Design dissertations) are available in the Continuing Education Bodleian Library. Karen presented this research at an academic conference at University of Edinburgh in 2017. Whither next?….

 Our abilities, physical and cognitive, are infinitely diverse and variable across our lifetimes. In attending to how the design of the material world and its cultural representation activates or hinders the expression of these abilities, these meditations have hoped to engage more scholars in continuing to forge the history of design for disability.

My thanks to Bodleian Libraries colleagues, Angela Carritt, Grace Brown, Clare Hills-Nova, Erin McNulty and Chantal van den Berg for their help in orchestrating both physical and virtual resources and to Jeannie Scott in the History Faculty for inviting me to join the Disability History Work Group.

Claire O’Mahony, PhD
Associate Professor in the History of Art and Design
Course Director of the MSt in the History of Design
Chair of the Design History Society

Further resources (textual, visual, audio)

History of Disability, Oxford Reading Lists Online (Please note: E-texts referenced in this blog and in the 'ORLO' reading list may be accessed by members of the University only. Hard copy versions of texts may also be found by searching SOLO.)

Extended Reading List

Introductions to Disability History and Modern Visual/Material/Spatial Cultures

Boys, J., (ed.) (2017). Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Boys, J., (2014). Doing Disability Differently: An alternative handbook on architecture, disability and designing for everyday life. London: Routledge.

Fraser, B., 2018. Cognitive disability aesthetics : visual culture, disability representations, and the (in)visibility of cognitive difference.

Guffey, E., (2017). Designing disability: Symbols, space and society. London: Bloomsbury.

Hamraie, A. (2017). Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. University of Minnesota Press.

Humphries, S.; Gordon, P., (eds.) (1992). Out of Sight: The Experience of Disability 1900-1950. Northcote House.

Kitchin, R., (2000). Disability, space and society, Sheffield: Geographical Association.

Kuppers, P., (2019). Disability Arts and Culture : methods and approaches. Bristol: Intellect.

Kuppers, P., (2014). Studying disability arts and culture : an introduction. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.

Masefield, P., 2006. Strength : broadsides from disability on the arts, Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.

Pullin, G., (2011). Design meets Disability. MIT Press.

Siebers, T., 2010. Disability aesthetics. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press.

Waldschmidt, A., Berressem, H. & Ingwersen, M., 2017. Culture - theory - disability : encounters between disability studies and cultural studies, Bielefeld.

Sensory-specific histories

Kleege, G., (2018). More than meets the eye : what blindness brings to art. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lindgren, K.A.; DeLuca, D.; Napoli, D.J., (2008). Signs and voices : deaf culture, identity, language, and arts. Washington, D.C. : Gallaudet University Press.

Mirzoeff, N., (1995). Silent poetry: deafness, sign, and visual culture in modern France. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Shaw, C.L., (2017). Deaf in the USSR : marginality, community, and Soviet identity, 1917-1991, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Designed Environments for Disability

Adams, A., (2008). Medicine by design : the architect and the modern hospital, 1893-1943, Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press.

Barlett, P.; Weight, D., (eds.). Outside the walls of the asylum: The history of care in the community 1750-2000. Athlone Press.

Cook, G.C., (2004). Victorian incurables : a history of the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, Putney, Spennymoor: Memoir Club.

Dale, P.; Melling, J., (2006). Mental illness and learning disability since 1850 : finding a place for mental disorder in the United Kingdom. London : Routledge.

Edington, C., (2019). Beyond the Asylum: Mental Illness in French Colonial Vietnam. New York: Cornell University Press.

Hickman, C., (2013). Therapeutic landscapes : a history of English hospital gardens since 1800, Manchester ; New York: Manchester University Press.

Jackson, R., (ed.) (2011). Discovering Camphill: new perspectives, research and developments. Floris Books.

Melling, J.; Forsythe, B., (1999). Insanity, institutions, and society, 1800-1914 : a social history of madness in comparative perspective, London: Routledge.

