Accessibility statement

The Uses of Photography - HOA00069M

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. James Boaden
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

This module aims to introduce students to a wide range of issues related to the medium of photography, including technological and theoretical ways of thinking about its history. It will be taught across the entire period of the mediums development in order to emphasise particular qualities of the medium. Particular questions about the relation of popular photography to fine art practice will be examined in depth drawing out comparisons between past uses of the medium and the present. The way in which photography can inform questions of relationality the relations between subjects will be particularly emphasised, particularly the way in which systems of archiving, and images of atrocity are used in order to achieve particular, often unstated, ideological ends. We will use local resources as part of the course, including personal images, photographic collections at the York Railway Museum, The Borthwick Archives and the Media Museum in Bradford as well as thinking about fine art practices. Students will develop an independent research topic throughout the module and will discuss this regularly with the group.

Module learning outcomes

  • To enable students to think critically about the status of photography as a fine art practice.
  • To question the claims made to documentary truth made by the photographic medium.
  • To develop a specialist vocabulary for discussing the technological aspects of photographic practice.
  • To gain a broad knowledge of both current photographic theory and the historical discourses in which it was understood in the past.
  • To gain insight into the physical properties of the photograph and to have direct experience of handling photographs as objects.
  • Choosing and developing an independent research topic
  • Building a bibliography
  • Presenting ideas clearly and accessibly to the group with appropriate visual support
  • Working with a range of texts from across disciplines and discussing them with the group.

Module content

Possible seminar outline:

  • Technology and the Index
  • The Body in the Archive
  • Documentary Photography
  • Atrocity Images
  • Family Albums
  • Taxonomic Images
  • Photography as a Fine Art
  • Conceptual Art and Photography



Special assessment rules




Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

Preliminary bibliography:

  • Alan Sekula, The Body and the Archive in Richard Bolton ed. The Contest of Meaning (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1992)
  • Martha Rosler, In and Around and Afterthoughts on the Bowery in Decoys and Disruptions, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004)
  • Ariela Azoulay, The Social Contract of Photography, (Cambridge, Mass: Zone Books, 2010)
  • Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, (London: Penguin, 2004)
  • Judith Butler, Frames of War, (London: Verso, 2010)
  • Sarah James, Common Ground, (New Haven: Yale, 2012)
  • John Tagg, The Burden of Representation, (Minnesota, 1993)
  • John Tagg, The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and the Capture of Meaning, (Minnesota, 2009)
  • Christopher Pinney ed, Photography s Other Histories, (Durham, NC: Duke, 2003)
  • Carol Mavor, Reading Boyishly, (Durham, NC: Duke, 2008)
  • Carol Mavor, Pleasures Taken, (Durham, NC: Duke, 1996)
  • Anne Higonett, Pictures of Innocence, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998)
  • Margaret Iversen ed, Photography After Conceptual Art, (London: Wiley, 2010)
  • John Roberts, The Art of Interuption, (Manchester: 1998)
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, (London: Penguin, 1991)
  • Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, (London: Vintage, 1993)
  • Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All, (Chicago: 2010)
  • Georges Didi-Huberman, The Invention of Hysteria, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004)
  • Lucy Soutter, Why Art Photography?, (London: Routledge, 2013)
  • Alexander Alberro, Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004)
  • Walter Benjamin, A Short History of Photography in One Way Street, (London: Penguin, 2009)
  • Julian Stallabrass, Documentary, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2013)
  • Julian Stallabrass, Memory of Fire, (Brighton: Photoworks, 2013)
  • Geoffrey Batchen et al, Picturing Atrocity, (London: Reaktion, 2012)
  • Susie Linfield, The Cruel Radience: Photography and Political Violence (Chicago: 2012)
  • Kate Bush, Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, (London: Barbican, 2012)
  • James Elkins ed Photography Theory, (London: Routledge, 2007)
  • Charlotte Cotton, The Photograph as Contemporary Art, (London: Thames and Hudson, 2009)
  • Clement Cheroux et al, The Perfect Medium, (New York: Metropolitan Museum, 2005)
  • John Harvey, Photography and the Spirit, (London: Reaktion, 2007)
  • Jorge Ribalta ed, Jo Spence: Beyond the Perfect Image, (Barcelona: MacBa, 2005)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.