Professor Zervigón received his doctorate in art history from Harvard University in 2000. He specializes in the history of photography and concentrates his scholarship on the interaction between photographs, film, and fine art. His work generally focuses upon moments in history when these media prove inadequate to their presumed task of representing the visual.
Zervigón’s book, John Heartfield and the Agitated Image: Photography, Persuasion, and the Rise of Avant-Garde Photomontage (University of Chicago Press, 2012: http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/J/bo12953902.html), situates the famous artist’s images at just such a moment. The book uses the case of Heartfield to propose that photography’s sudden ubiquity in illustrated magazines, postcards, and posters produced an unsettling transformation of visual culture that artists felt compelled to address. Zervigón’s aim is to challenge existing histories of Germany’s inter-war avant-garde that describe the response to mass-photography as an enthusiastic embrace. His study, by contrast, argues that artists like Heartfield turned to the medium specifically because they wished to understand its dangerous capacity to stultify and mislead. Photomontage, “New Vision” photography, and the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) as a whole, Zervigón argues, were essentially strategies devised by Germany’s young artists to salvage, reclaim, and reinvent a medium whose validity had been deeply impugned by its inability to accommodate the multifaceted complexity of modernity.
Zervigón’s second book, Photography and Germany (Reaktion Books, 2017), deals with similar problems in the medium but over a longer arc of time. It takes the relationship between photography and the shifting concepts of German nation and identity as its focus, exploring on how the medium intervened in these fraught projects of imagining, often to productive ends but sometimes to catastrophic results. His recent edited volumes unfold related themes in photography’s history. With Sabine Kriebel he coedited Photography and Doubt (Routledge Book, 2016), an anthology investigating photography’s fraught and contested relationship to the reality it seems to depict. With Tanya Sheehan he coedited Photography and Its Origins (Routledge Books, 2014), which reflects on the medium’s beginnings in critical and specifically historiographical terms. The forthcoming volume Subjective Objective: A Century of Social Photography (Zimmerli Museum/Hirmler Verlag, 2017), coedited with Donna Gustafson, reconsiders the longer history of documentary photography and its paradoxical reliance on expectations of objectivity and the power of subjective emotional response. This book accompanies a exhibition that Gustafson and Zervigón co-curated with Julia Tulovsky at the Zimmerli.
Zervigón’s next book project "Die Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung -- The Workers' Illustrated Magazine," 1921-1938: Germany's Other Avant-Garde expands this discussion beyond Heartfield to the mass-circulation magazine in which he published his most famous pictures. Committed to an aggressive use of photography for leftist causes, this periodical [known as the AIZ] plied the medium in stunningly innovative ways and ultimately defined the look of photo-weeklies such as Life magazine. Behind this originality, however, were not artists like Heartfield (who only contributed) but a collective of radical politicians and traditionally trained print professionals. What spurred their inventiveness was a deep-seated suspicion about images that was typical of the German communist political movement they sought to popularize. This anxiety mirrored the artistic avant-garde's own discomfort with mimesis. The AIZ’s photographic innovation arose when radical-left iconoclasm met the photograph, the seemingly superficial medium that had otherwise obscured the era’s underlying tumult. For this study, Prof. Zervigón was awarded the Paul Mellon Senior Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, where he is in residence through May 2014.
At Rutgers, Zervigón concentrates his teaching on the history of photography. With Prof. Tanya Sheehan he co-founded "The Developing Room: Photography Working Group” at the Center for Cultural Analysis. This group promotes interdisciplinary dialogue among members of the Rutgers community whose research and/or teaching engages with the histories, theories, and practices of photography.
Subjective Objective: A Century of Social Photography, coedited with Donna Gustafson (Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers). Munich: Hirmer Verlag, September 2017.
Photography and Germany. London: Reaktion Books, 2017.
Photography and Doubt, coedited with Sabine Kriebel (University College, Cork, Ireland). London: Routledge Books, 2016.
Photography and Its Origins, coedited with Tanya Sheehan (Colby College). London: Routledge Books, 2014.
