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Photography Between Art and Document, 1839 to Now


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Professor Steve Edwards
  • Assessment: a 1000-word research commentary (20%) and 3500-word essay (80%)

Module description

In this module we explore the histories of photography in Europe and America, from its conception at the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present. As well as formal and aesthetic developments, we analyse some of the ways in which photographic images have been used in the following social contexts:

  • Artistic
  • Commercial
  • Personal
  • Institutional

We aim to provide not a comprehensive survey of photographic activities during the period, but a historical framework, locating some of the main issues and themes which have dominated debates about the nature and value of photographic images. Individual sessions are structured around the study of some of the key photographic practices during the period, and of some of the ways in which photography itself has been represented and conceptualised.

There will be a mixture of lectures, lecturer-led seminars and student presentations. You are encouraged to contribute by commenting on set reading material, and generally by participating in class discussions. First-term topics focus on the nineteenth century, second-term topics on the twentieth century to the present.

Indicative syllabus

  • Twentieth-century conception of documentary photography
  • Photographic modernism: new ways of seeing for a new society
  • Documentary, humanism and the critiques
  • Walter Benjamin and the optical unconscious
  • Humanism and the family of man
  • John Szarkowski and the Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • From ‘new women’ to feminism: the camera and the photographic gaze
  • The constructed image: staging the self and the big picture
  • Photography, colonialism and racialisation
  • Contemporary photography and contemporary capitalism