Lecture 1- Concepts and Approaches

An introduction on the origins ad development of photography theory

These lectures will look at different concepts from 3 aspects:

  • Cultural
  • Political
  • Philosophical


  • With all histories we need to be critically aware of the politics we communicate in writing them
  • History of photography has privileged one gender and institution over all others
  1. Museum of modern art (New York)
  2. Histories written by white men
  • A ‘canon’ of knowledge that many people don’t criticise are often written by similar people, of the same origin- white men
  • We need to question this as ‘thinking photographers’ – plurality of voices, more than one race, more than one gender etc.
  1. Historical appreciation- taste not criticality, individualism rather than collectively
  2. Social history – circumstances that surround us and the social conditions in which things are produced. Collectivity over individualism. Democracy over autocracy (1 person, e.g. dictatorship)

The industrial revolution:

  • The point technology started to replace human labour,
  • It began in Great Britain
  • Ended in about 1840, the year after the first photographic technology was publically announced
  • Louis- Jacque- Mande Daguerre announced his Daguerreotype photographic process in 1839
  • Can see evidence of industrialisation in the image
  • We can also see evidence of the social order in the location, architecture etc.


  • System of economics and politics, if you don’t own stuff you have to work and sell your labour to people who do own stuff
  • Economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit rather than by the state
  • Daguerre is an example of the history of privileged white men in photography

The industrial portrait:

  • Robert Cornelius, self portrait- first ever portrait of a human, 1839

Two main approaches, one records and one creates:


  • Dramatic use of lighting and shading to express a mood
  • Effect and drama
  • Trying to make a picture in the same way painters were able to
  • Henry Peach Robinson


  • The way in which nature or life is pictured in the most straight forward way possible, no artificial factors, one exposure, one print
  • No retouching
  • Naturalistic photography as an art from
  • Nothing fake and no imitations of painting

Questions asked in this time period

Can we trust photographs to copy things accurately?

Do they produce likenesses?

If photography copies things, how can it be art?

Combination print, one single image made from multiple negatives combined together to get the perfect exposure throughout the whole image