Photographies explores the many technologies, materials, and practices—in other words, the many “photographies”—that make up the history of photography from its origins in the late-eighteenth century to the end of the twentieth century. The exhibition is arranged around a series of questions:

What is photography?
How do photographs shape memory and identity?
How do photographs circulate knowledge?
How do photographs become works of art?

Bruce Peel Special Collections offers rich resources for this exploration, allowing us to bring together well-known photographs with others that are unique, ordinary, or simply surprising.

Photographies was conceived as both an exhibition for photography enthusiasts and an Open Educational Resource (OER), and was partially funded by a University of Alberta OER award. The result is a digital exhibition that shares the holdings of Bruce Peel Special Collections with a wide audience while also offering a supplement to or replacement for traditional textbooks. Each page of the exhibition connects to open access, online resources that help to contextualize the exhibition's contents. Scholarly sources cited within the exhibition and further readings are listed on the further resources page. 

The digital format offers some advantages over print books by allowing for greater flexibility. Users can choose to move through the exhibition thematically or chronologically, or they can weave their way through the exhibition by clicking on links that pique their interest. In offering various ways to move through and around the exhibition's chronological and thematic structures, we aim to challenge some of the assumptions that inform such structures, for example, that there are clearly defined boundaries between “art photography” and “scientific photography,” or that the newest photographic technologies were always adopted as soon as they were introduced. Some photographs served both artistic and scientific purposes, and therefore appear in multiple thematic areas within the exhibition, while some sections include very different types of technologies within a single time period.

Exploring the history of photography within a single special collections library offers an opportunity to engage with canonical photographs alongside those that fall outside the canonical history of photography. Some of the examples included here remain uncategorized and unstudied, and many refuse to be neatly contained within established themes and periods. This exhibition preserves some of that messiness and complexity in order to call attention to the many “photographies” that make up photography's history.