History and Philosophy of the Program

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Photographic History at De Montfort University

Photography has had an important and integral place in Leicester and at De Montfort University for over 100 years. At the Leicester School of Art and Design, photography was taught and practised from the late 19th century by a number of students and lecturers including George Moore Henton RA. An acclaimed Royal Academy painter, Henton was a student between 1870-1880 and was also a prolific photographer. He was a meticulous photographer, recording on the reverse of each print the precise time, date and weather conditions of each image. His extensive collection of photography is currently housed in the Leicestershire Archives in the City.

In Leicester the first daguerreotype studio was opened by Thomas C. Brown(e) and Joseph J. Hewitt at the Bible and Crown in the Market Place in 1844. John Burton established a studio c.1858 at Haymarket, which operated into the 20th century. The city is also the home of the British photographic retailer Jessops, originally called Jessop of Leicester, which was founded in 1935. Leicester has a long history of optical manufacturing. The company Reid and Sigrist Ltd was based in Leicester from 1924 and made the only quality British 35mm camera - the Reid - which was introduced in 1947. Taylor, Taylor and Hobson were founded in Leicester in 1886, producing high quality photographic and cinematographic lenses throughout the 20th century and remain one of the world’s leading optical manufactures. Recently, the Department of Imaging and Communication Design has extended and added to the development of the History of Photography by supporting research into the history and modern developments in the area. This work has included the cutting edge work in Modern Holography and the important research databases, provided by Professor Roger Taylor and Professor Stephen Brown and their teams.

The catalogue of Photographic History research and projects has included;

  • Created by Professor Roger Taylor and originally published by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2002, Photographs Exhibited in Britain 1839-1865 is the comprehensive research database containing individual records for over 20 000 photographic exhibits drawn from forty exhibition catalogues published between 1839 - 1865. Most of the images created by Fenton in the Crimea are listed.
  • The Roger Fenton letterbooks, website and international exhibition. This research project transcribed the letters of two different letter books, the remnants of correspondence sent by Roger Fenton to family and friends during his Photographic Trip to the Crimea in 1855. This brought together two different letter books kept on different continents, in different collections. The website of the published letters and was launched to celebrate the opening of the exhibition.
  • All the Mighty World: the photographs of Roger Fenton 1852 -1860 at the National Gallery of Art Washington, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, The Metropolitan Museum, New York and Tate Britain.
  • DMU is now the host of the digital edition of the Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot, a database of nearly 10,000 letters from this 19th century polymath on all subjects photographic, mathematical, linguistic and political.

As a part of History of Photography research at De Montfort University you will be active in continuing and extending this tradition of making ground breaking research in the field of Photographic History freely available via the Web.

The Programme

The Philosophy of the Programme

The design and philosophy of this programme is to offer students the opportunity to fully engage with a substantial project in scholarly research and writing using primary sources in photography. As the intended outcome of the programme is a substantial piece of written work, students will be encouraged to practise writing for different photographic audiences. To this end, the programme aims to create conditions in which the mutual interaction of practice and theory underpins study within all modules offered by the programme. Placing theory and history in the context of practice, especially with relation to primary source material, will be required for students completing assessments. All learning supports the research dimension of the programme, as it is expected that students going on to write the MA thesis will require a firm foundation in critical reflection and a thorough understanding of the wider context of the field in which their work is situated. Students pursuing more theoretical subjects will need this firm grounding in the practical issues surrounding photographic history and theory that influence the making of work in their field.

The term ‘practice’ is used in its widest sense in the degree as making and handling photographic objects of all sorts in a variety of contexts. Since the platform of photographic technology allows for the construction of a diverse range of contexts and genres in which creative activity takes place, ‘photography’ and the study of its history often diverges from the standard concept of a history of images. The programme will therefore embrace (but not be limited to) a hands-on approach to photographic objects which might include: various positive and negative processes from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, diverse formats of cameras and photographs, period journals and manuscripts, and photographic manuscripts. The practical aspect of the programme will be supported by extensive use of collections, where students will be introduced by experts in the field to the original material with which, they work. Throughout, students will be encouraged to apply what they learn in the history and theory programmes to the collections they see, and communicate it through a series of formal and informal critical evaluations.

In this programme we will intend to broaden the scope of photographic history to the whole of Europe, diverging from the largely Anglo histories that dominate the field. To that end students will be exposed to national styles of writing photographic history and work on many photographers and collections not part of the usual Anglo canon. The programme is also intended to narrow the disciplinary differences between those who research and those who practise, and the art and science sides of the field, fitting students to research comfortably in a diverse range of photographic settings; in the conservation lab, in the contemporary gallery, or in local, national and international collections.

Programme Description

The MA in Photographic History and Practice is designed for graduates from a variety of disciplines including: conservation, museum studies, history of science, and the various areas of visual studies, including visual anthropology, photography, and art history.

It has a unique commitment to exploring the connections between the history and practice of photography and offers an excellent learning experience combined with intensive study and research options with key partners.

Students receive one-to-one tutorial support, participate in lively workshops, seminars, and have the opportunity to research individual collections, topics and projects. The programme also provides encounters with a wide range of professionals in the field including curators, researchers, industry practitioners, archivists and academics.

Designed to combine academic study with the practice of making, handling and curating, the MA in Photographic History and Practice programme will, through the various guest lectures and study workshops, work in close collaboration with partners nationally and internationally, offering extensive links with important initiatives and opportunities for a range of study and archive analysis.

One distinct feature of the MA is that staff will offer modules within their research specialisations, giving students the opportunity to learn at the cutting edge of new discoveries and developments within the fields of Digital Resources, Ethnography, Industry and History of Science practice. In addition there will be significant opportunity to continue study beyond the MA through MPhil and doctoral research.

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