porträttfoto Kerstin Hamilton
Photo: Maja Kristin Nylander

Kerstin Hamilton – New Postdoc at HDK-Valand


In January, Kerstin Hamilton began a new postdoctoral position at HDK-Valand. The position is a collaboration with the Hasselblad Foundation, focusing on artistic research in photography and natural sciences.

When HDK-Valand announced a postdoc position last summer, Kerstin Hamilton already had a nearly finished application for a new research project to be submitted to the Swedish Research Council.

"When this announcement came, it felt like a perfect match, and my project fit very well with what the Hasselblad Foundation was looking for," says Kerstin Hamilton.

Hamilton's new research project, in collaboration with the Hasselblad Foundation and HDK-Valand, is inspired by the photographer Berenice Abbott, active in the 1930s to 1950s. Abbott conducted various photographic experiments to promote historical and scientific knowledge, something she considered crucial for democratic citizenship.

"One could say that I pick up where she left off. Abbott used the most advanced photographic techniques of her time to visualize groundbreaking science in areas such as motion, magnetism, and light – physical phenomena that were previously difficult to visualize."

A goal of the research, similar to Abbott's, is to visualize cutting-edge sciences that is shaping and creating the world today. Hamilton aims to highlight how collaboration between artists and scientists can lead to new, important insights. She also explores how photographic images of science can serve as catalyser for public debate on urgent political issues, thereby making a difference.

"I am interested in the relationship between the image and the world it represents. Considering today's rapid technological development in an era of AI and 'post-truth,' where forces work to undermine facts while we face significant societal challenges like climate change, this is highly relevant."


From Nanotechnology to Space

The combination of photography and natural sciences has captured Hamilton's interest for many years. From 2013 to 2017, she led a research project with nanoscientist Jonas Hannestad, resulting in the film "Zero Point Energy," showcased at the Moderna Museet. The project later became part of Kerstin Hamilton's doctoral thesis, and since then, she has published, exhibited, and lectured on the subject.

In the new project, Hamilton has shifted from images of the universe's smallest components to focus on the largest – space. To enable this, she has initiated a collaboration with the Onsala Space Observatory, operated by the Department of Space, Earth, and Environment at Chalmers University of Technology.

"I've never been a space nerd, but this is an entirely new area compared to what I've researched before – scientific images of things we cannot see with the naked eye. So even though galaxies may seem like the opposite of nano-atoms, they are two examples of exactly that. And yes, the visual similarity struck me when I studied images of nanoparticles – as they can look like galaxies."

bild på byggnaden från utsidan
Onsala Space Observatory<br /> Photo: Kerstin Hamilton
Photo: Kerstin Hamilton

Collaboration with the Hasselblad Foundation

The collaboration between HDK-Valand and the Hasselblad Foundation goes back many years and has included well-attended seminar series such as Glitch and Moment, as well as a centre of expertise and research namned GPS400: Centre for Collaborative Visual Research.

"It is with great joy, in collaboration with the Hasselblad Foundation, we present our new postdoc Kerstin Hamilton," says Linda Sternö, unit manager at the Department of Film, Photography, and Literary Representation at HDK-Valand.
"HDK-Valand and Hasselblad have had a deepened collaboration in artistic research for many years, which I see as a crucial condition for successfully contributing new perspectives to the field of photography. I look forward to following Kerstin's work, merging scientific and artistic research in innovative ways."

Kerstin Hamilton's collaboration with the Hasselblad Foundation also extends far back. The research project "Nanosocieties" was conducted with support from the Hasselblad Foundation and Chalmers University. And as part of her doctoral project, she curated the exhibition "Dear Truth: Documentary Strategies in Contemporary Photography" at the Hasselblad Center in spring 2021.

"While it may be familiar to many that the Hasselblad Foundation conducts leading research in photography, it might not be as well-known that the foundation rests on two pillars – one artistic and the other scientific," says Hamilton.

The area where the Onsala Space Observatory is built was originally donated by Erna and Victor Hasselblad, and the observatory has been a longstanding recipient of support from the Hasselblad Foundation.

Continuing to Teach

Kerstin Hamilton has been employed at HDK-Valand since completing her doctorate in late 2021. The new position started in January and extends over the two-year duration of the project. She will concurrently maintain her 20% teaching position in the photography programs at both the master's and bachelor's levels.

"Teaching feels absolutely rewarding. I believe it's important for research to spill over into teaching and enrich it with new perspectives. But I also gain a lot of inspiration from seeing how students work with photography in exciting and innovative ways," says Hamilton.

Facts: Postdoc

A postdoctoral researcher, or postdoc, is a temporary research position or fellowship, often abroad, taken after completing a doctoral degree. It aims to allow the newly graduated researcher to build an independent research profile. The duration varies, but the purpose is to create independence from the previous doctoral supervisor. The term is used for both the positions and the individuals holding them.

In most scientific fields, one or more postdoctoral periods are advantageous when the researcher seeks the next type of position, whether temporary or permanent. Some postdoctoral researchers return to Sweden to take up a research assistant position (this type of position ceased in 2010). Postdocs may have some teaching responsibilities but predominantly focus on research. In Sweden, they have a time-limited employment of at least 2 years and up to 3 years.