Topp, L.; Moran, J.; Andrews, J., (eds.) (2006). Madness, Architecture and the Built Environment: Psychiatric Spaces in Historical Context. London: Routledge.

Tupling, K. ; De Lange, A., 2018. Worship and disability : a kingdom for all. Cambridge: Grove Books.

Disability and Exhibitions

Anon, 2012. Unlimited : extraordinary new work by deaf and disabled artists, London: Southbank Centre.

Biggs, B. & Williamson, A., (2014). Art of the lived experiment. Liverpool: The Bluecoat.

Bordin, G. ; Polo D'Ambrosio, L. ; Hyams, J., (2010). Medicine in art, Los Angeles: J P Getty Museum.

Borensztein, L. & MacGregor, J.M., (2004). One is Adam, one is Superman : the outsider artists of Creative Growth. Published in conjunction with the exhibition "Leon Borensztein and his friends: portraits of artists with disabilities," organized by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Brown, C., (1954). My left foot. London: Secker & Warburg.

Coles, P., (1984). Please touch : an evaluation of the 'Please touch' exhibition at the British Museum 31st March to 8th May 1983, Dunfermline: Committee of Inquiry into the Arts and Disabled People.

Crawshaw, G., 2016. Shoddy : disability rights, textiles, recycling, history and fightback, Leeds: Gill Crawshaw.

Delin, A., Wright, S. & Prest, M., 2001. Adorn, equip : a national touring exhibition originated by The City Gallery, Leicester. Leicester: The City Gallery.

Eccles, T. & Jenkins, B., 1991. Attitude : [a project ability exhibition]. Glasgow: Project Ability.

Edinburgh City Art Centre, (1981). Artists unlimited : selected works by disabled artists & craftsmen. Edinburgh: City Art Centre.

Hayward Gallery, (1996). Beyond reason : art and psychosis : works from the Prinzhorn Collection, London: Hayward Gallery.

Jones, S. & Ritchie, E., 2007. The Studio Project : opening art practice. published in conjunction with the Different spaces exhibition, Studio Voltaire, London 22nd June - 8th July 2007 London : Intoart Projects.

McCarty, C., (1988). Designs for independent living : the Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 16-June 7, 1988., New York: The Museum.

Nolan, G., (1997). Designing exhibitions to include people with disabilities : a practical guide, Edinburgh: NMS Publishing.

Pearson, A. & Hughes, K., (1983). Please touch : animal sculpture ; catalogue of an exhibition at the British Museum, 31 March - 8 May 1983, London: British Museum.

Sandell, R., Dodd, J. & Garland-Thomson, R., 2010. Re-presenting disability : activism and agency in the museum, London: Routledge.

Shea, J., (1993). Defiance : art confronting disability, Stoke-on-Trent: City Museum & Art Gallery.

South African National Gallery, (1969). Sculpture for the blind, 1969 = Beeldhoukuns vir Blindes, Cape Town: s.n.

Live Arts

Goodley, D. & Moore, M., (2002). Disability arts against exclusion : people with learning difficulties and their performing arts, Kidderminster: BILD.

Keidan, L., Mitchell, C.J. & Vason, M., 2012. Access all areas : live art and disability. London: Live Art Development Agency.

Kuppers, P., (2003). Disability and contemporary performance : bodies on edge, New York ; London: Routledge.

Kuppers, P., (2013). Disability culture and community performance : find a strange and twisted shape. Basingstoke, Hampshire : Palgrave Macmillan.

Graphic Cultures

Alaniz, J. & Halverson, P.D., 2014. Death, disability, and the superhero : the silver age and beyond. Jackson, Mississippi : University Press of Mississippi.

Ellis, K., (2015). Disability and popular culture : focusing passion, creating community and expressing defiance, Burlington.

