Call for Papers | Colloquium: “Beyond the Back Page: Readings of Sports Photography” | Royal Holloway, Egham, Surrey, June 5, 2020. Calls ends February 28, 2020

To coincide with our forthcoming exhibition of the football photography of the photojournalist Peter Robinson, this colloquium will explore neglected and original aspects of the relationship between photography and sport.

Photograph of Eddie Gray (Leeds Utd) and Chris Lawler (Liverpool) by Peter Robinson

Sport in its modern form developed contemporaneously with photography, and the growth of sport into a global phenomenon has been decisively influenced by its mediation in visual culture and photography. Photographs of sport, and of its most popular athletes, have long been essential not only to sports reporting but also to the commercial exploitation of professional sport as a form of spectacle and entertainment. Just as sport itself is open to a wide range of symbolic and political interpretations, certain sports photographs have transcended the ephemeral nature of daily reports to enter the popular imagination and collective memory. Equally, private photographs of junior and grassroots sport are increasingly valued as part of sporting heritage. Even in the age of television and the internet, the still photograph remains an essential element of sport as a cultural phenomenon.

Yet, as Mike O’Mahony observes in Photography and Sport (Reaktion, 2018), definitions of ‘sports photography’ have tended to be narrow, and the history of photographs of sport has only recently begun to receive the academic attention accorded to other photographic genres. Only rarely are sports photographs taken seriously in their own right. ‘Photographs taken during key sporting events […] are assumed […] to derive their value and meaning from an awareness of the event rather than the intrinsic values of the image itself’ (O’Mahony 11).

This colloquium aims to contribute to an ongoing process of challenging these assumptions through scholarly and critical engagement with the relationship between photography and sport. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers on neglected or original aspects of this relationship, and welcome approaches that take an historical, theoretical or practical approach. Transnational and comparative approaches are very welcome. Possible topics might include:

    • Definitions of sports photography
    • Sports photography as historical source
    • Sports photography and aesthetics
    • Assessments of the work of individual photographers
    • Critical readings of particular photographs
    • Photography and sports heritage
    • Photography and fan culture
    • Sports photography and race / gender
    • Sports photography in the digital age
    • Spots photography and place

Please send abstracts of 200-250 words for 20-minute papers to Jon Hughes by not later than Friday 28 Febraruy 2020. Please also include full contact details and a short bio-text or link to an online profile. Visit the official colloquium webpage for further information.


Next summer Royal Holloway will be hosting an exhibition of the football photography of the renowned British photojournalist Peter Robinson (‘Beyond the Back Page: The Football Photography of Peter Robinson’, 27 April – 28 June 2020), jointly curated by Dr Jon Hughes and Ellis Huddart. During his long career Robinson has covered numerous World Cup Finals and Olympic Games and from 1970 to 1994 he was the Official Photographer to FIFA.

The exhibition will not only display some of Robinson’s best images of football action and football stars such as Pele, Maradona, Best and Cruyff, but also showcase his distinctive eye for less commonly featured aspects of game around the world, at grassroots level, among fans and communities, and as a business driven by the media.

We hope that Peter Robinson will be in attendance on the day of the colloquium, and an optional curator-guided tour of the exhibition will form a part of the day’s events.

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