Since the first decades of photography’s existence many artists and photographers decided to publish, exhibit or just print negative pictures. Photographs in which lights and shadows are reversed attracted them mostly because of aesthetic qualities. 19th century medium pioneers, as William Henry Fox Talbot or Henry LeSecq, and 20th century star photographers – Hans Bellmer, El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Hans Richter, Alexander Rodchenko, Franz Roh, and many others, often used negative convention in their works of different kind (photographs, photomontages, experimental films). Beside obvious interest in formal uniqueness, indexicality, search for photographic truth or metaphysics, negative language enable artists to participate in political discourse. Avant-garde photographers and film-makers often used it to express their left-wing philosophy of life. Not incidentally tonal inversion appeared in anti-war and anti-nazi projects, such as Rodchenko’s photomontages or Richter’s films. For surrealists (e. g. Man Ray) negative convention provided valuable source of anti-colonial point of view. Some of them also discussed with traditional (patriarchal and promoted by right-wing politicians) stereotype of woman. Thus negative pictures became a part of avant-garde utopia of universal and post-revolutionary language. Taking in consideration all facts mentioned above, the paper presented during International Conference PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE LEFT will discuss further political involvements of negative convention in photography.


Dr. Witold Kanicki (Born 1979) – is an art historian, assistant professor in Department of Art Education, University of Arts in Poznan (Poland), independent curator and critic. His PhD dissertation, “Negative description of reality in modern art”, which concerned history of negative photographs in art and culture, is currently prepared for publishing. Author of more than 50 articles, published in scientific journals, as well as in catalogues of exhibitions and magazines on contemporary art and photography. Interested in history and theory of photography, contemporary art, new museology and curating.