Foss, C.; Gray, J.W.; Whalen, Z., (2016). Disability in comic books and graphic narratives, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire.

Raabe-Webber, T.; Plant, A., (2016). The incorrigibles : perspectives on disability visual arts in the 20th and 21st centuries, Birmingham: mac Birmingham.

Visual Culture and Cognitive/Mental Health

Blackshaw, G. & Topp, L., 2009. Madness and modernity : mental illness and the visual arts in Vienna 1900, Farnham: Lund Humphries.

Cabañas, K.M., (2019). Learning from madness : Brazilian modernism and global contemporary art, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cross, S., 2010. Mediating madness : mental distress and cultural representation. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.

Davies, F. & González, L., (2013). Madness, women and the power of art. Oxford : Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Groom, G.L., 2016. Van Gogh's Bedrooms. Chicago : Art Institute of Chicago.

Lapper, A. & Feldman, G., (2006). My life in my hands, London: Pocket.

MacGregor, J.M., (1989). The discovery of the art of the insane, Princeton ; Guildford: Princeton University Press.

Miller, E., (2008). The girl who spoke with pictures : autism through art, London: Jessica Kingsley.

Mullins, E. & Gogh, V. van, 2015. Van Gogh : the asylum year, London: Unicorn Press.

Nuss, P. et al., 2005. Journey into the heart of bipolarity : an artistic point of view. Montrouge, France : John Libbey Eurotext Publishing.

Prinzhorn, H.; Black, C., (2011). The art of insanity : an analysis of ten schizophrenic artists, Washington, D.C.?: Solar.

Schildkraut, J.J. & Otero, A., 1996. Depression and the spiritual in modern art : homage to Miró. Chichester: John Wiley.

Shoham, S.G., (2002). Art, crime, & madness : Gesualdo, Caravaggio, Genet, Van Gogh, Artaud, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

Snell, R., (2017). Portraits of the insane : Théodore Géricault and the subject of psychotherapy, London: Karnac.

Tromans, N., 2011. Richard Dadd : the artist and the asylum, London: Tate Publishing.

Film

Bodammer, E. & Schillmeier, M.W.J., (2010). Disability in German literature, film, and theater, Rochester, NY: Camden House.

Fraser, B., (2016). Cultures of representation: disability in world cinema contexts. E-book

Fraser, B., (2013). Disability Studies and Spanish Culture: Films, Novels, the Comic and the Public Exhibition, Liverpool University Press.

Kaes, A., (2009). Shell shock cinema: Weimar culture and the wounds of war. New York, NY.: Princeton University Press

Siddique, S.; Raphael, R., (2016). Transnational horror cinema : bodies of excess and the global grotesque.

Smith, A.M., (2011). Hideous progeny : disability, eugenics, and classic horror cinema, New York: Columbia University Press.

 Sculpture

Niestorowicz, E.A., (2017). The world in the mind and sculpture of deafblind people, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Disability after Conflict

Alberti, S.J.M.M;, Tonks, H.; Midgley, J., (2014). War, art and surgery: the work of Henry Tonks & Julia Midgley. London : Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Anderson J., (2011). War, disability and rehabilitation in Britain: Soul of a Nation. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Bourke, J., (1996). Dismembering the male: men's bodies, Britain and the Great War. Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press.

Hutchinson, R., (2011). The silent weaver : the extraordinary life and work of Angus MacPhee, Edinburgh: Birlinn.

Ott, K., (ed.). (2002). Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics. London: New York University Press.

Reznick, J., (2004). Healing the nation: soldiers and the culture of caregiving in Britain during the Great War. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Serlin, D., (2004). Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Scruton, J., (1998). Stoke Mandeville Road to the Paralympics: fifty years of history. Brill: Peterhouse.

Taliaferro, W., (ed.). (1944). Medicine and the war. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press.

Wheatcroft, S., (2013). Worth saving : disabled children during the Second World War. Manchester : Manchester University Press.

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and/or Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.