Department of Art History

Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space

Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space – Dr Ben Burbridge

Funder: Brighton Photo Biennial 2012 was funded by Arts Council England

Dr Benedict Burbridge’s research on relationships between contemporary image culture, political activism and the social production of space provided the basis for the 2012 Brighton Photo Biennial (BPB12), which he co-curated. Entitled Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space, BPB12 consisted of thirteen exhibition in venues across Brighton, a special issue of Photoworks magazine, and a programme of public talks, symposia and education initiatives.

Burbridge’s research locates politicised forms of contemporary artistic and curatorial photographic practice in the wider context of political occupations and associated modes of image-based activism. It examined the extent to which analytical frameworks developed  in the context of the late-1960s could be usefully applied to contemporary image culture, drawing together aspects of art history, political theory, new media, cultural studies and photography theory. The work considered how a variety of recent image practices acted both to affirm and unsettle notions of spectacle, particularly in relation to Web 2.0 technology. This was paired with an effort to posit Lefebvrean spatial analysis as a productive way of thinking about the political possibilities of contemporary image culture.

This framework provided the basis for the examination of socially and politically engaged image practices at the core of the Biennial. The exhibitions set contemporary art practices alongside activist imagery and used the gallery environment as a space in which to examine the ‘traffic’ of images.  Photographs were also placed within the urban landscape, to further implicate the contexts within which photographs are displayed as part of the wider examination of spatial politics. The BPB catalogue drew together the voices of artists and activists through commissioned texts to produce an important collection of primary materials.

The Biennial involved a number of talks and events that placed artists, photographers, squatters, activists, urban explorers and members of the occupy movement in dialogue. Two symposia drew together international speakers to discuss ideas arising out of BPB12. The BPB12 Opening Weekend Symposium placed practitioners involved with BPB12 in conversation with journalists, curators and academics as part of three panels focused on photography beyond the gallery, photography of revolutionary Cairo, and artists’ efforts to depict spaces concealed by governments and military. Photography’s Contested Spaces examined dialogues currently taking place between photography and politics within academia in an effort to identify possibilities and fault-lines.


Co-Editor (with Celia Davies), ‘Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space’, Photoworks 19 (Autumn/Winter 2012-3). Includes Burbridge’s essay ‘A Cry and a Demand: Notes on Photography and the Politics of Space’, pp. 36-45.

Selected Press:



     The Independent on Sunday 

     The Guardian

     The Argus