Professor Zervigón 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 first 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 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, 2017), an anthology investigating photography’s fraught and contested relationship to the reality it seems to depict. With Tanya Sheehan he edited Photography and Its Origins (Routledge Books, 2014), which reflects on the medium’s beginnings in critical and specifically historiographical terms. Subjective Objective: A Century of Social Photography (Zimmerli Museum/Hirmler Verlag, 2017), edited 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 accompanied an exhibition of the same name that Gustafson and Zervigón co-curated with Julia Tulovsky at the Zimmerli Museum.
With Sabine Kriebel once more, Zervigón guest edited a special issue of History of Photography (2020) with the title “Is Photomontage Over?” The contributions explore the viability of photomontage today as a critical practice in the era of slapdash memes, and as a historical object that once signposted the apex of interwar avant-garde inquiry.
Zervigón’s current book project "Die Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung -- The Workers' Illustrated Magazine," 1921-1938: Germany's Other Avant-Garde focuses on the mass-circulation magazine in which John Heartfield published his most famous photomontages. Committed to an aggressive use of photography for leftist causes, this periodical [known as the A-I-Z] plied the medium in stunningly innovative ways and ultimately defined the look of photo-weeklies such as Life, Vu, and Picture Post. Behind its originality, however, were not artists like Heartfield (who only contributed) but a collective of radical politicians and traditionally trained print professionals. The book will argue that what spurred their inventiveness was a deep-seated suspicion about images that was typical of the German communist political movement they sought to popularize. Their anxiety mirrored the artistic avant-garde's own discomfort with mimesis. The A-I-Z’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 his study, Prof. Zervigón was awarded the Paul Mellon Senior Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, where he was in residence from 2013-14.
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 (CCA). The academic working group promotes interdisciplinary dialogue among members of the Rutgers community whose research and/or teaching engages with the histories, theories, and practices of photography. In the academic year 2020-21, the Developing Room co-convenes the CCA seminar year under the theme “What is Photography?”
Die Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung -- The Workers' Illustrated Magazine," 1921-1938: Germany's Other Avant-Garde (forthcoming)
Print Matters: Histories of Photography in Illustrated Magazines, coedited with Antonella Pelizzari (Getty Publications, forthcoming 2023).
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, 2017.
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.
“Photography, Truth, and the Radicalized Public Sphere in Weimar Germany.” In Photography and Its Publics, edited by Melissa Miles and Edward Welch. Bloomsbury, January 2020.
“Ontology or Metaphor.” In Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images, edited by Donna Brett West and Natalya Lusty, 10-23. London: Routledge Book, 2018.
“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.
Journal Articles and Edited Issue:
“Is Photomontage Over?” Special issue of History of Photography coedited with Sabine Kriebel (University College Cork, Ireland). Zervigón’s article “The Photomontage Activity of Postmodernism” is published along with the coauthored introduction. January 2020.
“L’image prolétarienne entre agitation politique et sobriété réaliste. L’Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung et le mouvement photographique ouvrier allemand,” in special issue devoted to worker photography, Transbordeur Nr. 4 (2020): 38-49
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.
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.
Recent Catalog Essays:
“Fünf Finger hat die Hand.” Essay on the John Heartfield poster of the same name for catalog accompanying the exhibition “Engineer, Agitator, Constructor – The Merrill C. Berman Collection at MoMA,” Museum of Modern Art, Spring 2020.
“Produktive Beziehungen. John Heartfield und Willi Münzenberg.” Essay for the catalog accompanying the exhibition Fotografie plus Dynamit. Zeitschnitt, curated & edited by Angela Lammert, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, March 2020, 38-45.
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 Display” (March 2019),"Is Photomontage Over?" (October 2017), "Reinventing Documentary Photography in the 1970s" (convened by Sarah Miller and Drew Saywer, March 2017), and "Print Matters" (Co-convened with Antonella Pelizarri (April 2016). Since 2018 the Developing Room has staged an annual graduate symposium on the history of photography.
Co-founded with Monica Bravo (California College of the Arts) in 2018 Photo-History-Listserv, and email-based listserv.
Convened the College Art Association conference session What Is Photography? (February 2019)
Member of board of directors of The College Art Association (2015-2019), The Center for Cultural Analysis (Rutgers) and the Center for European Studies (Rutgers)
Participant in "The Photographic Situation," a Partnership Development Grant awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, August 2011-August 2014.
Current Interests & Research:
--German and Russian photography between the two world wars
--Contemporary international photography
--Photography and film
--The cultural production of photographic technologies in the 19th century
Undergraduate Classes Taught:
--History of Photography, 1800-1900
--History of Photography, 1900-2000
--Science, Art, Photography
--The Modern Photograph