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Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images, eds. Donna West Brett and Natalya Lusty (including Blake Stimson’s afterword “Photography Against Ontology”) wins Best Anthology Prize from Art Association of Australia and New Zealand

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Donna West Brett and Natalya Lusty, eds., ‘Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images’, (New York: Routledge, 2019)

As the entries for this year’s prize attest, several high-quality anthologies were published in our region during 2019. This genre of publication, which includes edited, book-length volumes containing several texts composed by different authors, has remained central to the scholarship in art history and art-related fields. This type of publication takes many forms, including collections of essays grouped around a broad topic, as well as more tightly focused studies dealing with a single group of artists or an individual.

All the authors, editors, publishers, and designers involved in the production of the texts entered for this year’s prize are to be congratulated for their efforts. Nevertheless, one of the publications stood out from the rest. In making this assessment the judges took into consideration criteria such as scholarly rigour, contribution to knowledge, impact, significance, production quality, and clarity of exposition.

The winner of this year’s anthology prize is Donna West Brett and Natalya Lusty, eds., Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images, Routledge: New York, 2019. This fascinating and deeply researched anthology contains significant and original critiques concerning the photographic and filmic medium as evidence of social, cultural, and political states of being. Including essays by an international group of researchers, it brilliantly contributes to knowledge and debates associated with the photographic archive. The basic premise underpinning all the essays is that the meaning and definition of photography is inherently unsettled. Among the many stimulating arguments found in the book are that the medium’s epistemology of ownership – “the photograph is always tethered to a witness” (Katherine Biber) — challenges photography’s relation to the arrested historical moment. Each essay rigorously tests its argument about photography’s inherent value and brings in a range of complex issues such as displacement, democracy, truth, reality, and the imaginary. Its theoretical, philosophical, aesthetic, and ontological premises are riveting. The images reproduced in the book are targeted to each contributor’s ideas in a meaningful rather than spectacular way, and the design quality of the publication is in keeping with Routledge’s scholarly, understated style. The editors Donna West Brett and Natalya Lusty have produced an extremely important book which will have profound repercussions in debates about photography for years to come.