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Prof Patrizia Di Bello

  • Overview



    I have a background in practical photography, but after working for a number of years (I started as a teenager assisting photographer Maria Mulas in Milan) and studying for a BA in Photography, Film and Television at the London College of Printing (now LCC), I realised I was more interested in thinking and researching existing photographs than making new ones, so I studied for an MA in History of Art at Birkbeck. Writing my first essay made me realise that this was a much more joyous and rewarding way to explore my fascination with photography and the different ways and modes in which people interact with it, physically and intellectually.

    My PhD, with Professor Lynda Nead, examined nineteenth-century women's albums, in particular those combining photography with other media and using forms of photo-collage. It has been published as Women's Albums and Photography in Victorian England: Ladies, Mothers and Flirts (Ashgate, 2007). This work also features in Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage, the catalogue of the exhibition organised by the Art Institute of Chicago (Yale University Press, 2009). 

    I have been appointed full-time at Birkbeck in 2003, and I am currently Head of the Department of History of Art, where I teach the history and theory of photography with undergraduate and postgraduate students ('with' because for me, teaching, learning and research work best as a collective and collaborative activity), and (when I am not Head of Department) I convene the MA in History of Photography, one of the few in the country. I co-direct, with Steve Edwards, the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre at Birkbeck, where I look after the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive.

    I am editor-in-chief of the quarterly History of Photography, and on the editorial board of the journals Art History and Photographies; I sit on the Research Advisory Panel of the National Portrait Gallery, London, and serve as a trustee of Mayday Rooms, London.

    My latest monograph is Sculptural Photographs: From the Calotype to Digital Technologies (Bloomsbury, 2018), which explores how sculpture has been not only a beautiful and convenient subject matter for photographs, or commercial and cultural opportunities for photographers in the market for art reproductions, but also an exemplar for thinking about photography as a medium based on mechanical means of production. Rooted in an understanding of the practical, social and aesthetic implications of photographic as well as sculptural technologies, my study demonstrates that photographs of sculpture are particularly useful in revealing how photography’s changing materialities shape the meaning of images as they are made, circulated, looked at, written about and handled at different historical moments.

    Curren research interests include the photographic culture of the magazines of second-wave feminism, and women and workers in nineteenth-century photography.

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Head of Department, History of Art

    Professional activities

    Editor-in-chief of the quarterly History of Photography

    Member of the editorial board of the journals Art History and Photographies

    Member of the National Portrait Gallery, London, Research Advisory Panel

    Trustee of the London-based charities Feminist Library and Mayday Rooms.

  • Research


    Research Centres and Institutes

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    Areas of research supervision:
    Projects related topically or methodologically to my research interests, including albums, photographically illustrated publications, photography and sculpture / sculpture as photography.
    Photography and its representations.
    Aspects of visual culture since the nineteenth, with particular reference to issues of gender and femininity.
    Art and mechanical reproduction.
    Photography, art and politics in the late twentieth century, including second-wave feminism.
    I have supervised PhD students working on a range of subjects including: Photographic Materiality in 20th Century Exhibitions; Amateurs and Colour Photography in Britain 1906 to 1932; The Institutions of Women's Photography in the UK, 1979-2003; Picturing Place in the Post-Photographic Era - Google Street View at the Alhambra; The April Photo Society and the challenge of independent photography in post-1976 China; and John Thomson in the Pearl River Delta, 1868-1870 - Redefining the photographic encounter, a Bloomsbury Scholarship with Professor Shane McCausland (SOAS).

    Current doctoral researchers


    Doctoral alumni since 2013-14

  • Publications




    Book Section

    Conference Item


  • Business and community

    Business and community


    George Vasey in conversation with Patrizia Di Bello on Jo Spence

    Heni Talk on 'Jo Spence: Cultural Sniper' during the exhibition I organised with a group of students in Birkbeck's Peltz Gallery Cultural Sniping in Spring 2018.

    Lecture at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art on 'Photography and the Modern Self', part of their series on Photography and its Histories.