Con Colbert's Portrait: The Lives of a Photograph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


The history of photography has generally been conceived of in terms of technical advances, aesthetics, genre or oeuvre. This article proposes that other histories become apparent when materiality is foregrounded. To support this proposition this study focuses primarily on one portrait photograph and its embedded history, which is evident in its shifts in material form. The photograph under consideration is of Cornelius, more familiarly known as Con Colbert, a minor figure in the Irish Rising of 1916. His memory came to exceed the life of a man and to understand why this was the case it is necessary to focus on the mediated presence of his portrait image in a culture of remembrance. What Colbert’s portrait makes evident is that a photograph is a material object that carries a history in its transferences, display formats, and layered meanings. Photographs do things, they have agency, are affective and in turn are effected by cultural needs and interpretation. In other words, it is proposed that a history of the photograph is embedded in the exchanges and uses to which it is put which cannot be separated out from choices of material form.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-60
Number of pages15
JournalHistory of Photography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 10 Apr 2017


  • materiality
  • reproduction
  • Con Colbert (1888–1916)
  • Easter Rising 1916
  • Ireland
  • commemoration
  • memory
  • visual culture
  • object-hood


Dive into the research topics of 'Con Colbert's Portrait: The Lives of a Photograph'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this