John Heartfield and the Agitated Image: Photography, Persuasion, and the Rise of Avant-Garde Photomontage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Subjective Objective: A Century of Social Photography. Co-curated with Donna Gustafson and Julia Tulovsky at the Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers University, September 5, 2017 – January 7, 2018.
Agitated Images: John Heartfield and German Photomontage, 1920 – 1938. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, February 21 – June 25, 2006, and Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach, September 20, 2007 – February 10, 2008.
“Documentary Photography and Emotion.” In Subjective Objective: A Century of Social Photography, coedited by Zervigón and Donna Gustafson (Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers). Munich: Hirmer Verlag, September 2017.
“Photography’s Weimar-Era Proliferation and Walter Benjamin’s Optical Unconscious.” In Photography and the Optical Unconscious, edited by Shawn Michelle Smith and Sharon Sliwinski. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017.
“’Die AIZ sagt die Wahrheit’. Zu den Illustrationsstrategien einer ‚anderen’ deutsche Avantgarde. Coauthored with Patrick Rössler in Deutsche Illustrierte Presse. Journalismus und visuelle Kultur in der Weimarer Republik, edited by Katja Leiskau, Patrick Rösller and Susann Trabert, 181-210. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 2016.
"Rotogravure and the Modern Aesthetics of New Reporting." In Getting the Picture: The History and Visual Culture of the News, edited by Jason Hill and Vanessa R. Schwartz. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, January 2015.
"César Domela-Nieuwenhuis - Hamburg. Deutschlands Tor zur Welt [Hamburg, Germany’s Gateway to the World], c. 1930." In Object: Photo, edited by Mitra Abbaspour, et. al. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2015
"Die anderen Bildamateure. Agitprop, Werbung und Bildmontage unter der Anleitung der KPD." In Im harten Licht der Wirklichkeit. Arbeiterfotografie und Kunst um 1930, edited by Wolfgang Hesse. Leipzig: Spector-Verlag, May 2014.
"Toward an Itinerant History of Photography: The Case of Lalla Essaydi."In Photography, History, Difference, edited by Tanya Sheehan. Hannover, NH: University Press of New England, 2014.
Contribution in response to questionnaire: The State of Research in the History of Photography. Fotogeschichte 37, No. 145 (Summer 2017).
“The A-I-Z at Play with Photography.” Playing the Photograph, a special issue of Photo Researcher 27 (2017).
“The Peripatetic Viewer at Heartfield’s Film und Foto Exhibition Room.” October 150 (Fall 2014): 27-48.
"The Wiederaufbau of Perception: German Photography in the Postwar Moment, 1945-1950."Etudes Photographiques 29 (May 2012), 82-123.
“Persuading with the Unseen? Die Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung, Photography, and German Communism’s Iconophobia.” Visual Resources 26, no. 2 (June 2010): 147-164.
Participant in "The Photographic Situation," a Partnership Development Grant awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, August 2011-August 2014.
Co-founded with Art History Department colleague Prof. Tanya Sheehan "The Developing Room: Photography Working Group” at the Center for Cultural Analysis. Recent symposia convened by The Developing Room include "Photography and Radical Politics" (April 2010), "Global Photography and Its Histories" (February 2011), and "Photography and Its Origins" (April 2012).
Chair with An Paenhysen, "The Unsettled Image: Photography in Germany's Weimar Republic," ICI Berlin, Institute for Cultural Inquiry, January 2011.
Chair with Dr. Stephen Pinson (New York Public Library) of the session “Subject: Photography,” 2007 College Art Association Conference, New York.
Detours of Technology: Insights into the Hungarian and Weimar German Oeuvres of László Moholy-Nagy, The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, October 28, 2006.
Co-convener and Respondent for the symposium for the symposium Radical Politics/Radical Aesthetics (called in conjunction with the exhibition Agitated Images: John Heartfield and German Photomontage, 1920-1938) Getty Research Institute, May 4, 2006.
Current Interests & Research:
--German and Russian photography between the two world wars
--Photomontage through 1945
--Contemporary international photography
--Contemporary South African art
--Photography and Film
Undergraduate Classes Taught:
--History of Photography, 1800-1900<
--History of Photography, 1900-Today
--Science, Art, Photography
--The Modern Photograph