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Photography on Tilt | a virtual lecture by Professor Kalani Michell
In 1968, Frank Walter returns to his native Antigua after years in Europe, where he devoted time to speculative genealogical family trees, and opens a portrait studio. Having heard tales of his German lineage, he didn’t anticipate being seen in Europe as only Black, rather than mixed, and contemplates how to materialize this complex history. Upon his return, the studio was key for the 1,250+ miniature paintings he made before his death: He painted them on the back of unwanted photographs. The versos of Walter’s paintings, often referencing the tradition of German Romanticism, offer a speculative media history. It is here that the community of St. John’s materializes and remains adamantly untitled, as if they were always destined to be written out of history, even as they assume the common place of the painting’s title. But to see this, one first has to take hold of them – tilt, turn and flip them.
This talk explores the overlooked role of speculation within the history of photography through Walter’s studio photographs/paintings as flip-objects. These works speculate that these different modes and histories of visual representation can only be seen through one another, like a thaumatropic image, therein repositioning photography’s association with the past to understand it as future-oriented.
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