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The Belgian photonovel: a material and cultural-historical study of the Belgian production in a European dimension

This PhD research is part of a larger research project funded by the BRAIN-be framework, PHOTO-LIT – The Belgian photo novel: local reuse of a European cultural practice.

The aim of the project is twofold. On the one hand, to disclose the form, meaning, relevance, and history of the Belgian photo novel as an exemplary case of modern heritage in the era of mass media culture and technological modernization. On the other hand, to develop new methods of digital dissemination by using the challenging example of an almost ‘invisible’ form of cultural heritage: the photo novel raises all the key issues of digital restoration, description, and presentation in modern participatory digital archives.

More specifically, in this PhD the photo novel will be studied as an archive of cultural practices and forms, and the history of the Belgian photo novel will be analyzed. Historically speaking, the photo novel is a continuation of the 19th-century literary melodrama and the early-20th-century filmic melodrama, but its forms and uses rapidly exceed the melodramatic framework: art, politics, advertisement, and pedagogy are key functions as well. Moreover, as a photographic and hence indexical medium, photo novels reveal many details of the daily life of people. This is especially the case in the Belgian context, where a lack of significant production budgets lead to the systematic use and reuse of materials directly borrowed from real life persons and situations: clothing, furniture, props, decoration, setting, but also all kinds of behavior. These examples are chosen to examine a very specific hypothesis: the relationship between the (un)intentional signs on display in the photo novel and the commodities and behaviors that can be seen in the advertisements of the magazines that are the exclusive publication outlet for this type of stories. In other words: we want to examine the reciprocity between “fiction” and “advertisement” culture, which we think is key to a good understanding of modern mass media culture.

The main corpus of Belgian photo novels consists of photo novels published in Bonnes Soirées, Femmes d’Aujourd’hui/Het Rijk der Vrouw and Joepie. Most of this material is at the premises of the Royal Library of Belgium, project partner in charge of the digitization of these magazines.

Date:1 Oct 2017  →  29 Apr 2021
Keywords:Cultural Studies, Photonovels
Disciplines:Language studies, Literary studies, Theory and methodology of language studies, Theory and methodology of linguistics, Theory and methodology of literary studies, Other languages and literary studies
Project type:PhD project