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Contemporary Theories of Photography


Admission requirements

A relevant BA-degree. Please consult the lecturer beforehand if you want to follow this course as an elective.


By surveying the contemporary theories of photography, this course will critically examine the topical debates in/around this constantly evolving medium. To better delineate different branches of photography theories, it begins by inspecting the contentious distinction between documentary and art photography. To do this, it will first draw on some long-lasting notions in the field of photographic studies, such as: ‘referentiality’, ‘indexicality’, ‘iconocity’, ‘transparency’, and ‘opacity’, thereby judging how they deal with our putative understanding of reality.

However, as it has remained controversial what justifies the veracity of photographic documentation and what we mean by ‘reality’ when dealing with photography, the course will later probe into more cross-disciplinarity concepts and discourses, such as: Materiality and Agency, Virtuality and AI, Semiotic and Semantic, Post and Prosthetic Memory, Archive and Trauma, and Ethics and Politics.

To explore these territories, we will read and discuss several texts written by artists, theorists, philosophers, and interdisciplinary scholars. The assigned literature includes (but is not limited to) the texts written by Allan Sekula, W. J. T. Mitchell, Jussi Parikka, Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Judith Butler, Susan Sontag, Tom Gunning, Susie Linfield, Elizabeth Edwards, Marianne Hirsch, Ariella Azoulay, Eduardo Cadava, Okwui Enwezor, Ulrich Baer, and Joanna Zylinska.

Course objectives


  • can critically comment on current photographic debates and discourses;

  • can explain and summarize different manifestations of photography theories;

  • can illustrate and engage with a current photographic debate in writing;

  • can identify and present a relevant case study through multimedia material;

  • will suggest alternatives for a current photographic discussion by using theory.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Workgroup

Assessment method


  • Presentation as a midterm exam: a 20-minute presentation based on thorough research.

  • Research proposal: a 500-word proposal explaining the research question, methodology, and theoretical framework.

  • Final paper: a research paper of approximately 5000 words.


  • Presentation: 20%

  • Research Proposal: 0%

  • Final paper: 80%


Only the final paper can be retaken. The resit will be announced on Brightspace.

Inspection and feedback

All students will receive written feedback on their research proposal and oral feedback after presenting their research in class. For receiving feedback on the final paper, students need to individually contact the instructor via email.

Reading list

The reading list will be announced prior to the start of classes.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office. À la carte education and Contract teaching not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal.