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Photography Between Art and Document, 1914 to Now


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Dr Robert Maniura
  • Assessment: a 3000-word essay (100%)

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 will work with a historical framework of photographic activities during the period, 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 is 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. In the first term we focus on the nineteenth century and in the second term on the twentieth century to the present.

Indicative syllabus

  • 20th-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