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Professor Steve Edwards

Professor of History & Theory of Photography

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Steve grew up on a council estate and he was a manual worker before going to art school with the intention of becoming a great artist, instead he found politics and theory. He studied the MA in Social History of Art at the University of Leeds with John Tagg and Griselda Pollock, receiving a Distinction, and he did PhD research at Portsmouth Polytechnic and the University of Leeds with Adrian Rifkin (and for a short while with the late Robbie Grey). Between 1991 and 1997 he was Head of Historical & Theoretical Studies in Photography at the University of Derby. In 1997 he was a visiting scholar at the Victoria & Albert Museum; the same year he moved to the Open University, where he contributed teaching material on nineteenth- and twentieth-century art to a variety of courses and edited three Open University textbooks. In 2006 he was a Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan. Steve was made Professor at the OU in 2013 and, between 2012 and 2016, he was the Head of the Department of Art History. He joined the Department of Art History at Birkbeck in 2016 as Professor of History & Theory of Photography. In 2018 he was Visiting Professor at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, France. He is currently co-director of the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre and a member of the steering committee of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities.

Steve has a wide range of research interests including: history and theory of photography; nineteenth-century industrial culture; documentary; radical art and aesthetics in the 1970s; contemporary art; and art and social theory (particularly Marxist theory). He has published extensively and his writing has been translated into ten languages. He has received grants and funding from: the British Academy; The Leverulme Trust; The Harry Ransom Research Institute, Texas; Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung, Berlin; Helle Panke-Stiftung, Berlin; the Portuguese Ministry of Culture and FAPESP/University of  Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In addition to writing and speaking, Steve plays a prominent role in supporting the infrastructure of collective research. He is currently a member of the editorial collective of the Oxford Art Journal and the highly acclaimed Historical Materialism Book Series (Leiden and Chicago). Between 2010 and 2015 he was an editor of the journal Historical Materialism and helped convene its annual conference. He is also an organiser of the long-running research seminar: ‘Marxism in Culture’ at the Institute of Historical Research.

Steve is currently completing a book on early British Photography titled: Daguerreotypes: Patents, Persons and Portraits.