Theory & Photography

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Module Details

Module Code: HOPP 5011

Module Credits: 30 credit module

Module Leader: Gil Pasternak

Module Tutors: Gil Pasternak, Kelley Wilder, Elizabeth Edwards and invited guests

Module Duration: 15 weeks

Module Meetings: 10-12am (Portland 2.3) Tuesdays, and afternoon 1:30-4pm (usually in Portland 1.18, please check individual sessions though as some will be held in a different room)

Assignment Due: Friday May 23, 2014

Module Contents page

Follow this link Theory & Photography Contents to get started on this module.

Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Page


'Photography is a dense and recalcitrant subject and has, from the outset and until today, provoked astonishing claims intended to clarify it, but which have served only to render a cloudy subject even more obscure.' (Joel Snyder 'Enabling Confusion' in History of Photography v.26 n.2, Summer 2002, p. 155).

This core module in will introduce you to the historiography of photography and to various viewpoints from which historians write photographic histories. Covering historical and contemporary debates about photography, its veracity, its use and its development, you will read thinkers and writers from the fields of history, history of art, photography, history of technology, museum studies, philosophy and the history of science. You will engage with the problems encountered by photography and photographic theory and experience the way in which these discourses influence the writing of photographic history and the making of photographs.

Research is meant to be shared - this is why it gets published. Sharing your research and learning how to read, digest and discuss the research of others in a constructive and critical way is the core of what researchers do. In order to develop your critical thinking and reading, you will not only conduct seminars on readings of your choice, you will also present drafts of your work and critique drafts by your colleagues. The writing and presentation exercises will help to prepare you for researching and writing your dissertation.

In preparation for this module, please enter your name in ( ) brackets, for the week you will lead on the wiki page for the Module Contents.

Please also enter your name in the week you would like to present your first draft of your Theory paper to your colleagues.

Preparation for Seminars

Each week, one of you will present the material we have prepared. Over the Christmas break, please enter your name next to one week with a theme that you think you would like. There may be only ONE presenter per week, and it works on a first-come first serve basis. Your presentation may take many forms: a powerpoint with images, a discussion with handouts, books passed around - get creative and have fun with it. The presentation should be no more than 15 minutes and should do the following things:

  • introduce your colleagues to the main arguments/points of the reading
  • provide a bit of historical/pictorial context to the reading
  • pose a few questions about the theme/reading that will act as a catalyst to a stimulating and interesting discussion and exchange of opinions.

Remember that this is an exercise in critical reading. Your presentation should not follow exactly the reading you have chosen, but should have a structure YOU impose on it. It is not a book report, it is a report of your understanding of the issues at hand. You may introduce additional reading by putting them under suggested readings in the wiki. Please create a handout for your colleagues, both here on the wiki, and to hand around. It should not be longer than one side of A4.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Understand the main methodologies encountered in photographic histories and contextualize your own methods and opinions
  • Assess and communicate opinions about a diverse range of material and texts
  • Evaluate critically various theories and arguments about the nature of photography
  • Synthesize theoretical models with primary source material and communicate this to peers in informal and formal debate

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Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Page